Protein shakes are a staple in the diets of people who work out frequently. But if you don’t work out or are curious about how to eat on a rest day, you may wonder if drinking protein without working out is safe.
So, can you drink protein shakes without working out? You can drink a protein shake without working out. Protein shakes are convenient options to have in place of another meal or between meals when you need a quick snack. If you don’t have pre-existing kidney issues or allergies to any ingredients, protein shakes will not cause much harm, even if you don’t work out.
That said, there are some things to consider when consuming protein powder without working out. Whether you’re highly active or more sedentary, understanding the benefits of protein and how much you should eat can help you maintain a balanced diet.
In this article, I’ll discuss:
- What protein shakes do, and why people drink them
- How much protein you need if you don’t work out
- Whether it’s safe to drink protein shakes if you don’t work out
- The benefits of drinking protein shakes
- Potential side effects of protein shakes
- Tips for drinking protein shakes when you don’t work out
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Why Do People Drink Protein Shakes?
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Protein shakes are primarily a supplement that helps people who lift weights build muscle.
Weight training causes microtears in the muscle fibers. Eating enough protein and supplementing with protein shakes soon after a workout helps repair that damage, allowing the muscles to grow back stronger and bigger.
There are several other reasons people drink protein shakes:
- They require a high protein intake and have trouble reaching it by eating foods like chicken, Greek yogurt, ground turkey, or eggs.
- They need a quick, convenient, on-the-go meal that suits a busy lifestyle.
- They need extra calories to bulk up (i.e., put on more muscle mass).
- They need a filling snack to have in between meals.
How Much Protein Do You Need if You Don’t Work Out?
People who work out, especially those who lift weights, have high protein requirements of 0.6 – 0.8g of protein per pound of body weight per day (and sometimes even more).
However, eating protein when you don’t work out is different. Sedentary individuals don’t need as much protein as those who work out often and induce muscular damage that protein can help repair.
People who don’t work out should aim for 0.35g of protein per pound of body weight per day. For a person who weighs 150lbs, this equals 52.5g of protein per day.
If you’re a female powerlifter and wondering how protein shakes can fit into your diet, check out our guide on the female powerlifting diet.
Is It Bad To Drink Protein Shakes Without Working Out?
No, drinking a protein shake without working out is not bad. As long as you don’t have any allergies or sensitivities to any ingredients, you can have protein shakes even if you don’t work out.
Many people who don’t work out avoid protein shakes because they fear too much protein can harm their kidneys. However, this is only a concern in individuals with pre-existing kidney issues. Those with healthy kidneys can safely handle a higher protein intake, including getting their protein from protein shakes.
Benefits of Drinking Protein Shakes
Protein shakes have many benefits both for people who work out frequently and those who don’t work out at all:
- They’re convenient meal or snack options when you’re on the go.
- When made with fruits and vegetables, they are good sources of various vitamins and minerals your body needs for overall health.
- Since protein is a satiating nutrient, protein shakes can help keep you full in between meals. This can prevent you from overeating things like chips, cookies, or other pre-packaged snack foods that are high in calories.
- When consumed with high-fiber and/or slow-digesting food sources (like oats and peanut butter), protein shakes can provide you with long-lasting energy.
- For individuals who have to eat a liquid diet, protein shakes can help you get the nutrients you may otherwise miss.
- Protein shakes are easier to consume for individuals with high-calorie needs than meals made with whole foods.
Potential Side Effects of Protein Shakes
What happens if you drink protein shakes without working out? Are there any side effects?
Protein shakes can cause side effects. However, these issues don’t occur simply from drinking protein shakes without working out. If you experience any side effects, you’d likely experience them if you did work out.
Some potential side effects of drinking protein shakes include:
- Digestive discomfort. Some protein powders have sweeteners such as sucralose, acesulfame potassium, and aspartame. These can cause gas, bloating, or stomach cramps in certain individuals. Adding high-fiber fruits and veggies to your protein shake can also cause digestive discomfort.
- Breakouts. Some studies show that people can experience breakouts from consuming dairy, though researchers say this information should be taken cautiously due to biases throughout the studies. But if you notice an increase in skin issues after introducing protein shakes that include dairy (such as whey protein powder and milk), you may not be able to tolerate them.
- Headaches. Low-quality protein powders and pre-bottled protein shakes made with low-quality ingredients can be contaminated with toxic metals like lead and arsenic. Consuming too much of these can cause headaches.
Do Protein Shakes Make You Gain Weight Without Working Out?
While many consider weight gain another potential side effect of protein shakes, protein shakes alone won’t make you gain weight.
You need to eat in a calorie surplus to gain weight. In other words, you need to eat more calories than you burn daily. As long as your overall daily calories are in check, protein shakes won’t cause weight gain.
Wondering if powerlifting will also cause weight gain and make you appear “bulky”? I discuss this in more detail in Does Powerlifting Make You Bulky?
