I call protein shakes my number one needle mover for fast, lasting weight loss because they get results. I’ve had clients do nothing other than substitute a protein shake for breakfast, and they lost weight.
High-protein foods curb your appetite and keep you full longer. One study found a protein-rich breakfast suppresses hunger far better than a carbohydrate-heavy breakfast. I know, you don’t always have time or an appetite for a substantial protein-rich breakfast. That’s why a protein shake is the perfect solution!
Studies show protein shakes can help you burn fat and keep it off better. One meta-analysis found one or two nutrient-fortified meal replacements could "safely and effectively produce significant sustainable weight loss and improve weight-related risk factors of disease."
To get those and other benefits, you’ll want to design a protein shake correctly. I don’t want you making these three mistakes that crash-and-burn an otherwise-healthy protein shake:
1. Turning your protein shake into a milkshake.
Adding high-sugar ingredients like dried fruit, sweetened nut milks and sugar-added almond butter can easily turn a potentially healthy shake into a sugar-loaded, fat-storing disaster.
Solution: Opt for low-sugar impact ingredients. My favorite blends the right protein powder with unsweetened coconut milk, frozen raspberries, avocado, kale and freshly ground flaxseeds. You have an easy, delicious, fat-blasting breakfast in minutes that keeps you full for hours.
2. Choosing the wrong protein.
Among a growing array of choices, finding the right protein shake can become a challenge. If you don't believe me, visit your local supermarket or health food store and read those labels.
I realize whey — the second most abundant protein in milk after casein — becomes the gold standard for protein powders. The problem with whey is that it absorbs very quickly. That might be fine post-workout, but as a meal replacement whey becomes a disaster.
One study found whey creates an insulin-raising effect similar to white bread. That explains why you’re hungry an hour after a whey shake, and not in the mood for wild salmon and Brussels sprouts, either.
Casein protein is another no-go. While it absorbs more slowly than whey, it comes with all of dairy’s potential reactivity. One study found casein peptides behave very similarly to gluten: They can react with opiate receptors in the brain, mimicking druglike effects.
Soy — usually found in protein powders as cheap soy isolate — also gets the thumbs down. Among its problems, Dr. Amy Shah says soy can adversely affect your thyroid and potentially contribute to breast cancer. Plus, most soy is genetically modified (GMO).
Solution: Choose non-soy, nondairy protein powder. My favorite plant proteins include rice, pea, chia, chlorella or cranberry protein. Another smart option is defatted beef protein powder (look for one that comes from Swedish grass-fed cows), which provides whey’s creaminess without dairy’s reactivity.
Whichever you choose, your powder should contain 20 — 25 grams of protein per serving. If you're very athletic, have significant weight to lose, or recovering from surgery or injury, you may need to bump up intake to 30 grams or more.
3. Buying powders with unhealthy ingredients.
Manufacturers make powders palatable with preservatives, maltodextrin, fructose and other sugars, excessive sugar alcohols, and artificial sweeteners. Those should all be red flags to put that powder back!
Solution: Read labels carefully, buy professional brands, and opt for protein powders with fewer ingredients that are low-sugar impact. Look out for the many different names for sugar, many of which are derived from GMO corn (e.g. "syrup", "juice", "concentrate", "fructose" and "sweetener").
My rule is no more than five grams of added sugar per 100-calorie serving, and of course less is even better.
If you regularly use protein powder, what one problem would you add that you commonly see in many commercial powders? Share yours!