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Does Protein Powder Make You Gain Weight?

by Mara Welty October 23, 2023 7 min read

 Does Protein Powder Make You Gain Weight?

You’ve likely heard every gym-goer tout the benefits of protein, whether they’re chowing down on a hefty steak or finishing the last drops of a protein shake following a vigorous workout.

And they’re right — protein plays a critical role in the growth and development of soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments and tendons. Paired with high-intensity or resistance exercise, the addition of protein powder can help strengthen the muscles and support recovery.

That said, too much of anything is never good. While protein powder doesn’t directly lead to weight gain, adding extra calories to your diet may increase your chances of putting on a few pounds.

How Does Protein Powder Affect Weight?

So, does protein powder make you gain weight? It’s not likely. Barring factors related to certain health conditions, medications or genetics, weight gain occurs when you consume more calories than your body uses.

Calories are used daily to support various physiological functions, such as:

  • Maintaining your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the energy your body expends at rest
  • Powering physical activity and exercise
  • Digesting and absorbing nutrients
  • Supporting organ function

If your calorie intake consistently exceeds your calorie expenditure, regardless of the source of those calories, you are likely to gain weight over time.

Conversely, protein powders may actually support weight loss, without the need to intentionally restrict certain foods. Here’s how.

Our bodies produce ghrelin, the “hunger hormone.” It’s primarily produced in the stomach, but it’s also found in the brain, small intestine and pancreas. Essentially, it’s your stomach’s way of telling your brain it needs food. It also plays a role in storing body fat and regulating your metabolism.

When we consume protein, the concentration of ghrelin in the body decreases, reducing our cravings and desire for food. Protein also boosts the levels of other hormones — glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), peptide YY (PYY) and cholecystokinin (CCK) — that are responsible for feelings of fullness and satiety.

As such, if we listen to our body’s signals, eating protein can actually decrease the amount of calories we eat each day, especially if that protein is eaten at the beginning of the day.

In one study published by the Journal of Dairy Science, 32 adults were given high-protein breakfasts. Half of the group paired a high-carbohydrate cereal with one cup of milk that contained 12.4 grams of protein. The other group paired the cereal with one cup of milk that contained a whole-milk protein concentrate or a whey protein powder with a protein intake of 28 grams.

After measuring each participant’s blood sugar levels, it was found that those who consumed extra protein had lower blood sugar levels and fewer cravings throughout the day.

Protein is also harder to digest than other macronutrients, carbohydrates and fats. As such, your body uses more calories to digest and absorb the nutrients. In effect, you may feel fuller longer since it will take more time for the proteins to leave your stomach. The digestion of protein can also increase the amount of calories your body burns.

In fact, it was found that a high-protein diet can cause your metabolism to burn 80 to 100 more calories per day. At a protein surplus, you may burn up to 260 more calories daily. This can contribute to a calorie deficit.

When your body is in a calorie deficit, it burns more calories than you consume. As a result, you lose weight. While exercise does play a role in weight or fat loss, diet plays a bigger one. For instance, it’s much easier to avoid a 300-calorie dessert than it is to burn off 300 calories through exercise, particularly if you don’t have the time or energy to regularly work out.

As such, if you add a 200-calorie protein powder to your daily diet, in addition to your regularly scheduled breakfast, lunch and dinner, you may be at risk of gaining weight if your body doesn’t burn off the added calories.

That said, it’s easy to adjust your diet to make room for a protein shake. Some protein shakes also function as meal replacements and are fortified with additional vitamins and minerals to ensure your diet remains well-balanced.

Protein Powder and Muscle Gain

Protein’s role in muscle synthesis also plays a role in its ability to support weight loss. Or, more specifically, fat burning.

Following strenuous exercise, such as resistance training or weight lifting, small microtears form in the muscles. Protein, which plays a vital role in the formation of new cells, helps to repair these microtears, allowing the muscles to grow and strengthen.

Since muscle tissue is metabolically active, it requires energy (calories) to maintain itself, even at rest. This is often referred to as your basal metabolic rate (BMR) or resting metabolic rate (RMR). Lean muscle tissue has a higher metabolic rate compared to fat tissue, which means that having a higher proportion of lean muscle mass can help increase your overall daily calorie expenditure.

How to Incorporate Protein Powder Into Your Nutrition Plan

Remember that there differences between a protein shake vs meal replacement shake. So, how you incorporate the best protein powder into your diet will depend on your individual health goals. :

Weight loss

If your goal is weight or fat loss, using protein powder strategically can be incredibly beneficial. Protein is known to increase feelings of fullness and can help control appetite, which can aid in reducing overall calorie intake. Just be mindful of of how many calories are in a protein shake.

Consider replacing higher-calorie, less nutritious snacks with protein shakes or smoothies. This can help you stay within your calorie goals while providing your body with the protein it needs to preserve lean muscle mass during weight loss.

