The phrase "protein supplement" suggests a substance that can be consumed to offset a protein deficiency. Searching the net for "protein deficiency", however, I was unable to find any sources describing the use of supplements for this purpose. In addition, searching for "protein supplement" yielded results consisting almost entirely of bodybuilding websites and fitness supplement stores.

Are protein supplements used outside of bodybuilding? If so, what are examples of their use?

Edit: I mean to ask about formal medical uses such as correcting recognized protein deficiencies.

Edit 2: I am not restricting this question to over the counter, commercially available products such as shakes and powders; I mean to ask about supplements in the general sense.

  • 1
    Some people believe that drinking protein shakes will make them lose weight. Aug 26, 2015 at 21:46
  • @MischaArefiev I think a lot of people believe that. Protein shakes and juicing are the latest fad in losing weight now :). Aug 27, 2015 at 13:51
  • Eating more stuff to lose weight is like having more unprotected sex to avoid getting pregnant IMO Aug 27, 2015 at 18:23
  • @MischaArefiev It's not quite so absurd. High-protein diets can be an excellent way to lose fat weight, since protein is usually highly satiating and relatively low-calorie compared to fat or carb, thereby reducing overall calorie intake. High protein diets are also superior in maintaining muscle mass while on a caloric deficit. I don't believe shakes are a great way to accomplish this goal but it's not like drinking protein shakes for body recomp is an idea built on ludicrous assumptions. Aug 28, 2015 at 6:05
  • @DaveLiepmann "since protein is usually highly satiating" that definitely needs a citation Aug 28, 2015 at 19:38

4 Answers 4


Bodybuilding amateurs and professionals are definitely the most common users of protein supplements. However, anyone with a protein deficiency (e.g. vegetarians, who usually have a harder time hitting their daily protein requirements) could take advantage of them.


Some people practicing endurance sports could take it, especially if they don't have much time to eat after their workout. It's rather a means to recover than bulking up/building muscle though. For most people it is not necessary though, of course. If you are running to lose weight for example it's probably not recommended because people tend to overestimate how many calories they burnt, and underestimate what's in the protein shake.


Athletes of all stripes consume protein shakes (and bars, etc.) as an adjunct to their normal diet. For some people it's difficult to eat all the food required to offset caloric deficiency.

The thing is that in the US (and most western countries) protein deficiency is relatively rare. If there's something preventing the body from properly using dietary protein the usual approach would be to correct the problem rather than simply dumping more protein in.

If someone is protein deficient they need more protein. It's often a caloric deficiency (fix: eating food) or a medical condition (fix: cure the issue). I'd assume the reason there isn't much literature specifically regarding using protein shakes to correct protein deficiencies is because there isn't much reason to do it. It won't be more or less effective than other protein sources (assuming a balance of different proteins); proteins are proteins regardless of their source.

(I'd be somewhat concerned if there wasn't a wide range of proteins, e.g., if you only used a supplement with a single amino acid for example, but that's easier said than done.)

  • I've never heard of a case of a person not being able to fulfill one's caloric requirements with food alone and needing supplementation from non-food sources. How common is this? Aug 29, 2015 at 3:30
  • @cheaterpushups It depends on your caloric requirements, what your body can tolerate, what you choose to eat, etc. I'd think it'd be pretty rare for non-athletes to have this issue. Anecdotally I can tell you that when I was vegan, I supplemented because little I ate was calorically dense enough to provide what I needed in a reasonable volume. When I was doing endurance athletics and needed anywhere between 5-10000 cals a day, same thing, plus that much solid food was uncomfortable. Aug 29, 2015 at 4:14

Yes, protein supplements are taken outside of bodybuilding, in fact, I argue that there are more people who don't lift using them than people who do lift using them. This is mainly because everyone wants to be strong, and marketers have made protein supplements look like they will get you strong just by drinking them alone without exercising. This is not true, and people who are lazy(67%, in America, at least) will want to bulk up without exercising so they will buy protein shakes well the managers of the companies of the shakes sit in their brand new hot tub in their mansion and make millions, knowing they are so clever. However, us actual weightlifter usually know protein shakes are a scam and that we can get big by eating natural sources of protein, not that artificial crap. So to answer your question, yes, protein shakes are used out of bodybuilding.

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