How Many Protein Shakes A Day? Should You Drink Them Every Day?

QUESTION: I recently started using whey protein powder and was wondering how many protein shakes I should drink a day? And also, should I drink them every day or only on the days I work out?

ANSWER: Here, try this. Go back and replace the words “protein shakes” and “drink” with the words “chicken breasts” and “eat.” The answers would be identical. Here’s why.

After total calories, your daily protein intake is likely the most important part of your diet regardless of whether you’re looking to gain muscle, maintain muscle, lose fat, improve performance or any combination thereof. For most people, shooting for somewhere around 1 gram of protein per pound of their current body weight (use your goal body weight if you’re significantly overweight) will be ideal.

So yes, protein itself is extremely important and plays many crucial roles in your overall health as well as in reaching your specific diet and training goals.

However, the source of that protein – be it high quality food sources like chicken, eggs, beef, fish and dairy, or supplements like whey and casein – is much less important. In fact, it’s really not important at all.

Why? Because…

Protein Shakes Don’t Do Anything!

Yes, the supplement companies might claim all sorts of amazing things. Yes, the sales guy at GNC might claim all sorts of amazing things. Yes, the clueless placebo-effect-experiencing noob at your gym or on your favorite diet/training forum might claim all sorts of amazing things too.

But the reality is that there is nothing magical about protein shakes. They don’t actually do anything. Compared to a typical high protein food, the main advantage is purely convenience. Meaning, it’s faster and easier to drink a shake than prepare and cook chicken.

But beyond that, it’s not providing any significant benefits over any other high quality solid food source.

So, asking how many protein shakes you should drink a day is sorta like asking how many chicken breasts you should eat a day. Seems like a silly question now, right? But it’s cool, I’ll answer it anyway…

How Many Protein Shakes Should I Have A Day?

It’s quite simple: whatever amount is needed/preferred to help you meet you protein requirements for the day.

So let’s say you’re getting a sufficient amount of protein from foods like chicken, beef, fish, eggs, milk, etc.

How many protein shakes should you drink a day? Zero.

But if you are NOT getting a sufficient amount of protein from the foods in your diet, and you don’t have time to cook/prepare/eat more of those kinds of foods, or you just get sick of eating so much of them every day, or you just enjoy the convenience, taste, price or whatever-the-hell-else of protein shakes… then you should drink as many as you need to in order for your total protein intake to be what it needs to be each day.

Whether that means 1, or 2, or 3 or more depends on your specific preferences and dietary needs.

Many people won’t need any. Others might not need any, but would prefer to use them at times for convenience purposes (I put myself in this category). And some people might be unable to consume enough protein each day without them, in which case a legit need exists for using them.

But regardless of it all, the point here is that there’s no such thing as a beneficial amount of protein shakes to drink a day. In and of itself, that amount is completely meaningless.

What there is, however, is a beneficial amount of protein to consume per day. And if you need or would just prefer to get some supplemental help in reaching that daily amount, then THAT’S the one and only factor influencing the answer to this question.

Should You Drink Them Every Day?

As for whether you should drink them every day (i.e. rest days) or only on the days you work out, the answer here is basically the same as my previous answer… only if you need/want to.

Again, protein shakes are basically just a convenient form of chicken. Nothing special happens when you drink them, and nothing bad happens when you don’t. Whether you drink them every day isn’t what matters here.

What matters is your total daily protein intake, and that’s equally important on non-workout days as it is on workout days. Which means, your goal is to consume a sufficient amount every single day of the week whether you worked out or not.

If you need (or would just prefer) to drink a protein shake on some or all of those days to help you make that happen, then go for it. But if not, feel free not to.

It’s just a high quality source of protein like any other, albeit one that tends to have some convenience advantages.

41 thoughts on “How Many Protein Shakes A Day? Should You Drink Them Every Day?”

41 Comments

  1. Easy and direct (and correct, as far as my research and experience has shown)… something tells me people are going to WANT it to be more complicated than that though.

  2. Yup, I was in the “I must consume Whey Protein” camp. For some reason (i.e,. probably marketing…) I thought it had magical powers for some reason. All the while, I was suffering with horrible bloat (no matter what brand I used…) and I hated drinking my protein when I derive more satisfaction consuming it (i.e,. chicken, beef, fish,etc,. ). So Thanks Jay for always dispelling the fiction that has become attached to Body Building and droppin’ real science, Bro! As always, YOU RAWK!!

  3. Isn’t 1.5 grams of protein x body weight a bit too high if you’re trying to gain muscle and be in a caloric surplus? I find it to satiating to make my caloric surplus for the day

    • Jay recommends somewhere around 1g of protein for every pound of weight. A man striving for 175 pounds would target somewhere around 170g of protein daily. You probably want to review his dietary articles where he gives specifics on how to manage protein, carbs, fats, and calories on a daily basis.

