Managing protein intake as a diabetic is important, especially if you want to get fit. Here’s everything you need to know about protein and diabetes.

Protein 101: Is Protein Good for Diabetics?

Protein takes longer to digest than sugars or carbohydrates, and as a result, the chances of blood sugar spikes are reduced. So, is protein good for diabetics? Yes, it sure is. However, you must eat a healthy amount and maintain a balanced diet of vegetables, healthy fats, carbs, and fiber. Protein also allows the body to function at its best by maintaining, building, and repairing muscles. It’s the building block for your bones, skin, blood, hormones, and antibodies. And if your body is still able to produce insulin, protein kickstarts this process.
In this article, we’ll unpack how protein affects diabetes. This includes touching on protein shakes and powders for diabetics, and whether protein will affect your blood glucose levels.

Protein and Diabetes Management | Are Protein Shakes Good for Diabetics? | Is Whey Protein Good for Diabetics? | Which Protein Powder is Best for Diabetics? | Will Protein Lower Blood Sugar? | Frequently Asked Questions | Related Articles

Protein and Diabetes Management

For the most part, diabetics can eat the same amount of protein as people without the condition. In fact, increased protein intake can improve blood sugar management. If you’re eating more protein, you are less likely to crave processed carbs, and more likely to feel full and satisfied between meals.

According to Dietary Guidelines for Americans, between 10% and 35% of your diet should consist of protein, unless you have a critical underlying condition such as kidney disease. For diabetics building muscle, you’ll want to be closer to 35%. Typically, you should have 100 to 300 grams of protein, depending on your weight, height, and body fat percentage. You can use the standard formula of 0.8 - 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. But most importantly, consult a healthcare professional, dietitian, or qualified fitness coach for protein intake recommendations that suit your personal needs.

There are plenty of protein sources suitable for diabetes care and management. Ultimately, we’re looking for foods that are rich in B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and B6), vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium, to keep your body healthy.

The quality of a protein source is determined not only by its digestibility but also by its essential amino acid content. Animal-based proteins, including dairy, are higher in protein quality compared to plant-based sources. They have higher amounts of essential amino acids and Branched-Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) content. Animal-based proteins also have greater bioavailability, meaning the body can absorb nutrients from them more efficiently.

On the other hand, plant-based sources of protein do not contain all the essential amino acids in the right quantities. To overcome this, try to eat a wide range of plant-based protein sources to obtain a broad spectrum of amino acids for health and muscle growth. Regardless of whether you choose to get your protein from a plant or an animal source — the need for optimal proteins per day must still be met. 

List of Protein-Rich Foods for Diabetics

The following list of proteins is ideal for diabetics that want to build muscle, improve their health, and manage blood sugar levels:

1. Poultry

  • ​Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Duck

2. Red Meat

  • ​Beef (including burgers)
  • Lamb and mutton
  • Pork (including sausages and bacon)
  • Veal
  • Venison
  • Goat

3. Fish and Seafood

  • ​Salmon
  • Trout
  • Tuna
  • Cod
  • Prawns
  • Lobster
  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Calamari

4. Dairy Products

  • ​Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese

5. Plant-based Proteins

  • ​Beans
  • Seeds
  • Hummus
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Edamame
  • Nuts
  • Nut Butters
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu

6. Eggs

  • ​Chicken Eggs
  • Quail Eggs
  • Duck Eggs

Naturally, protein and fat are often packaged together in one type of food (e.g., cheese and nuts). Keep this in mind as you may end up eating more calories than expected. However, if you intend to bulk up, the combo of protein, whole grains (carbs), and low-fat foods is perfect. You should also look out for highly processed protein foods such as snack bars and sweetened yogurts as they could affect diabetics who are on the verge of obesity or have high cholesterol.

Please Note: Protein-rich foods don’t result in muscle growth on their own. Sure, adequate protein intake helps with becoming leaner. However, you must incorporate strength training to disrupt homeostasis (stagnancy) and give the body a ‘reason’ to adapt and BUILD muscle.

Are Protein Shakes Good for Diabetics?

Protein shakes are good for diabetics if they’re made with the right ingredients and consumed in moderation. You’ll want to avoid highly processed ingredients that contain too much sugar. Typically, pre-made shake mixes have the most refined sugar so look out for ingredients that you may be unfamiliar with such as xylitol, sorbitol, and isomalt.  Ideally, your shake should include natural sources of sugar such as honey, fruit, or stevia. Adding fiber to the shake also slows down your body’s sugar absorption process, preventing spikes.

If you wish to increase your protein intake for muscle building, protein shakes are a viable supplement. However, it’s still important to consume a variety of high-quality protein foods such as lean meat, fish, nuts, beans, and dairy. You also don’t need to consume protein shakes, if you are eating sufficient amounts of protein in your daily meals. Nevertheless, many people turn to protein shakes to meet their dietary protein goals, especially when pushing their bodies to new limits and training harder. Just remember that supplements are there to ‘supplement’ the protein that we don’t get from higher quality meals — it’s in the name.

Protein Shakes for Diabetics

The following protein shake recipe has great nutritional value for diabetics (and tastes pretty good):

  • ​1 cup of milk (dairy or non-dairy)
  • ½ a cup of fruit (frozen or fresh)
  • 1 scoop of unsweetened protein powder
  • 1 handful of chia seeds
  • A dash of cinnamon
  • Water or ice cubes (not needed if the fruit is frozen)

Blend all these ingredients for a smooth and refreshing protein shake.

