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Protein shakes can be an easy way to increase protein intake. This may be useful for people looking to put on muscle, lose weight, or promote injury recovery.

This article explores protein shakes and provides a list of ready-to-drink protein shakes a person may consider depending on their goals.

A quick look at the 5 best protein shakes

A protein shake is a dietary supplement. Typically, it consists of protein powder mixed with water, milk, or a milk substitute. Depending on the manufacturer, the beverage may contain other ingredients such as flavorings, vitamins, and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

Protein powders are available to the general public to buy and make at home with a shaker or blender. Alternatively, a person can purchase ready-to-drink shakes that they can consume when convenient.

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  • Ingredients: MNT chooses products containing safe and high quality ingredients that are clearly labeled. They should also confirm they are free of pesticides, heavy metals, and mold.
  • Dosage: MNT chooses products that must clearly state the supplement dosage.
  • Serving size: MNT selects products in which manufacturers recommend a safe dosage.
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  • Available certificate of analysis (COA): MNT chooses companies that demonstrate transparency and share a product’s certificate of analysis (COA) following receipt of its third-party lab results.

Below, we list five ready-to-drink protein shakes to consider.

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

Best for flavor variety: SlimFast Advanced Energy Meal Replacement Shakes

  • Serving size: 325 milliliters (ml)
  • Calories: 180
  • Fat: 9 g
  • Protein: 20 g
  • Sugar: 1 g
  • Cholesterol: 10 mg
  • Sodium: 190 mg
  • Dietary fiber: 5 g

This SlimFast shake has a caramel latte flavor. It also contains caffeine, so it may suit people looking for an energy boost in the morning.

To maintain a balanced diet, a person should consider consuming this alongside other nutritious breakfast foods.

The product contains dietary fiber, which research suggests can promote weight loss and help individuals stick to their diet. This is likely because fiber takes longer to digest, helping people feel fuller for longer.

Its primary protein source is milk protein isolate.

This shake is also available in a range of flavors:

  • rich chocolate
  • mocha cappuccino
  • cappuccino

It also includes 24 vitamins and minerals, is gluten-free, and kosher-friendly.

However, it contains maltodextrin, canola oil, and sucralose. Many people prefer to avoid these ingredients, and as such, this product may not be a good option for everyone.

It is also not completely lactose-free.

The advantages and disadvantages a person can consider include:

Pros

  • contains added vitamins
  • no added sugars

Cons

  • relatively high calorie content per serving
  • relatively high in sodium
  • contains lactose

A pack of 12 bottles is available to purchase online for around $33.

Best for muscle mass: MuscleMeds Carnivor Ready to Drink Protein

  • Serving size: 500 ml
  • Calories: 190
  • Fat: 0 g
  • Protein: 40 g
  • Sugar: 0 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Sodium: 300 mg
  • Dietary fiber: 0 g

This protein shake from MuscleMeds contains 40 g of protein per serving. This may make it suitable for people who are building muscle, as it contains a higher amount of protein than many other brands.

It does not contain sugar, fat, or cholesterol. However, it is not suitable for vegetarians, as its protein source comes from beef. It also contains soy.

The company claims that its products are clinically tested and its pure beef protein isolate is 350% more concentrated in amino acids than steak.

A person should not use this protein shake as a meal replacement, as it does not have a balanced nutritional profile.

Additionally, it contains a relatively high amount of sodium for the serving size. According to the product labeling, one serving provides 12% of a person’s daily sodium intake.

A person can consider the following advantages and disadvantages:

Pros

  • high protein content
  • no added sugar
  • no fat

Cons

  • high sodium content
  • relatively high calorie content
  • does not offer a balanced nutritional profile

A person can order a pack of 12 bottles of chocolate-flavored shakes for around $43.

Best vegan option: OWYN Vegan Protein Shake, Dark Chocolate

  • Serving size: 335 ml
  • Calories: 180
  • Fat: 7 g
  • Protein: 20 g
  • Sugar: 4 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 g
  • Sodium: 270 mg
  • Dietary fiber: 5 g

This protein shake is made of protein from peas, pumpkin seed, and flax. It also includes omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

The company claims it is free of soy, gluten, egg, peanuts, and tree nuts.

