Protein is one of the three macronutrients we need for energy on a daily basis and every day to feel in top form. But how many shakes of protein can you have a day, and how much is too much? To help you meet the needs of your body and your training objectives, this article breaks down the way to optimise your protein intake.
There are many reasons why you can choose to drink muscle-building protein shakes, lose weight, gain weight, and recover from injury or illness. For all of these reasons, protein shakes can be helpful, based on what you include in them and how often you have them.
You want to know how many protein shakes are best for you before you take a scoop and start shaking, you need to think about your muscle growth and repair goals and how they fit into your daily schedule.
Why do we need protein?
Our muscles are always in a state of flux every day and throughout our lives, as they partially break down (this is known as muscle protein breakdown) and partially build back up (known as muscle protein synthesis).
Two common ways of increasing muscle protein synthesis are weightlifting (or other resistance-based exercise) and consuming protein. It's important to have enough protein in your diet to prevent muscle protein breakdown when you're trying to lose weight and maintain a calorie deficit.
Our digestion is also slowed down by protein, making us feel full and satisfied, which can assist with weight loss. It's great for all of you snackers out there, as we are more likely to stay away from the fridge when our food sits in our bellies longer...
We tend to lose lean muscle mass as we age, making sufficient protein intake significant in the elderly population as well.
How much protein is needed per day?
It's best to consider your total protein requirements for the day when thinking about how many protein shakes a day you have to have.
· Healthy people require approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
· Athletes, based on the frequency and intensity of training, require up to 1.3-1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.
For endurance sports, like distance running, cycling, tennis or football, the lower end of this range is usually more suitable. For more strength-based workouts, like powerlifting, bodybuilding, CrossFit or rugby, the higher end of this range is.
Using this simple formula can help you determine how much total protein you should consume daily, both from food sources and your protein shakes. For example, if you weigh 68kg and exercise moderately most days of the week, you would multiply your weight by 1.3:
68kg x 1.3g/kg = 88g protein per day
That would require each meal to contain about 29 grams of protein if you eat only three meals per day (about a 125g piece of chicken). A protein shake could easily help make up what you're missing if you don't eat that much protein in every meal.
However, you may need upwards of 200 grams of protein if you're a 115 kg athlete with an intense 2-a-day weight training schedule:
115kg x 1.8g/kg = 207g protein per day
Unless you want to eat 7 servings of chicken each day, which would get boring pretty quickly, this high amount is harder to consume from food alone. To help meet that total, this size and type of athlete could benefit from two or three shakes a day. The next consideration is how much protein at one time you should consume.
How Much Protein Can Our Bodies Absorb Per Dose?
Because of the nature of muscle tissue's constant breakdown and synthesis, breaking your protein intake into 3-4 comparable doses per day is a common rule, whether these are meals or shakes.
However, too many calories will lead to weight gain from any source, so there is an upper limit on how much protein is beneficial. You can digest and absorb the protein at a different rate based on what else is in your meal or protein shake (milk, water, fruit, sources of fat, etc.) and what kind of protein you choose (whey, soy, casein, etc.).
Is Too Much Protein Dangerous?
In short, as to the maximum amount that is beneficial per dose, there is no clear answer. Recommendations are built on what your objectives are. In order to maximise muscle protein synthesis, it is common practise to consume about 20-25 grams of high-quality protein at one time.
Larger doses of 30-45 grams, however, were shown to have the greatest impact on lean mass and strength.4 Another study showed that 25-30 grams were optimal when considering prevention of muscle loss due to ageing. Overall, the guidelines vary between 20-45 grams per dose.
Think about your total daily protein requirement and how many grams there are in a serving of your protein powder when considering how much protein to have a day.
If lunch and dinner are high in protein, one shake in the morning (as part of your breakfast or after) may be sufficient to reach your daily goal. If you work out in the afternoon and have a long wait until dinner, to optimise muscle building after your workout, it might be best to have a second shake then.
Protein shakes can also play an important role in the diets of vegan and vegetarian athletes, who might not consume high-protein, animal-based foods.
While you may read about negative side effects from high-protein diets, no studies have shown any harm from protein in healthy individuals. For optimal daily nutrition, it is still important to choose high-quality carbohydrates, healthy fats, and a variety of vitamins and minerals.
Take home message
Consider your training schedule, your types of workouts, and your objectives, whether you are trying to build muscle mass or lose weight, to decide how many protein shakes a day is best for you.
Then decide how you want to divide your daily intake of protein (typically into 3 or 4 doses per day) and figure out how much of your protein powder you will need to consume in order to achieve your goals alongside the protein from the other foods in your diet.
Keep in mind that the protein in your shake can be increased by other ingredients. Adding a cup of milk can also increase 8 grams of protein in your shake, or half a cup of Greek yoghurt can add up to 18 more grams. In your diet and in your post workout shakes, get creative to take full advantage of the benefits of protein.