How to Pick Great
Protein Shakes!

Weight loss surgery makes protein shakes essential

Whether you're considering bariatric surgery or have already had it, getting your protein is going to be a very important part of your life. (Read more on the pre-weight loss surgery diet and post-weight loss surgery diet.)

However, it may be hard for you to get all the protein you need from "regular" foods for a variety of reasons.

That's where and why protein shakes/protein powders come in to the picture.

There are so many brands and types of protein powder and shakes out there I can't count them with all my fingers and toes! That's why you need to know and understand the differences so you can pick one that's best for you.

(Skip the explanation and go right to my list of recommended brands!)

Not all products are created equally and knowing what to look for and what to avoid is the difference between enjoying your shake...and spending time in the bathroom trying to recover from it.

Whether you choose a ready-to-drink bariatric protein shake, or want to whip up your own shake, you need to know about the different types of protein and which you'll likely tolerate the best.

Let's get on the same page with our terminology. I use the terms protein powder and protein shake interchangeably. Although it is possible to buy unflavored protein powders that taste horrible, most are flavored, and can be mixed with water or milk and translate into a nice protein "shake."

Q: What's The Difference Between Protein Shakes?


  1. The kind of protein
  2. How much protein per serving
  3. How much sugar is added
  4. How much fat is added
  5. How much "other stuff" is added (like food coloring, artificial sweeteners, etc.)

The Kinds of Protein

The source of protein in your shake can be derived from a variety of foods. Read the list of ingredients on the food label to determine the source. It will be one of the following:

Animal Sources

  • whey (milk) protein
  • egg protein

Note that there are 2 kinds of whey protein:

  • whey protein concentrate
  • whey protein isolate

Products can have one or the other, or a combination of the two. If you're lactose intolerant, you may tolerate products with whey protein isolate, but not whey protein concentrate.

Plant Sources

  • soy protein
  • rice protein
  • hempseed protein
  • spirulina (blue-green algae) protein
  • pea protein

The most popular shakes are made from whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, soy protein or even some combination of whey and soy.

Which protein source is right for you?

I suggest trying whey first, then soy or egg, and then any of the other plant sources named above. You'll get the most protein for the least calories from whey, egg, and soy. I recommend your shakes fall in the 150-250 calorie range.

If you're lactose intolerant (or become lactose intolerant, which is likely to happen after gastric bypass) choose shakes/powders made from only whey protein isolate (label will usually say "lactose free"), or soy protein. Avoid whey protein concentrate.

Protein Shake/Protein Powders: How much protein do they provide?

This varies depending on the brand. First of all, read the serving size! A serving is typically "one scoop" but occasionally it will be "two scoops."

Then read the label for the number of grams of protein per serving. Choose a product with at least 15 grams of protein.

How much daily protein you need varies but generally is in the 60-80g/day range. (Be sure to follow the recommendations of your physician.) If you have two shakes per day with 15 grams protein each, you'll get half your daily requirement by drinking 2 shakes.

If you mix protein powder that has 15 grams of protein with 1 cup skim milk/lactaid milk your resulting shake will be even higher in protein: 23 grams. Then 2 shakes provide 46 grams per day.

Added Sugar

The amount of added sugar varies brand to brand. A protein powder with lots of sugar will taste really yummy but can cause dumping syndrome after gastric bypass surgery.

Choose a brand with the least amount of sugar possible: Ideally less than 5g, but if you more than 15 grams.

You can use unflavored (i.e., unsweetened) protein powder to make a shake and use fruit and/or artificial sweetener to make it taste better while keeping the calories down.

Be sure to follow your doctor's recommendations as opinions vary. I've worked with one physician who likes his patients to choose shakes with less than 5 grams of sugar.

Know that 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon.

Added Fat

This also varies brand to brand. Too much fat can cause dumping syndrome in the same way too much sugar can, and it also supplies excess calories.

Read the label for the number of grams of total fat and choose a brand with 5 grams or less.

Other Ingredients

Beside protein, sugar, and fat, protein shakes and powders can have added sodium, food dyes, artificial sweeteners and added vitamins and minerals.