Some research suggests pea and whey protein produce similar outcomes for muscle thickness and strength. Therefore, this shake may suit vegans and people with dairy allergies looking for a post-workout shake.

It is also reportedly gluten-free and kosher-friendly.

However, this shake includes cane sugar and sunflower oil, which can be an allergen.

Other OWYN protein shake flavors include:

  • smooth vanilla
  • strawberry banana
  • coffee
  • cookies and creamless
  • sea salted caramel

A person can consider the following advantages and disadvantages:

Pros

  • includes omega-3 fatty acids
  • contains added vitamins and minerals
  • suitable for vegans
  • provides 30% of a person’s daily iron

Cons

  • contains relatively high amounts of sodium
  • unsuitable for people who have sunflower oil allergy

A 12-pack is available to purchase online for around $35.

Best high in calcium: Orgain Clean Protein Milk Protein Shake

  • Serving size: 11 fluid ounces (fl oz)
  • Calories: 130
  • Fat: 2 g
  • Protein: 20 g
  • Sugar: 3 g
  • Cholesterol: 15 mg
  • Sodium: 240 mg
  • Dietary fiber: 2 g

Orgain offers a chocolate fudge-flavored protein shake that contains 20 g of protein per serving.

Its protein content comes from milk. As a result, it is not suitable for vegans.

The company claims it is gluten- and soy-free, vegetarian, and kosher.

It recommends this shake for weight management, lean muscle building, and muscle recovery. It also writes that a person can drink this shake as a meal replacement, a snack, or as a pre- or post-workout drink.

Due to its high calcium content, which the company claims equals 45% of a person’s daily intake, this Orgain shake may suit active people who would like to increase their bone and muscle strength.

It comes in two flavors: vanilla and chocolate.

A person can consider the following advantages and disadvantages:

Pros

  • more affordable than many brands
  • gluten- and soy-free
  • may be suitable for muscle recovery

Cons

  • limited flavor range
  • unsuitable for vegans
  • contains a high amount of sodium per serving

A person can order a pack of 12 bottles for around $29.

Best for muscle recovery: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Protein Shake, Chocolate

  • Serving size: 325 ml
  • Calories: 140
  • Fat: 3 g
  • Protein: 24 g
  • Sugar: 1 g
  • Cholesterol: 25 mg
  • Sodium: 210 mg
  • Dietary fiber: 1 g

Its protein sources include milk protein isolate, milk protein concentrate, whey protein concentrate, and calcium caseinate.

The company claims that it can improve muscle recovery. This may make it suitable for people who want a post-workout shake.

One advantage of consuming this shake is that each serving provides 24 different minerals, vitamins, and nutrients. These include vitamins A, C, D, E, and K.

However, the average amount of these nutrients is around 20% of the Daily Value. As such, this shake may be a better choice for people who combine it with balanced meals and other vitamin supplements.

Each bottle is relatively inexpensive when compared with other alternatives. It is also gluten-free, but it is unsuitable for those with lactose intolerance.

A person can consider the following advantages and disadvantages:

Pros

  • wide range of added vitamins and minerals
  • low sugar content
  • more affordable than other brands

Cons

  • high sodium content
  • contains heavy cream
  • contains sunflower oil

The drinks are also available in vanilla.

A person can order a pack of 12 bottles online for around $25.

The table below compares each of the protein shakes in this article for price, protein source, and more.

Best forProtein sourceHas added sugarsGluten-freeLactose-freePrice
SlimFastflavor varietymilk protein isolatenoyesyesaround $33
Muscle
Meds
muscle massbeef protein isolatenoyesyesaround $43
OWYNvegan optionpea proteinyesyesyesaround $35
Orgainhigh in calciummilk proteinyesyesnoaround $29
Optimum Nutritionmuscle recovery• milk protein isolate
• milk protein concentrate
• whey protein concentrate
• calcium caseinate
noyes noaround $25

People may choose protein shakes for several reasons, including the following:

Muscle gain

A 2018 study found that protein intake may be important for building muscle mass.

