It’s an extremely common question but strangely, a lot of people don’t seem to know the answer; how many protein shakes should you be drinking each day? If you’ve reached this page and are reading this article (which you obviously are), then I’m already assuming that you’ve gone out and bought yourself a nice big fat tub of protein powder and are regularly hitting the gym, with the intention of trading in those extra pounds of fat for extra pounds of muscle.
I’m also guessing that you’ve asked a few mates, or overheard conversations at the gym and have noticed that the quantity of protein shakes being consumed on a daily basis varies quite significantly from person-to-person. In fact, I recently came across this poll on the website; bodybuilding.com, asking their readers how many protein shakes they drink per day.
Honestly, I found these results quite shocking. Out of the 195 people that took part, almost 40% were drinking two protein shakes a day, closely followed by 26% drinking three a day and 24% drinking just one a day. Perhaps even more shocking was the news that 10.26% (that’s more than one in ten people) were drinking four or more per day!
The question is, who’s got it right? Exactly how many protein shakes should you be drinking per day?
Calculating Your Daily Protein Requirements
Everyone’s different ; just because your gym buddy drinks 3 protein shakes a day doesn’t necessarily mean you should as everyone’s daily protein requirement is different.
Calculating this requirement is pretty straightforward. As a general rule of thumb, you should be consuming 1 – 1.5 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. Let’s say that you weigh 200lbs with a body fat percentage of 12%; with a lean body mass of 176lbs, you would need to consume 176 – 264 grams of protein per day (if you are regularly working out).
If you’re unsure about your body fat percentage, you can use one of the many free online calculators to produce an estimate. Here is one of my favourites: http://www.bmi-calculator.net/body-fat-calculator/
Getting Protein From Real, Wholesome Foods
Protein shakes are supplements; the definition of which, according to Dictionary.com is “something added to complete a thing, supply a deficiency, or reinforce or extend a whole”. You know what this means? It means you should be eating more and drinking less; with protein shakes only making their way into your diet when you aren’t getting enough protein from your food.
You also need to make sure that you get most of your protein from real, wholesome foods rather than artificially produced protein shakes. What do I mean by real, wholesome foods? I mean things like chicken breasts, lean beef, eggs, tuna, salmon, soy, nuts; anything that is high in protein and low in fat. Eating 4 -5 Big Macs a day might supply you with plenty of protein, but they will also supply you with low-quality fats, too many calories and probably too much salt. Anything heavily processed such as pre-packaged, microwave-ready meals are also out of the question if you want to maintain your health.
Take note of how much protein you are getting from your diet each day. Do this for a week and figure out an average. Doing this will allow you to see how much extra protein you need each day and then you can decide how you are going to obtain it and how many protein shakes you are going to need each day.
Note: While you might have a hard time getting every gram of your daily protein requirement from your diet, it’s important that you do your best. These days, so many people rely on supplements such as protein shakes far too much, often getting more protein from supplements than their actual meals. Most of your daily protein and nutrients should ALWAYS come from whole foods and if they don’t, you seriously need to rethink your diet.
Using Protein Shakes As Required
Now that you know how much protein you need each day and how much protein you are consuming on average, you can figure out exactly how many protein shakes you are going to need to drink. Let’s go back to our example of a 200lb man with a body fat percentage of 12%. Every day he needs 176 – 264 grams of protein. Now, he’s been working out quite hard 4 – 5 times per week just recently so he’s decided he’s going to aim for around 200 – 220 grams of protein per day (roughly 1.2 – 1.25 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass).
After looking at his diet over the course of a week, he figured out that although eating healthily, he was only getting around 165 – 175 grams of protein per day. This is a little short of his daily requirements so he’s going to use a protein shake to correct this, as he already consumes a good amount of wholesome foods every day.
He decides to add one protein shake to his diet every day. This gives him an extra 25 grams of protein a day, taking his daily protein intake to 190 – 200 grams per day.
Although within his daily protein requirement range of 176 – 262 grams per day, it’s still a little short of his 200 – 220 gram aim so he decides that on the 4 – 5 days per week when he works out, he’ll add an extra half a protein shake to his diet. He usually has his main protein shake after his workout and the other half a protein shake throughout the day (check out my post on the best times to consume protein shakes here)
This takes his daily protein intake to within his desired range. Perfect.
The Final Rep
Protein shakes are great for getting that extra, high-quality protein and so long as you don’t consume them in excess, it’s doubtful that you’ll experience any side effects.
It’s important to note that if you’ve followed everything laid out in this article and still find that you need three or more protein shakes a day to supplement your diet, you aren’t eating enough food. You MUST eat enough high-quality protein, high-fibre carbohydrates and high-quality fat every day and personally I feel that if you need to consume more than two protein shakes to reach your daily protein requirements, you aren’t eating enough.
Obviously, if you have a busy schedule and don’t have much time to prepare meals every day, a protein shake can be extremely helpful as it is quick to prepare and is pretty easy to take wherever you might be going but still, there are other options. Prepare a sandwich or a cold pasta meal if you’re struggling to find time to cook your meals or alternatively, cook your meals in advance.
Note: With the average protein shake containing around 100 calories, you also need to ensure that you aren’t going over your daily calorie requirements when adding these to your diet. If you do, you might want to consider slightly lowering the amount of fat you’re consuming or possibly the amount of carbohydrates.
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