Protein is one of the most important nutrients of concern for bariatric surgery patients. Since bariatric surgery reduces the capacity of the stomach to a very small volume, high-protein foods should always be eaten FIRST or you may become too full to eat them. It should be included in all of your meals after surgery as it provides many important benefits including:

  • Aids in proper wound healing after surgery
  • Helps keep your skin, hair, bones and nails healthy
  • Helps form hormones, enzymes and immune system antibodies that help your body function effectively
  • Helps your body burn fat instead of muscle for healthier weight loss
  • Supports your metabolism so you lose weight faster
  • Helps curb hunger between meals

Liquid Protein Helps You Meet Your Daily Requirements

It can be challenging to consume enough protein from foods alone during the first several months following surgery. Many patients continue to drink liquid protein supplements well past the full liquids stage to meet their daily protein requirements. They are a balanced, convenient, and inexpensive protein source. Keep in mind, not all protein supplements are created equal. Protein shakes are usually either made from whey protein isolate, or whey protein concentrate, and sometimes a combination of both. Whey protein isolate is the preferred form for post-op patients as it is a higher quality, complete protein that has been “isolated” from fat and lactose that is found in milk. Whey protein concentrate can contain varying amounts of carbohydrates and fat along with the protein. Because of this, whey protein isolate often has a higher price point than whey protein concentrate.

Plant Based Protein?

Keep in mind that plant-based or vegan protein shakes typically do not provide “complete” protein. A complete protein contains all 9 essential amino acids that make up a protein molecule required to build and repair muscle tissues in the body. Plant proteins should be used together with animal protein sources to provide you with all of the essential amino acids you need. For example, if you prefer drinking a plant-based protein shake, make sure to eat eggs, yogurt/cottage cheese, milk, fish, or some type of meat throughout the day. When choosing animal proteins, choose lower fat, lean meats like seafood, skinless chicken or turkey, pork chops or pork tenderloin, and beef sirloin or round, or 93% lean ground beef. If you follow a vegan diet, choose a protein shake that is made up of a blend of protein sources like pea protein and hemp protein together to ensure it’s a complete protein.

Protein Goals After Weight-Loss Surgery: How Much is Enough?

The recommended intake varies depending on your individual needs, your surgery type, and the bariatric diet prescribed by your surgeon or dietitian. However, basic guidelines include an average of 60 to 80 grams a day for women and 70 to 90 grams a day for men. Duodenal switch patients, however, require approximately 100 grams daily.

It’s important to remember that more is not always better. Try not to exceed the range of recommended daily protein, unless instructed to do so by your physician or dietitian. Excess protein intake will result in excess caloric intake, and any excess calories that are not burned are stored as fat and will stall your weight loss.

Alternatives to Protein Shakes

If you are getting bored with the protein shakes, there are many different ways to switch up the variety to prevent flavor fatigue! Don’t forget that there are clear protein shakes that are not creamy and come in flavors such as lemon, berry, orange, etc. There is even protein water! Another option is buying unflavored protein powder that can be added to plain water, unsweetened decaf tea, crystal light, zero calorie sports drinks, or even chicken/beef/vegetable broth or unsweetened apple sauce. Many different brands sell unflavored protein powder. Some bariatric vitamin companies also sell high protein, low carbohydrate soup packets that you mix with hot water for a nice savory treat.

Carley Baulick MS, RDN, CDN
By Carley Baulick MS, RDN, CDN
Bariatric Dietitian Educator

Carley Baulick, MS, RDN, CDN is Garnet Health Medical Center’s Bariatric Dietitian Educator. She received her Bachelor’s and Master of Science Degrees in Nutrition and Dietetics from the State University of New York College at Oneonta. She is a Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist, holds an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management, and is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). Carley is passionate about nutrition and helping others reach their health and wellness goals through individualized counseling and nutrition education. Carley can be reached at (845) 333-4730 or

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