Could your post-workout protein shake actually be making it harder for you to get in shape?
Whilst shakes are a great way to supplement the nutrients you need for an active lifestyle, there are calories in protein powders. And if you’re using protein shakes regularly, the calories could start to add up.
But there’s no reason to worry. With a little extra research, and a trained eye for label reading, you’ll be able to quickly examine the contents of your favourite protein shake. In doing so, you’ll clearly see how many calories it’s got, and whether that’s enough — because we do want some calories in our lives! Right?
Firstly, what are calories and why do we need them?
You may be surprised to learn that a ‘calorie’ isn’t actually a thing at all. A calorie is actually a unit of measurement, referring to the amount of energy in food and drink — a high-calorie meal has more energy stored in it versus a small low-calorie snack. So depending on what you eat, your body has an opportunity to extract a lot of energy from that food, or just a little. That’s why calories shouldn’t be demonised in any way — all food and drink has calories, and calories are absolutely essential to keep you active and healthy.
In fact, calories help our bodies function on the most basic of levels, keeping our hearts beating and our lungs breathing. Plus, they give us strength and energy to smash out our workouts. If you don’t consume enough calories, you could be left feeling sluggish, grouchy, and weak.
So how many calories do you need a day?
Our bodies burn calories as fuel, all day every day — even whilst we sleep!
So generally speaking, active women in their 20s and 30s should be taking in about 2,000 calories per day, and sometimes closer to 2,500. If you’re particularly active and expending lots of energy, most likely you will want to opt for a higher calorie intake to support your daily needs.
If you’re serious about getting a handle on your calorie intake, why not work out your personal caloric needs, based on your activity level and metabolic rate. This way you’ll have a daily requirement that’s unique to you, as everybody is different.
Okay, let’s talk about the calories in protein shakes...
A typical protein shake, with no extra ingredients, has around 100-150 calories per scoop. That’s about one tenth of your total daily calories, if you’re using 2 scoops per shake.
And, the thing is, if you’re using protein powders sensibly — as part of a healthy, balanced diet and after a good workout — then you actually need those calories to fuel your movement. So, while there are calories in protein shakes, those calories will come to good use.
What you do need to be aware of though, is whether you’re consuming more calories than you are burning. And without knowing how many calories there are in your favourite protein shake, it could be quite easy to tip the balance into taking in more calories than you’re working off.
So it’s all about awareness — and most protein shakes print calories on the label, making it easy to find out.
The hidden(ish) calories in protein shakes
In truth, working out how many calories are in your protein powder is only half the picture. Because, unless you are exclusively mixing your protein powder with water, other ingredients in your shake will be adding calories into the mix.
You can expect low-fat milk, yogurt, and soy milk to contribute about 100 extra calories per cup — but they also amp up the protein count in your shake too!
Whereas other plant-based milks, like almond and rice, lack the extra protein but do come in with a lower calorie count of about 50 calories per cup.
All in all, with powder and a liquid base, you can expect your average protein shake to contain around 200 calories. But that’s still okay! Like we said, everybody is different and your goals will be different too.
If weight loss is a goal, and you are treating your protein shake as a post-workout snack, 200 calories is fine, but you’ll probably want to cap it there.
If you’re looking to bulk up, you may want to find ways of adding a little more fuel to your shake.
The calories in mix-ins — how much is too much?
Often the protein shakes from your favourite juice bar, or even those blitzed up in your own kitchen, contain more than just protein powder and your liquid base of choice. Mix-ins like fruit, greens, avocado, and nut butters can be great for adding flavour, upping the fibre content, and contributing additional vitamins and minerals.
However, if you are counting calories as part of a weight loss goal, you would do well to consider the caloric load of your mix-ins too.
Fruit adds delicious natural sweetness, but be strategic with the type of fruit you add. Even natural sugars, while certainly preferable to processed sugars or artificial sweeteners like aspartame, can cause your body to store additional fat. Try sticking to fruits with lower sugar content, like berries. Banana lends a wonderful creaminess to shakes, but that smooth texture comes along with a lot of extra sugar and calories. Use avocado instead for an even more luxurious texture and a hit of fibre without all the sugar — plus, the healthy fats keep blood sugar stable and curb hunger. Nice!
Nut butters, too, are a beloved mix-in for many gymgoers thanks to their high protein and delicious flavour. If you are on a restricted calorie diet, keep in mind that nut butters are anything but low calorie, with most clocking in around 100 calories in just a 16 gram serving.
Lastly, what about ‘low-calorie’ protein shakes?
Hopefully by now you’ve realised that calories are not necessarily the enemy. As a result, ‘low-calorie’ shakes aren’t really a thing that any active female needs.
What’s more, whilst ‘low-calorie’ shakes can promote a smaller calorie count, they tend to be packed with less-than-ideal additives like artificial sweeteners. These unnatural add-ins have been proven pass on a number of undesirable side effects, including bloating, stomach discomfort, headaches, and even weight gain.
That’s why it’s best to avoid the ‘low-calorie’ category when it comes to your protein powder — a high quality shake with natural ingredients may pack more calories but will certainly provide more nutritional benefit as a result.
In short: yes there are calories in protein shakes, but if you eat well and stay active, it’s nothing you won’t burn off yourself
At the end of the day, protein shake calories should not be feared if the calories are coming from natural, healthy sources.
Steer clear of ‘low-calories’ options, and really engage with the calorie count of your preferred liquid base and any added extras you’re throwing in. Plus, if you’re burning off as many (or more) calories than you’re consuming per day, then it’s nothing your body can’t handle!
If you found this useful, make sure you check out our blog, where we share loads of other protein tips and advice for boosting fat burn and muscle gain.