Protein Shakes for Diabetics to Gain Weight

Many people with diabetes struggle to maintain a healthy weight — it’s often a constant battle against extreme weight gain or weight loss. For diabetics looking to gain weight, bulk up and build muscle, protein shakes are a viable option. However, protein should be an integral part of the shake without including too many carbs and processed sugars.

To gain 1 pound (453.5 grams) a week, you need to eat an extra 500 calories a day. These daily calories can come from a healthy mix of protein, carbs, and fat within your protein shakes Consult a doctor, dietitian, or qualified fitness coach to find out if your favorite protein shake supports your health and fitness goals.

Protein Shakes for Diabetics to Build Muscle

If you’re in need of some muscle-building protein shake ideas, here are some popular shake and smoothie blends. You can make your protein shake delicious and nutrient-rich while avoiding processed sugars and excessive carbs.

  • ​Peanut butter shake
  • Rice protein shake
  • Soy smoothie
  • Sugar-free chocolate shake
  • Strawberry smoothie
  • Banana smoothie
  • Mixed berry smoothie

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Is Whey Protein Good for Diabetics?

Whey protein is good for diabetics who have a healthy meal plan. Through glucose monitoring, you will notice that whey protein slows down digestion, stimulates insulin, and stabilizes overall blood sugar levels between meals. Whey is the leftover liquid after milk has been curdled and strained to make cheese or casein. It consists of 9 essential amino acids — the molecules that combine to form protein. 

Nevertheless, whey protein is also known to upset people’s stomachs, especially when taken in amounts exceeding 15-20g per serving. It’s a good idea to actively observe how you feel after trying it out on at least 3 separate occasions. If there are no issues and you enjoy it as a source of protein, go ahead and add whey protein to your pre or post-workout shake. It works best when consumed just before a meal.  Otherwise, you can take smaller servings of whey protein throughout the day or opt for alternative plant-based powders made of soy, hemp, peas, brown rice, etc.

Which Protein Powder is Best for Diabetics?

If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes and you’re struggling to consume enough protein, adding protein powder to your shakes or meals can certainly help. You can mix your chosen protein powder with water or your preferred type of milk (dairy or non-dairy). For example, you could add protein powder to your oats every morning.

The best protein powders for diabetics have the following qualities:

  • ​No added sugar
  • Minimal sugar and artificial sweeteners
  • Minimal carbohydrates
  • Healthy fats (nuts, avocado, plain yogurt, etc.)

Look out for these specifications when shopping for protein powders online or in-store!

How Does Protein Affect Blood Sugar?

Protein tends to have a positive effect on blood sugar levels. It helps to control glucose levels by slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates/sugars. As a result, the process of glucose entering the bloodstream occurs gradually over a couple of hours. On the other hand, considering that protein is often eaten alongside carbs and fats, it’s a good idea to monitor the types of protein you consume. For example, sugar-filled protein shakes could spike your blood sugar levels in a matter of minutes.

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The Final Verdict: Is Protein Bad for Diabetics?

Overall, protein is not considered bad for diabetics — it’s critical for a healthy diet. Protein is one of three essential macronutrients alongside fat and carbohydrates. Whether you’re diabetic or not, it will help to build, repair, and maintain your muscle tissue and organs, while boosting the immune system. And the bonus for diabetics is that it slows blood sugar absorption, stabilizing your glucose levels throughout the day. You can enjoy your favorite protein shakes and foods while building muscle —  with the right strategy, anything is possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do diabetics need protein?

Diabetics need protein just as much as people without diabetes. The typical protein intake for adults in the United States and Canada is 15% of their total calories. This forms part of healthy eating habits that include carbohydrates and healthy fats.

Can too much protein cause diabetes?

Too much protein cannot cause diabetes on its own. However, in combination with other factors such as fatty meats, you might increase your risk of type 2 diabetes due to excess weight gain and blood work changes over time. If you have a high-protein diet, be sure to eat sufficient carbs, vegetables, and fruits.

Should diabetics eat protein with carbs?

According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetics should eat protein with carbs. If you eat carb-heavy foods with protein it can slow down digestion and the absorption of blood sugars which creates softer peaks and stability in our glucose levels— a huge benefit.

How much protein should a diabetic have per day?

Diabetics should typically have 0.8 - 2 grams of protein per kilogram of their body weight per day. This amounts to around 15 - 35% of your total caloric intake.

Can type 1 diabetics drink protein shakes?

Type 1 diabetics can drink protein shakes. It’s recommended to use a healthy protein powder with less refined sugars such as whey protein.

Are protein shakes good for type 2 diabetes?

Protein shakes are good for type 2 diabetics interested in building muscle and maintaining a healthy weight. However, protein shakes should not consist of too many carbohydrates and refined sugars and should be used in conjunction with a balanced, whole-food diet.

Are Atkins protein shakes good for diabetics?

Although Atkins protein shakes are not recommended for all diabetics, they can assist with limiting carb and sugar intake. Atkins protein shakes are low in carbs and high in fat. As someone with diabetes, you’ll need to pay close attention to how much fat is in the shake, especially if you’re a type 2.

Are protein shakes good for gestational diabetes?

Protein shakes are not necessarily good for gestational diabetes. Research shows that excessive protein during pregnancy can slow down the baby’s growth rate. Most pregnant women get sufficient protein through their normal diet and don’t require protein shakes.

What causes protein in urine from diabetes?

Protein in urine from diabetes is often caused by high blood sugar levels. The kidney is forced to filter large amounts of blood which results in protein leaking into the urine.

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