(Sometimes a reader will email me a question that needs a full article to answer properly, and sometimes it’s an answer I think others will benefit from hearing. This is one of those times.)
QUESTION: I recently started using whey protein powder and was wondering how many protein shakes I should drink a day? And also, should I drink them every day or only on the days I work out?
ANSWER: Here, try this. Go back and replace the words “protein shakes” and “drink” with the words “chicken breasts” and “eat.” The answers would be identical. Here’s why.
After total calories, your daily protein intake is likely the most important part of your diet regardless of whether you’re looking to gain muscle, maintain muscle, lose fat, improve performance or any combination thereof. For most people, shooting for somewhere around 1 gram of protein per pound of their current body weight (use your goal body weight if you’re significantly overweight) will be ideal.
So yes, protein itself is extremely important and plays many crucial roles in your overall health as well as in reaching your specific diet and training goals.
However, the source of that protein – be it high quality food sources like chicken, eggs, beef, fish and dairy, or supplements like whey and casein – is much less important. In fact, it’s really not important at all.
Protein Shakes Don’t Do Anything!
Yes, the supplement companies might claim all sorts of amazing things. Yes, the sales guy at GNC might claim all sorts of amazing things. Yes, the clueless placebo-effect-experiencing noob at your gym or on your favorite diet/training forum might claim all sorts of amazing things too.
But the reality is that there is nothing magical about protein shakes. They don’t actually do anything. Compared to a typical high protein food, the main advantage is purely convenience. Meaning, it’s faster and easier to drink a shake than prepare and cook chicken.
But beyond that, it’s not providing any significant benefits over any other high quality solid food source.
So, asking how many protein shakes you should drink a day is sorta like asking how many chicken breasts you should eat a day. Seems like a silly question now, right? But it’s cool, I’ll answer it anyway…
How Many Protein Shakes Should I Have A Day?
It’s quite simple: whatever amount is needed/preferred to help you meet you protein requirements for the day.
So let’s say you’re getting a sufficient amount of protein from foods like chicken, beef, fish, eggs, milk, etc.
How many protein shakes should you drink a day? Zero.
But if you are NOT getting a sufficient amount of protein from the foods in your diet, and you don’t have time to cook/prepare/eat more of those kinds of foods, or you just get sick of eating so much of them every day, or you just enjoy the convenience, taste, price or whatever-the-hell-else of protein shakes… then you should drink as many as you need to in order for your total protein intake to be what it needs to be each day.
Whether that means 1, or 2, or 3 or more depends on your specific preferences and dietary needs.
Many people won’t need any. Others might not need any, but would prefer to use them at times for convenience purposes (I put myself in this category). And some people might be unable to consume enough protein each day without them, in which case a legit need exists for using them.
But regardless of it all, the point here is that there’s no such thing as a beneficial amount of protein shakes to drink a day. In and of itself, that amount is completely meaningless.
What there is, however, is a beneficial amount of protein to consume per day. And if you need or would just prefer to get some supplemental help in reaching that daily amount, then THAT’S the one and only factor influencing the answer to this question.
Should You Drink Them Every Day?
As for whether you should drink them every day (i.e. rest days) or only on the days you work out, the answer here is basically the same as my previous answer… only if you need/want to.
Again, protein shakes are basically just a convenient form of chicken. Nothing special happens when you drink them, and nothing bad happens when you don’t. Whether you drink them every day isn’t what matters here.
What matters is your total daily protein intake, and that’s equally important on non-workout days as it is on workout days. Which means, your goal is to consume a sufficient amount every single day of the week whether you worked out or not.
If you need (or would just prefer) to drink a protein shake on some or all of those days to help you make that happen, then go for it. But if not, feel free not to.
It’s just a high quality source of protein like any other, albeit one that tends to have some convenience advantages.