The Best Protein Powders for Weight Loss

Protein powder shakes contain little or no carbohydrates, fat and other essential nutrients. Protein powder shakes are very low calorie and are not designed to replace a meal. Instead they function as a supplement to provide your body with a generous amount of quality protein for those who wish to increase their protein intake. Essentially, protein powder shakes provide a quick fix/ snack of high quality protein without the fat and carbohydrates (find out about the difference between protein shakes and meal replacement shakes).


Athletes, exercise enthusiasts and those who want to gain muscle mass like to use protein shakes to help build and repair muscle. However, there is little agreement within scientific circles as to the necessity or advantage of protein and amino acid supplements in exercise training. Still, there is evidence that those on calorie-restricted diets and those who engage in intense physical activity may benefit from protein powders. Endurance and strength training athletes particularly, may have increased daily protein intake requirements.

  • Protein powders help an endurance athletes recovery by restoring muscle glycogen, which gets used up during exercise.
  • In terms of strength training, protein shakes help repair the damage to muscles that may occur following intense bodybuilding.
  • Fitness enthusiasts who regularly exercise intensely may also benefit from protein powders. Protein shakes have shown to reduce infections, muscle soreness and heat exhaustion. They may also help with weight management.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) states that “Appropriately timed protein intake is an important component of an overall exercise training program, essential for proper recovery, immune function, and the growth and maintenance of lean body mass.”1

Although often suggested, in healthy, active adults with no underlying kidney disease, there is no evidence that higher protein intakes have adverse effects on the kidneys when part of a healthy, balanced, and nutrient-dense diet.2

ISSN asserts that 1.4 to 2 g of protein per kilogram of body weight daily for physically active healthy adults “is not only safe, but may improve the training adaptations to exercise training”. Protein requirements depend on the type and intensity of your workouts, the quality of the protein you eat, carbohydrate intake and daily energy expenditure.

  • Endurance athletes: 1 to 1.6 g of protein per kilogram of body weight daily.
  • Strength or power athletes: 1.6 to 2 g of protein per kilogram of body weight daily.

Most people can – and will – meet their daily protein needs through regular food. Remember that you are able to increase your protein intake “naturally” by eating more protein-rich foods such as egg-whites milk, yogurt, eggs, poultry, fish and lean red meat. Man-made foods are never as good as “real” or whole foods.


The most effective time to consume a protein shake is as follows:

1. Breakfast. You have not eaten for approximately 8 hours and a protein shake is ideal.

2. Immediately post-workout. This is the most critical time, as after exercising your muscles need to rebuild and repair themselves. In other words, protein shakes at this time will aid recovery, preserve muscle mass and/or achieve muscle growth – particularly in combination with some carbohydrate. Protein shakes are especially advantageous here because solid protein/ food takes longer to digest.

3. Before your workout. The protein shake will help preserve muscle tissue by minimizing exercise induced catabolism (muscle breakdown). It will also provide a small amount of energy.

4. Before bed. Consuming a protein shake at this time will attenuate the breakdown of protein that naturally takes place during sleep. This is a normal physiological process. However, if you are a hardgainer/ ectomorph and you are fighting to build muscle mass then then you may want to try to minimize any losses.


  • Protein powders are an easy way to consume protein. If your aim is muscle gain, protein shakes can help you meet your target, especially if you are eating 5 – 6 meals a day, don’t have the time to prepare fresh lean protein for every meal or you are a hardgainer struggling to gain weight/ lean mass.
  • Some protein powders/ shakes are formulated to be fast- or slow-acting. Whey protein is absorbed fastest and ideal post-workout, while a casein protein is absorbed more slowly and better taken before bed.
  • Protein powders are high in branched-chain amino acids (these amino acids make up approx. 1/3 of skeletal muscle in the body), will have anabolic/anti-catabolic properties. Supplying the body with these amino acids post-workout may help spare muscles and other tissues from breakdown, increase protein synthesis, regulate blood sugar levels, reduce fatigue during exercise and aid in fat loss. Supplementation may also help improve exercise performance, particularly in high-intensity, endurance exercise.
  • Protein shakes/ protein powders are convenient. Most people are unable to make a meal immediately after exercising. Therefore, ready-to-drink shakes are an alternative.
  • Dependent on the product, may be cost-efficient.


