Protein shakes may seem like an easy and yummy fix when you need to add some pounds, and they can help you gain weight. However, don't rely on protein shakes -- or any single food -- to meet a large portion of your daily needs. A healthy diet is a varied one and includes a wide assortment of edibles from all food groups.
Shakes and Weight
No matter what you eat, you'll gain weight by consuming more calories than you burn. For every surplus of 3,500 calories, you'll put on about a pound of body fat. Therefore, if your weight is stable on your current diet, adding a 500-calorie protein shake to your normal meal plan each day will cause you to gain a pound each week. But you don't need the shakes to reach these calorie goals -- any type of food or beverage will do. Focus on eating 500 to 1,000 more calories than you use each day to gain weight at a safe, sustainable rate.
Eat for weight gain by planning five or six mini-meals throughout the day instead of only three; this allows you to get more calories in without stuffing yourself. And don't use weight gain as an excuse to scarf on junk food -- you need to balance your diet with whole grains, fruits, vegetables and unprocessed protein sources. Whole-wheat breads and pastas, avocados, nuts, low-fat cheeses and dried fruits are all healthy choices. Drink juices, fruit smoothies or protein shakes with your meals instead of water, and snack liberally. Physical activity is also important; strength-training exercises in particular build muscle mass for added weight.
Shakes vs. Food
Despite the bold claims on the labels -- and the hefty price tags -- protein shakes are not better sources of protein than solid foods. You can just as easily meet protein needs with salmon, eggs, soybeans and any other protein-rich fare. What's more, protein shakes are typically processed beverages that lack the nutrients of whole foods. Even when a drink is fortified with some vitamins and minerals, it can't compete nutritionally with the broad spectrum of nutrients in unprocessed foods.
If you're already getting enough protein from food, skip the shake. Extra protein can be harmful for your health, causing dehydration as your body uses excess water to metabolize it. This can be especially dangerous if you are exercising heavily. High protein levels are also linked to calcium loss through urine, according to the American Council on Exercise. Over time, this may lead to osteoporosis. Between 10 and 35 percent of your total calories should come from protein, and the recommended daily allowance for protein is 46 grams for adult women.
- Department of Health and Human Services: A Calorie Is a Calorie, or Is It?
- Drugs.com: Weight Gain Tips For Athletes
- Go Ask Alice: Do I Need Protein Drinks If I Am Working Out?
- MayoClinic.com: What's a Good Way to Gain Weight if You're Underweight?
- American Council on Exercise: Are There Health Risks Concerning Eating Too Much Protein?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Protein
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.