Sometimes it's all that added stuff that upsets your stomach. Yellow #5 in a banana flavored shake or Red #40 and/or Blue #1 in a "berry" shake could cause you distress (plus these chemicals are just not healthy for you and some even may pose a health risk!). Also, while added vitamins and minerals sound good, the forms in protein powder are often cheap and hard to digest and may therefore upset your stomach.

Be sure to read the entire ingredient list. If the list of ingredients is really long and it looks like it belongs in a chemistry class, it's probably not the healthiest choice and you may have trouble tolerating it.

Summary: The Best Protein Shakes/Protein Powders Have:

  • 14-25 grams of protein
  • 150-250 calories
  • less than 15 grams of sugar
  • less than 5 grams of fat
  • a short list of ingredients, and
  • are made from a protein source you like the taste of and can tolerate (most likely whey, soy, or egg).

These are my favorite brands and the ones I regularly recommend to my clients. See my protein shakes recipes to get some yummy ideas of how to mix them.

Note: The links below lead to different sites depending on where each product is sold. Some of the links go to search results so you can choose the size and flavor that you prefer. Have fun!

Whey Protein

Note: Nutritional values may vary a little bit between flavors.

Name Serving Size Calories g carb g pro g fat g sugar mg Sodium source of sweetener Comments
Solgar Whey to Go 1 scoop 70-110 1-7 17-18 1 1-6 25-75 No artificial sweeteners Lactose free. No artificial flavors.
Naturade 100% Whey Protein 2 scoops 80 1 16 1 1 65 No artificial sweeteners No artificial colorings.
Optimum Nutrition's "Any Whey" 1 scoop 70 1 17 0 0 30 Unflavored No artificial sweeteners, flavors or colors.
Optimum Nutrition's Natural 100% Whey 1 scoop 120-130 5 24 1.5 0 60 Fructose, Stevia Low lactose. No artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors.
Jay Robb Whey Protein 1 scoop 110 1 25 0 0 150 Stevia Low lactose. Made fom cows not treated with rBGH.
Dymatize ISO 100 1 scoop 106 1 24 0 0 50 Aspartame 100% whey protein isolate. Contains artificial sweetener and artificial flavors.
Nature's Best Zero Carb Isopure 1 scoop 105 0 25 .5 0 160 Sucralose Lactose free. A lot of added vitamins and minerals.


Soy Protein

Name Serving Size Calories g carb g pro g fat g sugar mg Sodium source of sweetener Comments
Genisoy 1 scoop 100 0 25 0 0 290 Fructose Made from non genetically modified (non GMO) soybeans
Spirutein 1 scoop 80-140 5 14 0 flavors vary: 0-12g 350 Fructose Made from non genetically modified (non GMO) soybeans
Jay Robb Soy Protein (NOTE: NO LONGER AVAILABLE) 1 scoop 98 0 23 0 0 350 Stevia Great taste
NOW Soy Protein Isolate-Non-GMO 1 scoop 90-180 0-13 20-25 1-2.5 flavors vary: 0-10g 0-330mg fructose Made from non GMO soybeans. Contains No Yeast, Wheat, Gluten, Egg, Shellfish Or Preservatives.


Egg Protein

Name Serving Size Calories g carb g pro g fat g sugar mg Sodium source of sweetener Comments
Jay Robb Egg Protein 1 scoop 100 2 24 0 0 360 Stevia From chickens not treated with hormones. No artificial flavors or colors.
Optimum Nutrition's Egg Protein 1 scoop 100 3-4 22 .5 0 340-370 Sucralose Blends well

These are some of my favorite ready-to-drink protein shakes and drinks made especially for weight loss surgery patients.

You Can Even Get Liquid Protein!

Liquid protein is best used after surgery, when the volume you can eat is still very small. 1 oz of this liquid protein provides 15g protein.

No matter how yummy a shake tastes in the beginning, anything can get tiresome if you eat it day after day. Make sure you have a good variety of shakes to alternate between so you never get bored and are able to drink your protein shakes when necessary.

Read more on why and when to follow a protein shake diet.

Pre-bariatric surgery diet.

Back to weight loss surgery.

Personal Nutrition Guide Home.