      It’s not difficult to get 1g protein per pound of weight daily, AND be in a healthy calorie surplus (especially when supplementing with protein shakes).

  4. I have been told that drinking a whey protein shake right after a workout is better than eating chicken or other sources of protein. This is apparently because your body absorbs whey much faster, and can immediately use it to repair/build muscles.

    Is there any truth to this claim?

    • It’s true that liquid meals digest faster than solid food meals, and whey digests faster than other forms of protein.

      However, none of this is likely to matter in any way whatsoever in the context of the post workout meal… assuming a pre workout meal was consumed and the workout wasn’t excessively long.

      My book has a whole chapter explaining this.

  5. So with that being answered, we know that the ideal to replenish with protein is post workout. Is there a certain TIME that is also beneficial to take protein whether it’s whey protein, eggs, or chicken? Is morning a good time because your body is starving for nutrients?

    • What matters most is your total protein intake for the day. As long as that’s what it needs to be, you’re good. That’s the one major detail.

      In terms of minor details, consuming protein before and after your workout will be beneficial, and consuming protein regularly throughout the day (i.e. during each meal, usually with 3-5 meals per day) is likely some degree more ideal than going 4-5+ hours without consuming protein on a daily basis.

  6. I love this article to the moon! People tend to make this shake stuff look like something i can’t even explain. Instead of focusing on their daily workout routine that could be as beneficial as the shake itself, you’d see someone drinking a gallon (permit me to use that exaggerated word) of protein shake with less workout;more time in the gym.
    Thanks Jay for the eye opener. More of this.

    • Yup, that tends to be the case with supplements in general. Diet and training become secondary thoughts at best, and “what supplements should I take?!?!” becomes the main focus.

  7. I am a vegetarian and do not eat meet for religious reasons. I am a female weighing 125 pounds. Since I must consume non-meat protein sources such as whey shakes, should I take in more than 125 grams of protein a day due to my sources not being meat-based protein?

    • Probably not. I’d suggest using whey, eggs, diary (if you digest it well) as your primary protein sources if possible. But if plant sources make up a significant/majority portion of your protein intake, a BCAA supplement may be ideal.

  8. Hey jay
    Long time reader on and off. Put on about 10 lbs during the winter epic eating and drinking season. But as i know and so do you, its all about calories. Changed my diet back to rice, oatmeal, veggies, meat and fruit, stayed consistently under my weight maintenance calorie number. One month later I’m 9 lbs down just by doing that. I gotta say it’s as easy as cut calories (CONSISTENTLY) and let the body do the rest. Cheers to one of the few logical workout sites.

  9. I would add one caveat before automatically equating a shake with a chicken breast, eggs or whatever – make sure you know your protein shake completely. Some protein shakes have abundance of added vitamins and nutrients such that drinking multiple shakes a day may result in a higher than recommended dose of fat soluble vitamins; others may have have little or no added nutrients, such that relying on shakes as a food source could lead to nutritional deficiencies. Whatever you choose to nourish your body, moderation and balance is always a good idea.

    • …and, as you’re correctly implying, therein lies the error of relying on what should be, if consumed at all, merely “supplementary” nutrition as primary nutrition.
      The nutritional needs of human bodies are evolved/designed around and within nature. That is, the human body as we know it’s biologically been for millenia depends upon animals and vegetables as its sources of nutrients. Those nutrient sources are complex — for example, neither L-Carnitine nor Vitamin C is found isolated in any source, but occurs within an integrated complex of other organic materials. Therefore, the biology of humans developed to obtain and absorb amino acids, cholesterol, vitamins, minerals, etcetera as those nutrients occur complexed, in the form of meat, fish, eggs, fruit, grain, vegetables, and so on.

      A corollary is that, since science doesn’t claim complete understanding of human biology and nutrition, it remains unknown whether nutrition can only be sub-optimal unless nutrients are obtained from those natural animal and vegetative complexes.

      The survive-to-reproduce biology of the human body is adaptable and resilient. So, sub-optimal nutrition won’t necessarily kill someone even after several years — a person can avoid starvation with cornflakes and supermarket white bread, sure. And, the human body can utilize nutrients in the artificially-isolated forms which technology enables — isolated Vitamin C and L-Carnitine can be utilized by the human body, sure.

