Protein shakes are frequently touted as an expeditious way to obtain the nutrients you need to power through your day — and quality ones can certainly accomplish this. Convenient, portable and sumptuous to boot, they can be a savvy way to fuel your workouts or give your brain the boost it needs to excel at work.
But if you’ve been adhering to a low-carb eating regime, you may have questioned, are protein shakes keto friendly?
In short: It depends entirely upon the ingredients they contain.
Read on for our deep dive into protein shakes, our top tips on making — or choosing — keto-acceptable options and the tremendous effects the right ones may have on your vitality.
What Is The Keto Diet?
If you’ve been searching for insight on the topic of whether you can have protein shakes on keto, there’s a solid chance you’re already loyal to one of the most popular diets to have emerged in the last half-decade. Nonetheless, it’s important to ensure we’re on the same page.
Under the keto diet — or the ketogenic diet, as it’s technically called — carbs are curbed to a bare minimum. This radical reduction in carbohydrates may urge your body into ketosis — a metabolic state that turns to fat for fodder.
Specifically, the keto diet calls for:
Restricting carbs to 20 to 50 net grams per day
Swapping carbs for moderate amounts of protein and heart-healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts and whole eggs
Keto Diet Variations
There are several variations on the keto diet. The standard ketogenic diet (SKD) is generally 70% fat, 20% protein and 10% carbohydrates, while the high protein keto diet ramps up protein consumption to 35% of total calories and drops carbs to 5%.
If you’re committed to the latter, you may be looking for ways to bolster your protein intake, particularly if you’re a vegetarian or vegan.
Enter the power of smartly-crafted protein shakes.
What Are Protein Shakes, Exactly?
Protein shakes are deemed dietary supplements by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA); that is, they contain key vitamins, minerals and amino acids — organic compounds that operate as the building blocks of protein.
These nutrients are usually found in a powder form that can be mixed with water, juice, milk, coconut milk, nut milk or another liquid. They’re also available pre-made. In regards to the former, there’s a great deal of room for play to weave in additional nutrients — a topic we’ll explore in a moment.
Can a protein shake replace a meal and can you drink protein shakes every day? While it’s safe to drink protein shakes every day, remember there may be some protein shakes that are not suitable as a meal replacement. So, be sure to check the label.
The protein you’ll find in protein shakes usually comes down to:
Animal-based protein – Whey and casein are two of the most prevalent animal-based proteins featured in pre-made protein shakes and protein powders. Derived from cow’s milk, they boast the nine essential amino acids needed for a variety of physiological functions.
Plant-based protein – Plant-based proteins run the gamut from hemp and brown rice to soy and pea. These are optimal for vegans and vegetarians.
Collagen-based protein – Collagen-based protein powders have become increasingly popular. These protein powders are normally taken from natural collagen sources, such as chicken bones, eggshell membranes and fish scales. This may not sound particularly appetizing, but collagen also organically supports skin health and integrity. That said, collagen lacks tryptophan — a key amino acid — and is not a complete protein, so you may need to find additional sources to reach your daily protein requirements, especially if you’re following a high protein ketogenic diet.
We should add that insect protein powders, such as crickets, were also in vogue for a spell but have fortunately (at least according to some) fallen out of favor.
Why Choose Protein Powders and Shakes?
Clean, quality protein powder ingredients and shakes in and of themselves may be a boon for your wellness, on or off a diet. Densely packed with nutrients, they can foster energy and help you nail your daily nutritional requirements in a pinch. They are also great for weight loss support.
But not all protein powders and the shakes they make are created equal, nor are all of them “passable” on specific diets.
Are Protein Shakes Good For Keto?
As we touched upon above, yes and no.
Protein shakes innately sound nutritious. But there’s fine print attached to many things in our modern era, including the list of ingredients that may be in a pre-made protein shake or protein powder.
Let’s look at this a bit closer.
Keto-Friendly Protein Shakes
Protein shakes are keto-friendly if they contain:
Essential amino acids – Ideally, the keto protein powder or pre-made keto shake you elect should contain the nine essential amino acids your body needs to function at its peak.
