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You keep hearing that protein powder is a great way to help you meet your daily protein requirements, but you’re not sure how many scoops you should be using. As a Nutrition Coach, I’ll set the record straight for you.
- Whether you take 1 or 2 scoops of protein powder will depend on your overall daily protein intake. You can safely consume either 1 or 2 scoops, so long as you don’t consume more than 20-33% of your daily protein intake from protein powder.
- One scoop of protein powder may be better for individuals looking to lose weight because it gives them room to meet their daily protein requirements by eating whole protein sources, which increases feelings of fullness.
- Two scoops of protein powder may be better for individuals looking to gain weight because they may have a more challenging time getting all the protein they need from food sources alone.
What Is Considered A “Scoop” of Protein?
A “scoop” of protein powder is based on the plastic scoop that is included inside bags and tubs of protein powder to help with measuring portions.
Note, however, that scoop sizes can vary from brand to brand, and that one scoop may or may not be one serving.
Read the nutrition label carefully to see the recommended serving size, how many scoops are needed for that serving size, and how many grams of protein are in a serving.
- For example, one scoop of Body Fortress Chocolate Whey Protein Powder weighs 50g and provides 200 calories with 30g of protein.
- In comparison, one scoop of Quest Nutrition Chocolate Milkshake Protein Powder weighs 30g and provides 110 calories with 22g of protein.
You can see that the Body Fortress scoop is more than one and a half times the size of the Quest Nutrition scoop, but it does not provide one and a half times the amount of protein, and the calories are nearly double.
Another concern is that the stated amount of protein powder per scoop may not match how much protein powder you actually get per scoop.
I have personally experienced a scoop with a stated size of 25g, but when I measured out a level scoop of powder and weighed it, it was actually 35g.
This would mean that each scoop provides 40% more calories and protein than I thought, which could really add up.
For best accuracy, I recommend that you measure and weigh all foods, including protein powder, using a digital kitchen scale.
Assuming you consistently use the same type and brand of protein, you only need to do this practice once to verify the accuracy of the protein label.
- Related Article: How To Count Calories Without Getting Obsessed (5 Tips)
Determining How Much Protein You Need
We first need to determine how much protein you should eat per day before figuring out how many scoops of protein powder are appropriate.
Note, that if you already know how much protein you need to eat per day for your goals, then you can skip this section.
A general guideline for athletes is to consume 1.2 – 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.5-1g of protein per pound of body weight) per day.
In general, I recommend 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
Athletes require higher protein intakes to support increased activity and strength athletes benefit from higher intakes to support growth of [lean body mass].– Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
For individuals looking to lose or gain weight, this can be based on goal body weight rather than starting body weight.
These are excellent general guidelines that will work well for most individuals.
But you may need to tailor your approach based on the rest of your macro breakdown (i.e. how many carbs and fats you’re eating in addition to protein) when you’re bulking or cutting, and/or if your starting body fat percentage is quite high.
When bulking, a person is eating more calories than they burn (a calorie surplus).
The body gets more than enough calories in total to meet its needs, and carbohydrates and fats provide lots of energy.
This means that the body does not need to rely on dietary protein or break down muscle tissue in the body to meet its energy needs. Protein intake can instead be prioritized for building new lean muscle tissue.
In this scenario, protein needs would be near the lower end of the recommended range of 0.5-1g of protein per pound of goal body weight per day.
A specialized bulking strategy would then be to consume only 0.7g of protein per pound of goal body weight per day instead of 1g of protein per pound of goal body weight per day.
In order to lose body fat during a cutting phase, calorie intake must be lower than calorie expenditure (a calorie deficit).
During a calorie deficit, the body will not be receiving enough energy to meet its needs from carbohydrates and fat.
It will also use dietary protein as a fuel source and will start breaking down muscle tissue along with fat tissue in the body to provide energy.
The goal when cutting is to preserve as much lean tissue as possible and to make as much of the weight loss as possible come from body fat.
In order to do this, protein intake needs to be high and coupled with a resistance training program to provide a stimulus to the body to continue making new muscle tissue.
In this scenario, protein needs would be a little bit higher than the range of 0.5-1g of protein per pound of goal body weight per day.
A specialized cutting strategy would then be to consume 1.2g of protein per pound of goal body weight per day.
Higher Body Fat
When a person has a higher body fat percentage (>25% for men or >33% for women), a larger portion of their total body weight comes from fat mass compared to lean body mass. Protein is important for supporting lean body mass but not fat mass.
For example, a man weighing 200lbs with 25% body fat would have 50lbs of fat mass and 150lbs of lean body mass.
If you aren’t sure what your percentage of body fat is, here are a few ways to estimate, in order from most accurate (and generally most expensive) to less accurate:
- DEXA Scan
- BOD POD® Body Composition Testing
- InBody Body Composition Analysis
- Body fat calipers (accuracy depends on how well measurements are taken)
- Smart scale
If you would prefer not to do these measurements but suspect that your body fat is higher than 25% for men or 33% for women, I recommend 0.8g of protein per pound of current body weight.
