When to Drink Protein Shakes – For Weight Loss & Maximum Results

Weight Loss & Diets | Written by Nathan | Updated on 8 January 2022

Protein shakes are a convenient and simple way to meet your macros, but knowing when to drink protein shakes for weight loss can help you understand your personal tendencies and maximize the potential benefits. 

Remember, sustained effort inside and outside the gym promotes weight loss, but optimizing nutrient timing can help you curb hunger and optimize your diet.

When & How to Drink Protein Shakes For Weight Loss

A common protein timing myth suggests protein must be consumed right after a workout, but this actually holds little significance in weight loss or building muscle.

Therefore, when you should drink protein should be based upon your personal dieting regimen, when you slip up the most, or when you’re hungriest. So depending on your personal issues, we suggest drinking your protein: 

  • When You Snack The Most

Let’s say you can adhere to a diet fairly well, but every evening from 6-9 PM, you scrounge the cabinets for tasty treats. In this case, you can cut out those calorie-dense treats but substituting them with a tasty protein shake that should hold you over until dinner or breakfast. This will help you feel full and prevent you from reaching for unhealthy vices like chips or cookies between meals. By timing your shake when you snack the most, you’re providing a healthy alternative to junk food and allowing the protein to hold you over until the next meal by satisfying those cravings.

  • In the A.M. to Boost Metabolism

If neither of these work for you or you want to boost your metabolism, try having a protein shake in the morning. Eating in the morning can kickstart your metabolism but beware, this may lead to more hunger later on in the day.

No matter the time you choose, it’s most important to drink it at a time when you will benefit the most from the satiety (full feeling) it will provide [1]

Alternatively, you can use protein powder with other ingredients to create a healthy meal replacement at any time of the day. To make a healthy, low-calorie meal replacement with protein powder, turn it into a smoothie by adding fruit, yogurt, leafy greens, nut butter, or seeds.

  • Post Workout

It’s not critical to drink protein shortly after you workout to gain muscle, but consuming protein every few hours is best and post workout protein shakes can help spike insulin levels as well (we’ll explain why this is beneficial below).

When to Drink Protein Shakes for Muscle Gain?

Even if your main goal is weight loss, it’s important to stack on muscle along the way because…

more muscle mass = more calories burned.

It used to be believed that you had to have protein within the first hour after working out, but recent research has shown that consuming your protein powder anywhere within two hours before or after your workout will give your body the same benefits [2]. Or, if you’re above the age of 65 it may be worth consuming protein at bedtime to preserve muscle mass and fight atrophy (muscle loss) [3].

In addition, if your protein powder has tons of carbs then you may want to follow a similar protocol to replenish insulin storages, allow nutrients to be easily absorbed and promote glycogen re-synthesis (which in the bodybuilding world, is believed to have an anabolic effect, but there’s no sound research to back up this claim).

No matter the timing, protein has countless benefits so be sure to get it in when you can. 

Weight Loss Benefits of Protein Shakes

So now that we’ve game planned when we should drink or consume protein, let’s look at the spectrum of benefits to keep us motivated in drinking these chalky shakes.

Weather you’re using protein shakes to replace a meal or just to meet your macronutrient goals, protein powder can help with shedding fat because:

  • Protein is satiating and helps suppress your appetite: Protein is full of amino acids that take a long time for your body to break down during digestion, especially compared to rapidly digested simple sugars. Because of this, you will feel fuller longer after drinking a protein shake and with a suppressed appetite, your urge to snack on unhealthy foods will be tamed.
  • Protein shakes have fewer calories than your average meal: Most servings of protein powder come in under 200 calories. When using protein powder to replace a meal or snack, you will generally consume fewer calories. 
  • It helps build calorie-burning muscle: Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair, and at the same time, the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn even at rest. [2].
  • Protein helps regulate blood sugar: Protein is broken down into glucose much more slowly than carbohydrates, eating a protein shake ensures a slow release of sugar into your bloodstream over time. This prevents a blood sugar spike, which is important in preventing insulin resistance that can lead to diabetes [4]. 
  • Protein powder usually has other healthy nutrients for added health benefits: Most protein supplements are full of important vitamins and minerals like iron, magnesium, and calcium to promote overall health and keep your body resilient during your weight loss journey.
  • It helps with weight loss management: People who eat 30 grams of added protein supplement in their diet every day after losing weight tend to regain less weight than people who don’t consume additional protein [2]. By structuring your diet to be high in protein now, you’re setting yourself up for an easier time maintaining your healthy meal plan and weight after weight loss is achieved. 

FAQ

  • Should I Consume Protein Shakes While Trying to Drop Weight?

While you don’t have to drink protein drinks to lose weight, they can help. The key to losing weight is eating less to maintain a caloric deficit. You can do this by eating less, exercising more, or most beneficially, doing a combination of both. While you are creating a calorie budget, one easy way to cut calories is by replacing one meal a day with a protein shake. 

Keep in mind that protein powders do have calories, too. Drinking too many of them every day or not accounting for their calories might hurt your weight loss journey by putting you over your calorie budget for the day. 

To avoid this, be sure to track your meals — including your protein shakes. 

  • How Many Protein Shakes Should I Drink for Weight Loss?

For best results, you should aim to have no more than one protein shake each day. Keep in mind that protein powder is a supplement and not meant to replace several meals per day. 

Instead, be sure to fill up on five to six small meals a day that incorporate fresh vegetables, healthy fats, and lean meats. Use a protein shake to replace one meal or snack per day.

  • Will Drinking a Protein Shake Every Morning Help Me Lose Weight?