No additional sugar or artificial sweeteners – If you’ve been following the keto diet for a minute — or glance at nutritional labels in general — you may have noticed that sugar and/or artificial sweeteners are added to an almost obscene number of products. Both work against your keto goals and may interrupt your ketogenic state, so ensure that sugar is kept off the list.
No hidden carbs – Carbs are sneaky, especially if they’ve been ground down into a powder that seems downright innocuous and nothing near a bagel. But many protein powders and shakes are made from carbohydrates and/or include carbohydrate ingredients to level-up their palatability. Intentionally use only those that contain 10 grams of carbs or less.
What Should You Look For In a Protein Shake?
Intrigued by the possibilities of a protein shake that aligns with your wellness goals and works with a keto diet? Here’s what you may want to scout out:
Total protein complex – Again, those essential amino acids are, well, essential — and the primary reason people turn to protein shakes in the first place. Keep in mind that isolates, like whey protein isolate, contain fewer carbs than their concentrate cousins.
Third-party testing – Any brand can market itself as high-quality. Independently tested products confirm this.
Digestive enzymes – A mounting body of research reveals that digestive health has a direct effect on wellness. A regular or keto protein shake that boasts pre and probiotics may help you maintain the ideal amount of enzymes in your gut microbiome and promote well-being.
What Are The Benefits of Protein Shakes?
Well-crafted protein shakes may offer a bevy of benefits, namely:
Muscle synthesis – High-quality protein, coupled with resistance training, may support muscle mass growth and gain. Furthermore, studies indicate that protein can help you hold onto your lean muscle.
Increased satiation – Most of us are well-acquainted with the irony and phenomenon of feeling hungry within hours of eating a carb-heavy meal or inhaling a box of crackers. Protein has the opposite effect. Scientists surmise that protein sways the production of hormones involved in hunger and appetite control, including ghrelin and peptide tyrosine-tyrosine (PYY). In turn, you may consume less but feel full longer, rendering protein shakes a terrific choice on days when you’re too busy to sit down to a balanced, keto meal.
Learn more about the differences between protein powder vs protein shake products.
How Can You Maximize Your Keto-Friendly Protein Shakes?
The fact that you can mix a wealth of additional ingredients into your protein shakes amplifies their appeal. To round out your nutritional profile while remaining within the parameters of a keto diet, consider including one or more of the following:
Dark, leafy greens – Dark, leafy greens are naturally low in carbs but exceptionally high in vitamins and minerals. Kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, spinach and others in this family are rich in magnesium — a mineral that has a hand in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including nerve function, energy production and bone health.
Greek yogurt – Greek yogurt can increase a shake’s creaminess and make it taste (and have the texture of) an actual shake. Just be sure to opt for plain, non-fruity Greek yogurt — and to clip carbs in other areas to accommodate it.
Nuts and seeds – Nuts and seeds are a keto-dieter’s closest ally. Naturally rich in vitamins, minerals and (more) protein, they may help you feel sated for even longer. A few to try: pecans, chia seeds, flaxseeds, macadamia nuts, hemp seeds, Brazil nuts and walnuts.
Spices – Fortunately, the keto diet affords, if not insists on, a number of delectable, even tantalizing foods. You can augment this by adding a dash or more of spices to your protein shakes. For savory, “green” keto-friendly shakes, consider ginger, turmeric or cumin. For creamier, “sweeter” variations, give cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom a whirl.
Before starting your protein shake kick, you may wonder, can a protein shake replace a meal? And, can you drink protein shakes every day? While it’s safe to drink protein shakes every day, remember there may be some protein shakes that are not suitable as a meal replacement. So, be sure to check the label.
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Delicious, effortless and convenient, there’s a sound reason for the ongoing popularity of protein shakes. Made with the right ingredients, they can fit into several eating regimes — including the keto diet. By paying close attention to nutrition labels and using discernment with your add-ins, they can provide you with the nutrients you need to flourish.
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