A lot of us could benefit from having a little more protein in our diet.
If your goal is weight loss, proper protein has been shown to help you maintain lean body mass and shed unwanted fat.
If your goal is muscle gain, well, it should be obvious that protein is one of the key building blocks and drivers of protein synthesis (muscle repair and growth).
One of the easiest, cheapest and most convenient ways to get a lot of protein? Protein shakes!
So how many proteins shakes can you have in a day?
There’s really no limit to how many protein shakes you can have in a day, per se. However, the smart thing to do is monitor your:
Overall protein intake
Overall calorie intake
Intake of other macronutrients (fats and carbs)
Intake of micronutrients and other additives (sugars, artificial sweeteners, etc.)
With all of that said, I probably wouldn’t have more than 2 protein shakes in a single day, though you certainly can if you want!
But let’s dive in a little deeper and take a closer look at the pros and cons of using protein shakes (or multiple per day) to hit your macros.
First: Monitor your overall protein intake
So the first step to figuring out how many protein shakes you should have in a day is watching how much protein you’re getting, period.
Your average, normal, somewhat active person needs around .36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, per day. That’s anywhere between 40-60 grams for average sized people.
If you’re more active, lifting weights, exercising, and targeting weight loss, you should be getting a little bit more.
Most experts recommend around .8 to 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, per day, for these kinds of people. That’s closer to 120-160 grams per day for average sized people.
Is getting too much protein dangerous?
There are a lot of claims that suggest too much protein can be harmful, but in truth there is very little evidence to back that up.
According to Healthline, studies show that even eating 2g of protein per pound of bodyweight, or double the usual recommendation, is unlikely to cause harm.
So if you’re wondering how protein shakes factor into all of this, don’t think about “number of protein shakes.”
Just try to hit your protein target for the day depending on your goal.
(If go over, chances are nothing bad is going to happen, but it’s unlikely you’ll get much benefit from it.)
Second: Monitor overall calorie intake
Protein shakes are appealing to a lot of us because they can be pretty low calorie ways of cramming in a lot of protein.
If you mix your shake with water or skim milk, you can easily get 30-50 grams of protein for somewhere around 200-400 calories.
That’s a bargain!
Lean cuts of meat are also pretty efficient, but become a little less so by the time you’re done adding oils, seasonings, sauces, and sides.
Even still, while having several protein shakes per day probably isn’t dangerous, it could cause you to go way over your calorie limit for the day.
(Or way under, if that’s all you’re eating.)
Here are some basic guidelines:
For weight loss, you want to have somewhere around 12 calories per pound of bodyweight in a day.
For muscle gain, you’d shoot for around 17 calories per pound of bodyweight.
And to maintain your body weight and composition, you’d eat around 15 calories per pound of bodyweight.
Having, say, 10 protein shakes per day would give you plenty of protein! But it might also put you way over your target calories and into a place where you’re gaining too much fat.
(Or at least knock you out of the weight loss zone.)
Conversely, having 5 protein shakes per day might seem like a lot, and it would give you a ton of protein, but depending on how you’re mixing it and how much you weigh, it could be way too few calories.
Again, don’t think about “number of shakes per day,” think about how much protein you need, how many total calories you need, and how/if protein shakes can help you get there.
Third: Get enough good carbs and fats
Yeah, protein is great and all, but don’t ignore its siblings: carbs and fat.
There are a lot of intense fad diets out there that restrict your carbs or have you go super low-fat, but unless you’re on a specialty meal plan you should be getting a solid balance of both in your diet.
Protein shakes are often pretty low in both, though they can pack a lot of carbs in the form of sugar sometimes.
That’s one point for making sure you’re getting lots of real, whole food in your diet and not just 4 protein shakes per day.
Remember, you don’t need an insane amount of protein!
Getting more than you need won’t hurt you directly in most cases, but it will cause you to under consume carbs (which give you energy) and fats (which help keep your hormones in balance).
