Are you wondering if it’s okay to drink protein shakes even if you’re not hitting the gym? You’re not alone! Protein shakes are popular for athletes and fitness enthusiasts looking to rebuild muscle after a workout. Protein shakes can also be a convenient option for anyone looking to boost their protein intake.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the answer to the question: Can you drink protein shakes without working out? We’ll also discuss the benefits and drawbacks of using protein shakes as part of your diet and provide tips for choosing a protein shake that’s right for you.
Drinking protein shakes without working out can be a handy way to get more protein in your diet. You can drink a protein shake at any time of the day, not just after a workout.
Some people use protein shakes as a meal replacement or to help boost their protein intake if they’re having trouble getting enough from regular food. That being said, it’s important to remember that protein shakes shouldn’t be your only source of nutrition and should be used with a balanced diet that includes a variety of whole foods.
It might also be a good idea to chat with a healthcare professional before adding protein shakes to your diet, especially if you have any health issues or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
How Much Protein Do I Need Per Day?
The recommended daily intake (RDI) of protein is a matter of hot debate in nutrition, especially since it’s difficult to quantify without taking into account a dozen of factors, such as age, sex, height, weight, activity levels, goals, body mass index (BMI), and more.
Most people estimate their protein RDI value as a multiple of their body weight for easy reference. For people who are active in the gym and are looking to build muscle, the formula could be as high as 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
But for the average adult (18+ years old), it’s estimated that 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight (0.36 g/lb) are enough. (source). In metric, this is equivalent to 0.8 g/kg.
What are the benefits of adding Protein Shakes to your Diet?
1. Increased protein intake
Protein is an essential nutrient that plays several critical roles in the body, including building and repairing tissues, producing enzymes and hormones, and maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails. Protein shakes can be an easy way to increase your protein intake, especially if you have trouble getting enough protein from whole foods. (source)
Protein shakes are quick and easy to prepare, making them a convenient choice for people with busy schedules. They can be taken on the go and are an easy way to add protein to your diet when you’re short on time.
3. Weight management
Some research suggests that high-protein diets may be helpful for weight management, as protein can help you feel fuller and more satisfied after eating. This may help you eat fewer calories overall and potentially lose weight.
4. Muscle building
Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue (source). Therefore protein shakes can be a valuable tool for athletes and fitness enthusiasts looking to build muscle.
It is essential to note that drinking protein shakes without exercising will not help you gain muscle. Phillips et al. reviewed the research on dietary protein for athletes. They found that physical activity, particularly resistance exercise, is necessary for muscle growth. Protein intake can support muscle growth and recovery by providing the necessary building blocks for new muscle tissue (source).
Protein can help repair and rebuild muscle tissue after exercise, so protein shakes may benefit people who engage in regular, intense physical activity.
What are the Effects of Drinking a Protein Shake?
The effects of drinking a protein shake in terms of protein consumption are the same as eating protein. Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues, producing hormones and enzymes, and maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails.
Research by Boirie et al. (1997) compared the effects of a diet rich in protein from whole foods versus a diet rich in protein from protein shakes on muscle protein synthesis in healthy young men. The researchers found that the two diets had similar effects on muscle protein synthesis and that there was no enhanced benefit of protein shakes over whole foods.
Therefore whether you are consuming protein in shakes or by food – the added protein content in your diet may also make you feel fuller, which may help with weight management. And, of course, If you’re active and do resistance exercise, protein shakes may help build muscle mass and improve recovery after a workout. But there are no added effects of drinking a protein shake versus consuming protein in your diet.
Drinking a Protein Shake Without Exercise Depends on Your Goals
Establishing your goals before drinking protein shakes is very important. For instance, determine if you want to gain muscle or weight, maintain your current form, or lose weight.
As referenced above, gaining muscle is impossible without exercise. A common misconception is that protein on its own can build muscle. In reality, it can only help repair the muscles after they’ve broken down during training, which is how athletes gain muscle mass. So, protein shakes without exercise won’t help on that front.
If you’re looking to gain weight, protein shakes may help you due to the extra calories. However, due to the calorie surplus, you’ll mostly gain fat if you’re not working out, which isn’t ideal. Besides, if you’re struggling to gain weight, you should primarily focus on carbohydrates, not only protein.