      However, optimal human biological function requires optimal nutrition. Since human bodies are evolved/designed to obtain nutrients from the complexed forms found in animals and vegetables, then unless science can evidence that other sources (such as artificially-isolated and/or buffet-style vitamin and mineral dump-a-bunch-in-and-hope-it-actually-accomplishes-some-good commercial protein shakes) are at least equally nutritious, it seems reasonable for a bodybuilder seeking optimal nutrition to primarily obtain his protein and nutrients from fish, chicken, beef, eggs, Greek yogurt, cheese, spinach, sweet potatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, whole wheat, bananas, pineapples, and so on.

      Commercial protein drinks are convenient, sure. And, as a secondary source of protein, perhaps to get that other 25 or 30 grams of protein after consuming 120 grams of protein from fish, turkey, beef liver, and cottage cheese to get the day’s goal of 150 grams, fine, although no better than eating another canful of tuna. (I keep a few of Premier’s protein drinks on hand for those occasions when I’m pressed for time).

      But any idea that protein drinks are nutritionally superior or even equal to the naturally-complexed forms obtained from animal and plant sources has zero scientific proof. For over sixty years, the marketeers have manipulated words to make people think protein drinks are not only superior to “real” food but also required for optimal muscle growth.

      That’s why the carefully-chosen word, “supplement” is so semantically accurate — when such products first appeared, they were a means for merchants to “supplement” their profits!

  10. Depends on the brand. I’m not a health practitioner or herbal guru, but I do know what the best brand is. GNC is ok. They seem to make a new model every week, and that about all you get is (just) protein. However, GNLD, Neolife makes the best tasting brand I have ever consumed. The main thing is what else does it give you besides protein. GNLD has done extensive research in the supplement field. Targets more on the cellular level and the extra ingredients are ground breaking.

  11. Should I be worried about the high insulin spike whey protein creates? Especially if I drink it everyday? I want to take it everyday for convenience but someone convinced me it will give me diabetes so I have been avoiding it.

  12. One aspect of protein drinks that I am dubious about is that many of them contain Soy. Soy is cheap hence the fact that it is the main source of protein in many protein drinks and powders. I feel that that the jury is still out when it comes to the question “Does high intake of soy promote high levels of oestrogen? Personally I not going to risk it. So a decent Whey protein drink / powder when I am in a rush and can not eat half a chicken!

  13. Without getting into boring specifics, hitting 100+ grams of protein per day is very difficult for me. Whey protein powder costs 2 to 3 times more what it should where I’m from.

    Jay, have you ever observed the effects in one of your clients/colleagues or even yourself in working out with a sub-optimal protein intake, say 50-80g ? What are the effects? Do you still put on muscle, albeit at a slower rate or your body just refuses to use protein to build muscle?

    • I couldn’t put any specific figure on it, other than that sub-optimal protein intake = sub-optimal results. The further from optimal that protein intake is… the worse and worse results will be. And at some point, insufficient protein would prevent any muscle from being built at all.

  14. This reminds me of a time I read a review on one of my favorite protein bars. An anon gave it one star stating how badly the bars made their stomach hurt when they were eating three or four of them a day. Really? More isn’t always better. These foods were not meant to be lived off of. Try diversifying your diet to incorporate healthy foods and various sources of protein. Pretty simple really. Good article, thanks.

  15. I’ve been told that if we build the muscle from just drinking protein shakes, it will lose muscle faster than from real meat when we stop working out.
    Is that true?
    Or no matter what it takes in, protein is protein nothing different to affect to building muscle

    • Complete nonsense.

      There are definitely different types of protein (i.e., sources like whey and meat are superior to plant sources), but what you’re asking is complete nonsense.

  16. I’ve noticed that people who aren’t really tracking their food intake are the ones who feel like protein shakes are a necessity “just because”. They may or may not be getting enough protein from the food they eat, but to them protein shakes are just “something you gotta do when you lift” They don’t really think about them as part of their total diet, rather they’re a muscle building pill they have to choke down after a workout for no reason other than “it’s what you do”. Following an IIFYM style diet quickly rid me of that notion though.

    • Yup, there is truth to this. People think “I want to build muscle, clearly I will need protein shakes” similar to how others think “I want to lose fat, clearly I will need cardio.”

      Both certainly have the potential to be useful, but neither are even remotely required.

  17. I stumbled upon this website just a few days back and believe me, i daily pray for you since. I have one confusion in mind that i want you to clear. What do you actually mean when you say that the daily required protein intake for a person is 150 g or 170 g etc. Does it mean that, for example if i use chicken or egg as my protein source, the weight of that chicken piece(es) or egg(s) should be 150 g or 170 g. Or does it mean that that chicken or egg should contain 150 g or 170 g of protein? thanks in advance

  18. Thank you! As someone who has a hard time eating solid protein due to a surgery, I appreciate you validating my usage of protein drinks!!

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