How Many Calories Are in a Protein Shake? The Definitive Answer.

If you started training and being more mindful of your nutrition and calorie intake, you may be wondering: how many calories are in a protein shake? Well, it depends on the base liquid.

A protein shake with water will have around 100-150 calories, while a protein shake made with 12oz of whole milk will pack 304-354 calories. Lastly, a protein shake made with 12oz of almond milk will pack around 161-211 calories.

As you can see, the base you are using can significantly change the calorie count.

Keep reading to find out more about:

  • Calories in protein shakes with different bases
  • Your daily calorie needs
  • What determines the amount of calories in a protein shake
  • Protein powder vs. ready to drink protein shakes

If you are ready, let's get started.

How many calories are in a protein shake?

To gauge a protein shake calories you first need to know how many calories are in the protein powder you are using. The best way to do this is to check the label.

Most protein powders have around 100-150 calories per serving.

From here, the number of calories will stay the same or increase, depending on what you mix your protein powder with. Below you can see how many calories your protein shake will have, mixing it with 12oz (350ml) of the most common bases.

These are sorted from lowest to highest-calorie shakes:

Type of base (liquid)

Base calories (avg/12oz)

Protein powder calories

Total

Water

0

100-150

100-150

Almond milk

61

100-150

161-211

Skim milk

119

100-150

219-269

Orange juice

153

100-150

253-303

Whole milk

204

100-150

320-370

Bear in mind that these are just averages.

There can be differences coming from the type of protein powder you are using, or simply from using a brand of liquid that has more calories than other brands.

How many calories do you need in a day?

In nutrition, calories refer to the amount of energy that a food or drink provides to the body, or the energy consumed by our body during physical activity.

To maintain their weight, the average man needs 2500 calories per day, and the average woman needs 2000 calories. (1)

But again, these are averages.

The best way to know how many calories you need to maintain your weight is to use a TDEE calculator, like the one here.

Once you get your maintenance calories, your needs will change depending on your goals.

If you want to gain weight, add 200-500 calories to your maintenance calories. 

However, if you want to lose weight, subtract 200-500 calories from your maintenance calories. Consequently, instead of lowering your calories, you can just burn an extra 200-500 calories for the same effect. (2)(3)

This is the point where you need to care how many calories are in a protein shake.

Depending on your goals, you may make a lower or higher calorie protein shake.

If you want to learn more about calories and macronutrients, we have gone in more detail about it in our article regarding a calisthenics diet, which you can read here.

What determines the calories in a protein shake?

Picture of two protein shakes rich in calories

Protein shakes can be basic - just the protein powder and a base - or they can be complex recipes with extra ingredients like peanut butter, fruit, flavorings, and so on.

We have discussed this in our article on making protein powder taste good.

Now let's dive deeper into this matter and talk about:

  • What makes some protein powders calorie dense
  • The ingredients that can turn a protein shake into a calorie bomb

What makes some protein powders calorie dense

If your protein powder is high in calories then obviously your protein shake will be high in calories - even if you mix it with water.

The truth is that some protein supplements can be real "caloric disasters"

To avoid protein powders which are high in calories but low in nutritional value, we recommend you to be on the lookout for the following:

  • Added sugar. Ideally, choose protein powders with little to no added sugar. Instead, opt for those sweetened with stevia or other natural sweeteners.
  • Protein to carbohydrate/fat ratio. Before purchasing a protein powder, check the label. If you are getting less than 25 grams of protein for more than 150 calories, look elsewhere. That product is most likely packed with carbohydrates and/or fats.

If you follow these two rules of thumb, you will have a high protein, low calorie protein powder.

Ingredients that can turn a protein shake into a calorie bomb

If you have a high protein, low calorie protein powder but still seem to have high calorie shakes, you may be mixing in the wrong ingredients.

Here is a list of ingredients that can make your protein shake calorically dense:

  • Nut butter. Just 1 tbsp of peanut butter packs around 50 calories. And if you are a peanut butter lover like me you know that only 1 tbsp will not satisfy you.
  • Bananas. Some people blend their protein powder into a milkshake or smoothie. While bananas are healthy, a full one can add 100 calories or more to your shake.
  • Oats. Adding oats to your protein shake and blending everything is a great idea for a nutritious meal. However, only ½ cup of oats will increase the calories of your protein shake by 150.

There is nothing inherently bad about increasing your calorie intake.

However, if your goal is to lose weight, then you should know how many calories are in your protein shake. Adding any of the above ingredients can make the difference between losing weight and stagnating.

Protein powder vs. ready to drink protein shakes

Athlete in the gym making his own protein shake

There are two alternatives in terms of protein shakes:

  • Protein powder you mix yourself
  • Commercially available ready-to-drink protein shakes

If you want to have control over the calories in a protein shake, we recommend you to purchase your own protein powder and mix it in a shake with the base of your choice.

Usually, store bought protein shakes are full of calories.

Here is an example of a bad protein shake, the one from Ensure:

  • Calories: 350
  • Protein: 16g
  • Carbohydrates: 47g
  • Fats: 11g

If your goal is to lose weight and maximize the amount of protein in your diet, this ready-to-drink shake is a disaster. High in carbohydrates (out of which 20g are sugar by the way) and very low in protein.

Now let's imagine you make your own protein shake with almond milk:

  • Calories: 181 (120 from the powder, 61 from the milk)
  • Protein: 22g
  • Carbohydrates: 7g
  • Fats: 0g

For this example, I have used the vanilla flavored protein powder from Opportuniteas. You can find this product as our recommendation for one of the best protein powders without soy.

With that in mind, you should know that not all ready-to-drink protein shakes calories are awful.

For instance, here is what the nutritional value of Premier Protein Shake looks like:

  • Calories: 160
  • Protein: 30g
  • Carbohydrates: 5g
  • Fats: 3g

FAQs

Now that we covered this topic on calories in a protein shake, let's have a look at the most common questions people have.

How many calories are in a whey protein shake?

It depends on the protein powder you have. That being said, a good quality whey protein shake made with water should have 100-150 calories and a protein content of over 20g.

Are protein shakes good for weight loss?

Protein shakes can be good for weight loss if you make them to be. If you want to lose weight with your protein shake, purchase a low-calorie high-protein protein powder, and mix your shake with water, almond milk, or skim milk. (4)

How many calories are in a protein shake with milk?

Protein shakes made with 12oz of whole milk have 320-370 calories, while a shake made with skim milk will have 219-269 calories. Shakes made with 2% milk will fall somewhere in between these two.

How many calories are in a 500ml protein shake?

This depends on several factors.

How much protein powder have you used and how many calories does it contain? Supposing you get a serving of regular quality protein powder, that will be 100-150 calories.

Then there is the base.

If you use 500ml (17oz) of whole milk, that will add a whopping 310 calories to your already existing 100-150. If you use water, you are only left with the 100-150 calories.

Check our table above to get a better idea of how many calories you should be expecting from your 500ml protein shake.

Conclusion

As you can see, how many calories are in a protein shake depends on the type of protein powder you are using, the base, and whether you add extra ingredients like fruit and nut butter.

With that being said, a regular protein shake made with a water base will have 100-150 calories.

If you want a higher calorie protein shake, make sure to check our article on how to mix protein powder for some of the best tips.

Over to you.