How Much Protein From Protein Powder?
Once you know your recommended daily protein intake based on the guidelines above, you can consider how much of that requirement will be met using protein powder.
I personally recommend that my clients aim to get no more than 20-33% (maximum one-third) of their daily protein from protein powder.
I’ll discuss what this means in terms of the number of scoops next.
- Related Article: 30 Ways To Increase Protein Intake Without Protein Powder
Who Should Take 1 Scoop of Protein?
Based on 20-33% of protein intake coming from protein powder, 1 scoop of protein powder providing ~25g of protein would be the maximum for anyone with a total daily protein target of 125g or less.
Whole foods contain vitamins and minerals in naturally occurring forms and ratios that work optimally for human health.
The majority of your daily intake should come from whole food choices.
Who Should Take 2 Scoops of Protein?
Based on 20-33% of protein intake coming from protein powder, 2 scoops of protein powder providing ~50g of protein would be appropriate for individuals with a total daily protein target of 150-250g of protein.
This recommendation covers a large portion of the population. For individuals with protein needs of 125-150g, 1.5 scoops are recommended.
For individuals with protein needs greater than 250g per day, 3 scoops or 4 scoops might be appropriate, especially if they are struggling to eat enough whole foods to meet this target without feeling uncomfortably full.
This can be a common concern while bulking.
Is 1 Scoop of Protein Better Than 2?
Whether 1 scoop or 2 scoops of protein powder is “better” really depends on the specific circumstances of each unique individual and their preferences and goals.
One scoop of protein powder can be better than 2 scoops for a person who is looking to lose weight.
They may find that chewing food can reduce energy intake and increase satiety, meaning that they feel fuller when they eat whole-food protein versus drinking a protein shake.
Feeling full and satisfied with meals is very important when it comes to successfully managing hunger and appetite during a calorie deficit for weight loss.
Two scoops of protein powder can be better than 1 scoop for a person who is looking to gain weight or is otherwise struggling to meet their protein targets from whole foods alone.
Eating in a calorie surplus for muscle gain goals can be surprisingly challenging.
Feeling uncomfortably full can make it hard for some people to eat enough for their needs, especially if they are very active and/or training intensely.
Two scoops of protein powder does not necessarily mean that the two scoops need to be taken together at the same time.
Two scoops could mean two separate protein shakes over the course of the day, with 1 scoop of protein in each.
This might mean one scoop of protein post-workout and one scoop of protein before bed.
Can Your Body Absorb 2 Scoops of Protein?
You may have heard that the amount of protein that can be absorbed in a single sitting is in some way limited, with an excess beyond that amount essentially “wasted.”
The collective body of evidence indicates that total daily protein intake for the goal of maximizing resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength is approximately 1.6 g/kg, at least in non-dieting … conditions. However, 1.6 g/kg/day should not be viewed as an ironclad or universal limit beyond which protein intake will be either wasted or used for physiological demands aside from muscle growth.– Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
That said, ingested protein will eventually be absorbed into and circulated throughout the body.
The difference is whether there are impacts on the use of protein in the body to promote muscle growth versus being broken down for energy or simply excreted in urine when a large amount of protein is consumed at one time.
Professional bodybuilder Jeff Nippard has a great video discussing these concerns.
In summary, the most important consideration is ensuring sufficient daily total protein intake. Next, spreading that total intake fairly evenly over the meals for the day (ideally 3-5, but as little as 2 or as many as 6) is recommended.
This study takes the recommendation even further, suggesting a maximum of 0.55g of protein per kg of body weight per meal (0.25g per pound of body weight per meal).
- 10 Foods Naturally Rich In Whey Protein
- Can You Take Whey Protein Without Working Out?
- Drinking Whey Protein Every Day (Are There Drawbacks?)
Should You Take More Than 2 Scoops of Protein Powder?
There are some limited circumstances in which more than 2 scoops of protein powder per day would be recommended.
For individuals with a total daily protein target greater than 250g, more than 2 scoops of protein powder might be needed to help with meeting protein targets for the day.
However, even in that case, I do not recommend consuming more than 2 scoops of protein within a single meal or snack.
Dahl, W. J., & Stewart, M. L. (2015). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 115(11), 1861-1870. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.09.003.
Bridget Benelam, Nutrition Scientist, British Nutrition Foundation, High Holborn House, 52-54 High Holborn, London WC1V 6RQ, UK.
Hollis, J. H. (2018). The effect of mastication on food intake, satiety and body weight. Physiology & Behavior, 193(Part B), 242-245. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.04.027.
Schoenfeld, B.J., Aragon, A.A. How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 15, 10 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0215-1
Helms, E.R., Aragon, A.A. & Fitschen, P.J. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 11, 20 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
Seal, C. J., & Brandt, K. (2007). Nutritional quality of foods. In J. Cooper, U. Niggli, & C. Leifert (Eds.), Handbook of Organic Food Safety and Quality (pp. 25-40). Woodhead Publishing. ISBN 9781845690106. https://doi.org/10.1533/9781845693411.1.25.
About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.
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