A 2017 systematic review also highlights that protein supplements can enhance muscle strength and size in healthy adults engaging in resistance exercise training.

Weight loss

Some research indicates high protein diets may be beneficial for weight loss. For instance, a 2016 meta-analysis suggests these diets may help older adults lose fat and retain lean mass.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agrees, saying that most older adults do not eat enough protein, resulting in loss of muscle mass.

Meanwhile, a 2019 analysis suggests a higher protein diet may help prevent weight regain after weight loss.

Lean muscle gain

A 2018 review found that protein supplementation significantly increased lean muscle gain in people performing resistance exercise training.

Preventing muscle loss

The American College of Sports Medicine notes that when individuals reach approximately 50 years of age, they need extra protein in their diet — the equivalent of 1 gram (g) extra per kilogram (kg) of body weight. This helps maintain muscle mass.

A 2019 study recommends adults consume at least 0.8 g of protein per kg of body weight daily to achieve optimal health outcomes.

Learn more about how to get enough protein.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements as strictly as pharmaceuticals. Therefore, it is the responsibility of manufacturers to evaluate product safety and label them accordingly. Alternatively, they may receive certifications from third-party testing services.

This means it can be difficult to verify that the protein powder contains what the makers claim.

A person should buy protein shakes that have third-party testing to ensure they are getting a product that contains what the manufacturer claims.

Additionally, a person with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance may experience digestive issues if they use a milk-based protein powder. However, there are vegan and lactose-free alternatives for people who cannot have or do not want dairy or lactose.

Finally, few current studies explore the long-term side effects of high protein intake from protein powder and supplements.

For more science-backed resources on nutrition, visit our dedicated hub.

Each manufacturer will have a specific set of instructions on shake dosages and frequencies. When people wish to drink a shake, they simply need to shake the bottle, and it is ready for consumption.

Although there is debate about when to consume a protein shake for muscle gain, a person should consider drinking it within 1 hour of their workout.

People considering protein shakes to lose weight may consume them instead of a meal or with a small amount of food. However, it is important to ensure the shake contains other nutrients beyond protein to help a person maintain a balanced and healthy diet.

When looking to purchase a protein shake, individuals may wish to consider the following:

  • the protein type it contains
  • whether or not the product contains dairy
  • the amount of protein it contains
  • whether the product is shelf stable, meaning if a person can store it at room temperature
  • whether or not it contains artificial sweeteners

There are several ways a person can ensure they have enough protein in their diet. If they wish to consume alternatives to protein shakes, they may consider:

Below, we answer some of the top frequently asked questions about protein shakes.

Is it safe to use protein shakes as a meal replacement?

A person should speak with a doctor before using protein shakes to replace meals.

A 2018 study found that meal replacement shakes can result in an improvement in body composition in both male and female participants with overweight or obesity.

However, protein shakes may not provide a balanced range of nutrients per serving and may include high levels of sodium. As such, many companies do not recommend their products as meal replacements.

If a person is trying to lose weight through replacing meals, they should ensure they are still getting the recommended amount of essential nutrients each day.

When is the best time to drink a protein shake?

Many protein shakes have instructions to drink them either before or right after a workout, usually within 1 hour.

Do you need to exercise when drinking protein shakes?

Yes. A person will not be able to lose weight or build muscle or fitness by drinking protein shakes alone.

Many protein shake brands state that individuals should drink them as supplements in combination with a balanced diet and regular exercise.

In fact, a 2019 study reports that the formula and timing of protein intake are more important than how much protein a person takes.

Ready-to-drink protein shakes provide an easy and convenient way to increase protein intake.

Depending on a person’s goals, these drinks may help increase muscle mass, lose weight, or gain weight.

A person should speak with a doctor before changing their diet to lose weight or build muscle to ensure they are still getting all of their essential nutrients through their diet.