Drinking a protein shake every morning can certainly help you lose weight. Be sure to approach your weight loss with a holistic approach for the best results. Along with your morning protein shake, try to incorporate other healthy lifestyle changes, like eating healthy foods throughout the rest of the day. 

Adding physical activity to your routine will also help boost your weight loss. You don’t have to go to the gym for hours on end every day to get results. Just going for a 30-minute walk every day can help you shed pounds fast, especially when paired with a caloric deficit from your healthy diet. 

  • Which Types of Protein Powders Are Best?

Many protein powders have artificial ingredients, sweeteners and even heavy metals so it’s important to stay vigilant when choosing a protein powder. Here are the common types of protein powder and the ways you should use them:

Plant-based Protein. These protein powders are a good alternative for anyone who is lactose-intolerant or vegan. You can find a plant-based protein that’s derived from peas, hemp, chia seeds, soy, or pumpkin. The biggest drawback of this form of protein powder is that it tends to have more heavy metals, less complete amino acid profiles, and higher in carbs than dairy-based powders. However, you can use this carb-rich protein after a workout to spike insulin levels, which can promote blood flow and amino acid delivery to your muscles for muscle growth and repair [5]. The amino acids matter can be circumvented by eating a variety of protein sources and there’s sites that third party test proteins for heavy metals for consumer protection. 

Whey Protein. This protein is derived from dairy and contains all the essential amino acids your body needs to rebuild muscle and carry out other important processes in your body. Whey is digested quickly and your body typically uses up all the amino acids within 90 minutes after consumption [6]. Because of its quick digestion, whey works best when consumed within a two-hour window before or after a workout. 

Casein Powder. This is also derived from dairy, but unlike whey, casein takes four to five hours for your body to digest. For this reason, casein isn’t a good option for a post-workout snack. Instead, the best time to drink a casein protein shake is before bed. This allows your body to rebuild muscle during sleep and prevent muscle breakdown at night. Consuming casein before bed can help you lose more weight by boosting your metabolism, and you’re more likely to gain more muscle than people who don’t consume casein [6]. 

  • How Do I Stay On Track With Protein Shake Diets?

Set Realistic Goals. One important key to successful weight loss is having a goal you can work toward and having a plan to get there [7]. Decide how much weight you want to lose, what a reasonable time frame is, and then commit to that plan.

Achieve a Caloric Deficit. Do this by figuring out how many calories you eat on average every day after tracking your normal eating for a week. Take that average number and subtract 500 calories to get your new calorie goal. 

Make a Meal Plan. Now that you have an idea of how many calories to eat each day, come up with a healthy meal plan that incorporates lots of healthful ingredients. Decide where you want to fit your protein drinks into your meal plan based on your goals. For the rest of your meals, make sure you’re eating plenty of healthy proteins from lean meats, fish with omega-3 fatty acids, and other sources of proteins and healthy fats like nuts, beans, and legumes. Add plenty of vegetables for nutrients and fiber. 

Bottom Line

Based on your goals and tendencies, you should either try to drink a protein shake in the morning as a meal replacement, shortly after a workout, or the timeframe where you snack the most. Protein powder is a handy tool to use when losing weight since it’s packed with nutrients and helps your body build and repair itself. The satiating effect of protein helps you avoid snacking throughout the day, and it can also help build muscle.

Now that you know when to drink protein drinks for weight loss, don’t be afraid to mix it up a little. We encourage you to try out different timings to figure out which is best or ideal for you, and it’s  encouraged to throw random food into your protein shakes to make meal replacements too.

References

[1] Dhillon, J., Craig, B. A., Leidy, H. J., Amankwaah, A. F., Osei-Boadi Anguah, K., Jacobs, A., Jones, B. L., Jones, J. B., Keeler, C. L., Keller, C. E., McCrory, M. A., Rivera, R. L., Slebodnik, M., Mattes, R. D., & Tucker, R. M. (2016). The Effects of Increased Protein Intake on Fullness: A Meta-Analysis and Its Limitations. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(6), 968–983. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2016.01.003

[2] Evans, E. M., Layman, D. K., & Kris‐Etherton, P. M. (2006). Protein rich weight loss diet enhances body composition changes and maintenance of weight loss. The FASEB Journal, 20(4). https://doi.org/10.1096/fasebj.20.4.a426-a

[3] Snijders, T., Trommelen, J., Kouw, I. W. K., Holwerda, A. M., Verdijk, L. B., & van Loon, L. J. C. (2019). The Impact of Pre-sleep Protein Ingestion on the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise in Humans: An Update. Frontiers in Nutrition, 6. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2019.00017

[4] Gannon, M. C., Nuttall, F. Q., Saeed, A., Jordan, K., & Hoover, H. (2003). An increase in dietary protein improves the blood glucose response in persons with type 2 diabetes. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 78(4), 734–741. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/78.4.734

[5] Fujita, S., Rasmussen, B. B., Cadenas, J. G., Grady, J. J., & Volpi, E. (2006). Effect of insulin on human skeletal muscle protein synthesis is modulated by insulin-induced changes in muscle blood flow and amino acid availability. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 291(4), E745–E754. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00271.2005

[6] Madzima, T., Melanson, J., Black, J., & Nepocatych, S. (2018). Pre-Sleep Consumption of Casein and Whey Protein: Effects on Morning Metabolism and Resistance Exercise Performance in Active Women. Nutrients, 10(9), 1273. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10091273

[7] Avery, A., Langley‐Evans, S. C., Harrington, M., & Swift, J. A. (2016). Setting targets leads to greater long‐term weight losses and ‘unrealistic’ targets increase the effect in a large community‐based commercial weight management group. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 29(6), 687–696. https://doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12390

About the Author

Nathan

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.