Common sources of protein in protein shakes/ protein powders are milk, whey, casein, egg, and soy-based. However, whey and casein are the most commonly used in protein shakes.

  • Whey protein is fast-absorbing and high in all the essential amino acids and branched-chain amino acids. Whey protein is derived in the process of cheese-making from milk. There are two sub-types of whey protein: whey concentrate (29–89% protein by weight) and whey isolate (90%+ protein by weight). Great after intense workouts.
  • Casein protein is slow-absorbing and the main protein found in milk. Casein provides a sustained slow release of amino acids into the blood stream over several hours, improving its use by the body. Ideal to take before bed.
  • Soy protein is a plant-based source of protein making it suitable for vegans. Soy protein is a “complete protein” as it provides all amino acids essential for human nutrition. However, soy is also the most allergenic food to humans after peanuts. Preliminary findings of a study published in medical journal Fertility and Sterility (December 2007) suggest that a daily serving of soy may prevent postmenopausal women from gaining fat around their abdomen (stomach area). In this study 18 postmenopausal women were given a shake every day for three months. However, half were randomly assigned to drink a soy-based shake each day, while the other half was given a shake containing milk protein (casein). The women, who drank the soy-based shake, were found to have lower levels of belly fat. These findings are thought to be the first to demonstrate that soy protein can affect abdominal fat distribution.

How to Make a Protein Shake

  • You can increase the calorie and carbohydrate content by mixing the protein powder with juice or milk instead of simply water and adding a variety of other ingredients (see below).
  • If you are at home, you can of course make up your own protein shake in a blender, adding various ingredients such as fruit, fruit juices, nuts, oatmeal, skim milk, yogurt and low fat ice-cream to the protein powder to make it a more complete (and delicious) meal. This is a good option for breakfast or if you are feeling hungry, have a sweet tooth and want a snack.
  • Add psyllium husks to increase the fiber content of their shake.
  • Bananas are a great base for protein shakes. Calories in bananas are low, fat is low too and it is a good source of protein.
  • Increase the protein content of your protein shake by adding a few egg whites. To improve taste sweeten the protein shake with some extra ingredients.
  • If you want to increase calories or flavor, add honey, cinnamon, maple syrup, cocoa powder, caramel, peanut butter or chocolate syrup – in moderation.
  • To keep calories low add egg whites, with ice cubes and water to protein powder to make a very low calorie protein shake. Add fruits for sugar and low-fat yogurt to improve taste.
  • To boost nutritional content add essential fats (e.g. flaxseed oil), which will it improve your protein shake by providing a more sustained release of protein, keeping you in positive nitrogen balance for longer. If you’re really brave try adding spirulina, chlorella or lecithin. Also good, multivitamin and probiotic powders.


If you are using a protein powder to make your protein shake, it may not always be feasible to mix a protein shake when you need it, forcing you to prepare the shake long before you will be consuming it. For example, you may mix a protein shake in the morning to consume later at work or post-workout at the gym. However, ideally protein shakes should be consumed as soon as they are prepared. The longer protein shakes have been mixed, the more likely they are to be harvesting bacteria and other contaminants. Therefore, if you are on the run, use a shaker bottle and add the protein powder, then when you’re ready for your protein shake just add water, shake and drink.

If you still want to pre-mix your protein shake here are a few tips that will increase the viability of your pre-mixed protein shake:

  1. The container you’re using must be clean and airtight.
  2. Once mixed, store the protein shake container in the fridge – room temperature is too warm.
  3. Avoid bacterial contamination by pouring the protein drink into a cup to drink. Don’t drink from the bottle.


This is a great way to satisfy a junk food craving without sending your blood sugar through the ceiling, while simultaneously nourishing your body with plenty of protein and healthy unsaturated fat. Add all ingredients to blender, whip, and serve.

  • 2 scoops vanilla protein powder
  • 2 tbsp sugar-free instant butterscotch pudding mix (dry)
  • 1 tbsp natural peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
  • 8 oz. water (or low-fat milk)
  • 3-6 ice cubes

Another great protein shake recipe:

  • 1 cup frozen berries
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup crushed ice
  • 1 scoop whey protein powder
Combine in a blender until smooth.

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