Also, consider adding a meal replacement protein shake to your routine. This can help reduce the amount of calories you eat during the day while still providing you with enough essential nutrients to support a well-balanced diet.

Muscle building

For those aiming to build muscle, consuming a protein shake within the post-workout "anabolic window" can provide your muscles with the necessary amino acid for repair and growth. This window occurs within 15 to 60 minutes following your workout. Additionally, consider spreading your protein intake throughout the day by incorporating protein-rich meals and snacks to support consistent muscle protein synthesis.

Muscle loss prevention

As you age, your muscle mass can decrease. Ensuring an adequate protein intake through shakes or protein-rich foods throughout the day can help combat age-related muscle decline. Combining protein consumption with resistance training exercises further supports muscle maintenance and overall functional fitness.

Exercise performance

Athletes and active individuals can benefit from protein powder before or after workouts to support muscle repair, reduce muscle soreness and aid in overall recovery. Consuming protein alongside carbohydrates post-workout can also replenish glycogen stores and enhance muscle recovery processes, ultimately improving your performance in following sessions.

To make your protein powder a balanced addition to your diet, ensure that you’re still consuming the essential nutrients your body needs to function properly. These include macronutrients and micronutrients.

Macronutrients

Macronutrients include protein, carbohydrates and fats. Each nutrient plays a vital role in providing the body with needed energy. Per their name, we need large amounts of these nutrients. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. Carbohydrates should make up about 45 to 65 percent of your total caloric intake, and healthy fats should make up 20 to 35 percent of the calories you consume.

To add macronutrients to your protein supplements like your shake, consider crafting a smoothie with:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruits, like bananas, blueberries and apples
  • Vegetables, like broccoli and leafy greens

Outside of your protein supplementation, you can bolster your diet with the following:

  • Proteins, such as fish, chicken, turkey, lentils, tofu, eggs and dairy
  • Carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, quinoa, oats and kidney beans
  • Healthy fats, such as avocados, dark chocolate and extra virgin olive oil

Micronutrients

Micronutrients refer to essential vitamins and minerals that play a role in overall health, such as development and immune function. Unlike macronutrients, our bodies only need small amounts in our diets. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Iron – Iron plays a role in cognitive and motor development, as well as the formation of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body. You can incorporate iron into your diet by dining on spinach, tofu, lentils, pumpkin seeds, beans, eggs and red meat.
  • Vitamin A – Vitamin A helps promote eyesight, as well as reproductive and immune health. Foods rich in this vitamin include carrots, sweet potato, spinach, eggs, mango, broccoli, bell pepper and cantaloupe.
  • Vitamin D – This vitamin is responsible for calcium absorption, which supports bone health. You’ll find it in fatty fish, egg yolks, cheese and fortified cereals.
  • Iodine – Iodine is a critical mineral that’s essential for the growth and development of fetuses. It also plays a role in cognitive development. It can be found in sea vegetables like seaweed, as well as fish and shellfish, dairy, eggs, chicken, beef liver and iodized table salt.
  • Folate – A B vitamin, folate helps the body make new cells, including red blood cells. It’s present in dark leafy greens, beans, peas and nuts.
  • Zinc – Zinc supports immune function and can be found in chickpeas, cashews, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, eggs, beef, legumes and oysters.

Support Your Health Goals with INVIGOR8

Protein powder is unlikely to lead to weight gain unless it’s causing you to consume a surplus of calories that your body cannot burn off efficiently. Rather, protein powders can be a good addition to your weight loss kit as it can provide weight loss support and can aid muscle growth — and they may be an excellent meal replacement when fortified with the right nutrients. So, if you’re worried about how to eat healthy while traveling, protein powder may just be one of your best options.

At INVIGOR8, we designed our organic superfoods powder to check all the boxes. It’s rich in whey protein, and includes protein powder ingredientslike essential micronutrients, green veggies, essential fatty acids and pre- and probiotics.

Stay fuller longer, enhance your performance and support your healthy weight goals with INVIGOR8.

 

Source:

  1. Cleveland Clinic. Ghrelin
  2. Healthline. How Protein Can Help You Lose Weight Naturally
  3. Harvard Health Publishing. Extra protein at breakfast helps control hunger
  4. Healthline. When Is the Best Time to Take Protein?
  5. British Heart Foundation. What are macronutrients?
  6. Harvard Health Publishing. How much protein do you need every day?
  7. Mayo Clinic. Carbohydrates: How carbs fit into a healthy diet
  8. CDC. Micronutrient Facts

About the Author

 Mara Welty
Mara Welty

Mara Welty is a copywriter who specializes in health, wellness and CBD topics. With a background in journalism, she aims to deliver engaging, research-based content that builds trust and engages readers through informative storytelling.

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