Research showed that carbohydrates are an essential source of energy for physical activity and may also play a significant role in muscle building by providing the necessary substrate for protein synthesis.
For weight maintenance or loss, protein shakes can help you reach your daily intake values in potentially fewer calories, but this depends on the rest of your diet. Not to mention that you’ll need to account for the calories in your protein supplement of choice.
The Drawbacks of Drinking Protein Shakes Without Exercising
1. Protein Shakes Aren’t Raw Protein
Another misconception is that protein supplements are made up of only protein. Such a product would be revolutionary in the field of nutritional supplements. But sadly, it doesn’t exist.
Protein supplements aren’t made from protein molecules synthesized in a lab. Instead, they’re made from protein-dense foods after stripping them of the rest of their caloric makeup.
Let’s take whey protein as a famous example. It’s made from the whey liquid that separates from cheese curds in the production process. In the past, cheese makers would either toss the whey byproduct away or, depending on where you are in the world, make whey-based cheeses.
This means that whey protein powder has a similar nutritional makeup to traditional dairy products, though it’s much less caloric and richer in protein.
This also applies to other protein powder types, whether they’re casein, plant-based, beef-derived, or something else.
2. Protein Supplements Contain Calories
As mentioned above, protein powder contains calories because its main ingredient, such as whey or soy, is a regular food product. But while whey contains much fewer than ten calories per 30 grams, why does a scoop of whey protein powder (~32 g) contain 100-200 calories?
The main reason is that whey isn’t very appetizing, so supplement companies often add a ton of extra ingredients to make it more palatable. The most prominent additives are artificial flavors and sugar, though not all companies use these two.
Some companies add natural flavors instead. And while these are healthier than their artificial counterparts, they’re also significantly more expensive. And since protein powder is already costly and has a hefty price tag, most people would instead take the extra calories and save money, which makes sense.
3. Protein Shakes Are Often More Than Powder and Water
It’s okay to make your shakes out of protein powder and water, but adding other ingredients is pretty common to make a more delicious and nutritious shake.
For example, many people opt for milk instead of water to dissolve the powder, which goes very well with whey protein as a flavor combination.
Other nutritionally-dense foods that you could add to your shake are bananas and nut-based spreads, especially peanut butter.
So, you should also account for those extra ingredients if you rely on protein shakes.
Is Too Much Protein Bad for Me?
Excess protein won’t harm most people, but if you have kidney diseases, giving your kidneys more protein than they can handle will likely cause more damage. (source)
But even if you’re healthy, eating more protein than your body needs is wasteful since the excess protein is either burned for energy or stored as fat. (source)
The Bottom Line; Can You Drink Protein Shakes Without Working Out?
Drinking protein shakes without working out may be a bit overboard, especially for most people who don’t regularly exercise. And as referenced in the research above, drinking protein shakes without resistance training won’t help build muscle.
The good news is that drinking shakes outside of working out can add additional calories and protein to your diet. Some people may even use them for weight loss or maintenance as a meal replacement.
However, as the research suggests, drinking protein shakes alone is no better than getting that protein from your food. Therefore, it is essential to remember that protein powder is a supplement. And if you can reach your daily protein intake with regular foods, then you don’t need them.
- National Academy of Medicine. (2005). Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56068/
- Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S., Nieuwenhuizen, A., Tome, D., Soenen, S., & Westerterp, K. R. (2009). Dietary protein, weight loss, and weight maintenance. Annual Review of Nutrition, 29(1), 21-41. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2766740/
- Lemon, P. W. (1995). Is there a maximal anabolic response to protein intake with a meal?. Journal of Applied Physiology, 78(2), 674-680. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3869074/
- Tipton, K. D., Gurkin, B. E., Matin, S., & Wolfe, R. R. (1999). Nonessential amino acids are not necessary to stimulate net muscle protein synthesis in healthy volunteers. Journal of the American Medical Association, 281(2), E6-E7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC56440/
- Boirie, Y., Dangin, M., Gachon, P., Vasson, M. P., Maubois, J. L., & Beaufrere, B. (1997). Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 94(26), 14930-14935. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC25260/