So there’s nothing wrong with having a shake or two per day to get a quick boost of protein, but you should also strive to eat some lean meats, dairy if you can stomach it, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for a nice balance of everything your body needs.
Fourth: Watch the additives
A couple of problems people sometimes run into when drinking a lot of protein shakes:
Too much sugar
Too many additives
Too much artificial sweetener
Low quality protein powders will often be jam packed with sugar, or will use low-quality protein and fluff it up with a bunch of added junk.
Conversely, a protein powder with almost no sugar could be disguising a ton of artificial sweeteners like sucralose, Stevia, or aspartame.
As long as you’re meeting the other requirements on this list (calories, protein count, carbs and fat), I wouldn’t overly worry about this one. But your comfort level may vary on how much sugar you like to have, or how you feel about diet sweeteners.
Protein shakes are often loaded with this stuff, so just be aware of them. And it’s just one more reason not to base the foundation of your diet on shakes.
Why drink protein shakes, anyway?
So those are some of the things you want to factor in when deciding if you should use protein shakes.
The bottom line is, though, that they can be really helpful and effective for some people.
I know, I know. It’s pretty cliche’ to imagine the bodybuilder guzzling massive protein shakes all day long, but even if you’re not getting ready for the stage, protein shakes have some pretty great benefits.
Here’s why some people choose to use protein shakes (instead of, say, an extra portion of chicken breast):
Protein shakes are crazy convenient.
Most often, they come in a powdered form that you can mix into water or milk. Both the powder and the final product are easy to carry around, whether that’s to the gym, in the car on the way to work, or wherever you might be.
Sure, you can get the same protein from a chicken breast, but think of everything you have to do first:
Buy fresh chicken and/or defrost frozen chicken
Season or marinate the chicken
Bake or grill the chicken
Serve and eat it
Even if you choose to front-load that process and cook up a bunch of chicken for the week and grab it as you go, it’s still a lot of work and planning. (And just think of all the dishes.)
Protein shakes are as easy as grabbing a scoop of powder from a huge tub (which almost never goes bad) and mixing it with water or milk in a shaker cup or blender.
(Or, alternatively, you could buy pre-made protein shakes that are ready to go at a moment’s notice.)
It’s just so much easier.
Eating a high protein diet can be EXPENSIVE.
I don’t have to tell you how pricey it is to go to the store and grab a bunch of decent quality fresh chicken, turkey, or lean beef.
Plus, getting high-quality dairy options (milk, cheese, yogurt) can really rack up a bill, too.
Protein powder, even pretty good, high-end stuff, is usually a lot less expensive.
It’s almost depressing to go spend a bunch of money on a few pounds of good quality meat only to plow through it in a few days.
A $20 tub of protein powder will probably last you around a month.
Speed / Efficiency
Related to convenience, using protein shakes and powders is just a lot faster and more efficient if you’re trying to get a lot of protein into your diet.
This is especially true if you’re bulking, or eating in a calorie surplus in order to add size and muscle.
I find that protein shakes don’t keep you nearly as full for as long, compared to eating lots of lean meat which fills you up like crazy.
If you’re trying to pack a lot in (and save calories), protein powder is pretty damn efficient.
Wrapping Up: Is it safe, healthy, or bad to have 2 or more protein shakes a day?
All signs and evidence point to there being no real “limit” on how many protein shakes you can have assuming:
You take in the right number of calories for your goal
You hit your protein target for the day
You get some healthy carbs and fats in your diet
And you’re aware of your sugar, additives, and artificial sweeter intake
All that being said, I can’t really see why any relatively active person would need more than 2 protein shakes per day.
Depending on the powder you use and how you mix it, that’s 60+ grams of protein just from shakes!
I’d recommend getting the rest from real, whole foods and make sure you’re getting plenty of fiber and healthy fats along the way.
But if you really want to have 3, 4, or 5 protein shakes per day: Knock yourself out.
Just watch out for those guardrails I mentioned above and you should be fine.
Hope this helps!