Does Protein Build Muscle Without Working Out?
Protein shakes alone won’t help you build muscle.
To build muscle, you need to engage in some form of resistance training, whether it’s powerlifting, bodybuilding, CrossFit, or general strength training. Protein shakes (and protein in general) help repair the muscle damage during training. Building muscle results from that repair process and won’t happen just from drinking protein shakes.
However, drinking protein shakes can help you maintain the muscle mass you already have. Keeping protein intake high can help ensure you don’t lose muscle when you aren’t training.
Four Tips for Drinking Protein Shakes When You Don’t Work Out
1. Choose Casein Protein or a Whey-Casein Blend
When it comes to dairy-based protein powders, whey and casein are the two options you’ll see on store shelves. If you don’t work out, casein protein powder or a whey-casein blend is better than regular whey protein.
Whey is faster digesting, making it a good option for those who work out and need a fast-acting post-workout meal for recovery purposes.
On the other hand, casein digests more slowly. It is ideal when you’re not working out and don’t need a fast-digesting protein source because it will keep you full for longer.
However, some people prefer to avoid the texture of casein protein powder, which is grittier and coarser than whey protein powder. If you’re not a fan of casein protein powder, you may like a whey-casein blend better.
Our favorite Casein Protein powder:
2. Start with Half a Scoop of Protein Powder
If you’re not physically active and don’t lift weights regularly, you don’t need a protein shake with multiple scoops of protein powder. You can start by trying a shake with just half a scoop of protein powder. A half scoop weighs roughly 15g and has about 10-15g of protein, depending on the brand.
This may be just what you need to help you reach your protein intake for the day or feel more full in between meals.
3. Look for Protein Powders or Pre-Made Shakes That Are Low in Carbs and Sugar
Certain protein powders and pre-made protein shakes are considered “mass gainers.” In addition to protein, they contain high amounts of sugar and carbs to boost their calorie content.
These types of protein shakes are unnecessary for individuals who do not need to gain weight or are not looking to build a lot of muscle mass.
If you’re interested in drinking protein shakes even though you don’t work out, look for ones that are low in carbs without a lot of added sugar. I recommend protein powders with fewer than 10g of carbs and less than 5g of added sugar per serving.
4. Avoid Adding Too Many Carbs and Fats
If making a protein shake at home, be mindful of what you add to it. People who don’t work out don’t need as many carbs and calories as those who do. Fats and starchy carbs can significantly increase the calorie count of your protein shake if you aren’t careful.
I’m not suggesting you avoid carbs and fats entirely. Your body still needs them for energy and overall health. But most sedentary people don’t need to add high amounts of ingredients like peanut butter or bananas to their protein shakes because they don’t need the extra calories.
To keep calories low, you can also make your protein shake with water, reduced-fat milk, or a low-calorie non-dairy milk alternative. If you’re sedentary, this will help ensure you don’t consume an excess number of calories that your body doesn’t need.
Lactose-free protein powders could also be an excellent low-carb and low-fat option.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Drink Protein Shakes Without Working Out to Gain Weight?
You can drink protein shakes without working out to gain weight. However, you must ensure you’re in a calorie surplus or eating more calories than you burn daily. If you drink protein shakes but don’t eat a lot of calories in general, you won’t gain weight.
Is it OK to Drink a Protein Shake Every Day?
It’s okay to drink a protein shake every day. However, don’t make it your only source of protein and other nutrients. Most of your diet should include whole food sources like fish, meat, poultry, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to ensure you get a wide variety of nutrients.
Can I Have Too Much Protein?
It is possible to have too much protein, but it’s hard to do without making a conscious effort to eat that much. You’d have to consume more than 1.5 – 2g of protein per pound of body weight to develop any complications from excess protein.
Can You Drink a Protein Shake Without Working Out?
So, what’s the verdict? Can you drink protein shakes without working out?
Yes, you can have a protein shake without working out. Whether you don’t work out at all or are wondering if you can have protein shakes on a rest day, rest assured that there’s no harm in drinking protein powder in either scenario. You’d only need to be concerned if you have pre-existing kidney issues.
If you do drink a protein shake without working out, make sure not to add too many carbs or fats, which may cause you to eat too many calories that your body won’t burn.
I also recommend opting for a casein protein powder or a whey-casein blend. Casein is a slow-digesting protein that can keep you full for longer if you’re using a protein shake as a meal replacement.
About The Author
Amanda is a writer and editor in the fitness and nutrition industries. Growing up in a family that loved sports, she learned the importance of staying active from a young age. She started CrossFit in 2015, which led to her interest in powerlifting and weightlifting. She's passionate about helping women overcome their fear of lifting weights and teaching them how to fuel their bodies properly. When she's not training in her garage gym or working, you can find her drinking coffee, walking her dog, or indulging in one too many pieces of chocolate.