It’s a deceptively simple question: how many protein shakes should you be drinking in a day? Almost anyone who works out has downed one at some point, and more likely than not you’ve seen guys nonchalantly tossing them back whenever you’re in a crowded gym. No one can deny a good workout regimen requires extra protein. But just how much protein should you consume in your diet? And how much of it should come in the form of protein shakes?
Know Your Protein Requirements
It’s important to remember that every person’s protein requirements are different. However, a good rule of thumb is that for every pound of lean body weight, you should be consuming .8 to 1.5 grams of protein. Therefore, a 200lb man with 10% body fat should consume about 180 grams of protein a day. It would be a mistake however to think that you should consume all your protein from protein powders alone, while frittering away the rest of your caloric intake on chips and salsa. Instead, most of your protein should come from whole foods like chicken, fish, lean beef, eggs, and beans. This is because your body needs a wide variety of nutrients that your protein shakes – even good protein shakes – can never provide. Failing to attend to healthy macros is not only inefficient for your fitness goals, but degenerative to your well-being in the long term. Protein shakes should only ideally be used to fill in whatever gaps that your balanced diet happens to leave behind. To this end, keeping a food log can be hugely beneficial, or using an app like MyFitnessPal, which tracks your calorie intake, proteins, carbs, and fats.
Why Should I Include Protein Shakes In My Diet?
All this being said, there are three major reasons why making protein shakes a regular part of your diet is a good idea: they’re convenient, fast absorbing, and affordable. Food takes time to cook – and let’s face it, who in our busy schedules always has the time to make sure he’s eaten enough chicken breast for the day? Protein powder, on the other hand, needs only a quick shake in water or milk – and voila, one more thing checked off the list. This makes it especially ideal for consuming in that post-workout anabolic window, when your muscles are primed to absorb more nutrients than usual. The fact that shakes are in a liquid form, too, means that the protein is easily absorbed by your body – again a plus for that hour-long post-workout period. And finally, purchased in bulk, protein powders are often far cheaper than other sources of protein. Gold Standard Whey Protein, for example, averages $50 per 5lb box. That’s $10 per pound of protein! Not even a steady diet of McDonald chicken nuggets can compete with that.
The Nitty Gritty
So, what does a balanced diet including protein powder look like? Say that a man with 180lbs of lean body weight consumes the following on a given day:
Breakfast: 2 cups of cooked oatmeal (12g of protein)
Snack: 1 cup of cottage cheese (23 g of protein)
Lunch: 1 chicken breast, 1 cup of brown rice , 1 cup of steamed vegetables (60 g of protein)
Snack: 1 cup of Greek yogurt (17g of protein)
Dinner: 1 fillet tilapia and 1 cup of steamed vegetables (25g of protein)
His total protein intake from food is 137g, and his recommended total daily protein intake is 180g. Given that most protein powder servings are 20-25 grams, he ought to be drinking two shakes a day, with at least one preferably after working out.
In fact, for the average guy trying to gain weight (on a healthy diet), about two protein shakes per day is a decent guideline to follow. One way to think of it is that a good rate of weight gain is about a pound per week, for which you’ll need an extra intake of about 3500 calories. That’s 500 extra calories per day, or about two servings of protein powder with milk.
RDI for Cutting and Bulking
Protein for Cutting:
When cutting, your protein needs are higher for several reasons. First, when you’re in a caloric deficit, your body is literally eating you alive. This is because you aren’t eating as many calories as your body needs to maintain its weight, making its rate of tissue growth fall behind its rate of tissue breakdown. The larger your caloric deficit, the more your body tries to break down its own lean protein for energy. Your goal, therefore, is to make sure that you replenish that protein to adequate levels. Second, the leaner you get the higher your RDI. Because your body has fewer and fewer fat cells to break down for energy, it’s more and more likely to turn to muscle, so you need to consume more protein to avoid losing it. Third, if you’re challenging yourself with more intense training, you’ll also need to consume more protein (this is true even if you’re not in a caloric deficit). All the above factors are also additive, meaning that if you’re cutting, lean, and training hard, your protein intake should be far above that of a person who is merely cutting. Not surprisingly, therefore, an athlete in training will need a lot more protein than someone who is merely dieting.
What does this mean in hard numbers? Let’s take a look.
Protein for Bulking:
First of all, it should go without saying that bulking is not about eating everything in sight and then hoping that this will lead you to magically be able to lift heavy. Eating everything in sight will just lead you to getting fat as hell. While it is true that some of your excess calories will be stored as fat no matter how good your diet is, it is important to try to keep that fat as minimal as possible, while maximizing muscle gain. This means that you should be upping your protein intake to about 1.5g of protein per pound of lean bodyweight, while lifting heavier weights and training harder. A man with 180g of lean body mass should therefore be consuming 240g of protein per day. However, above 40g of protein in a single sitting can lead to lethargy and digestive issues, so you should aim to break up your protein intake throughout the day. For a 180lb man, you’ll want to have at least 6 meals or snacks throughout the day, spaced out with a minimum of 90 minutes.
Note that when bulking you also need to eat a proper balance of carbs and fats. In order to gain muscle, you need high levels of carbs to fuel your workouts and keep up your energy levels; you also need carbs for building muscle, since they raise insulin levels, which in turn helps shuttle amino acids into muscle cells. Consuming enough good fats, on the other hand, ensures stable hormone production, which is not only necessary for muscle production but essential for proper brain and body function.
Dangers of Overdoing It
Lastly, keep in mind that drinking too many protein shakes a day can be counterproductive or even dangerous. Your body can only take up a certain amount of protein, depending on weight, gender, and training level, and excess protein can overload your liver – leaving harmful levels of amino acids, insulin, and hormones in your body. Always keep track of your body’s individual needs, always keep informed, and never allow yourself to become so carried away by fitness trends that you do yourself harm.
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