Does Protein Powder Make You Gain Weight?

Posted on October 4th, 2022 By in Diet and Weightloss Read Time: 20 mins.

Protein powder is without a doubt the most popular fitness supplement in, well, human history.

But there are tons of misconceptions about how protein affects your body — especially when it comes to your weight.

Does protein powder make you gain weight? Does it help you lose weight? Let’s discuss.

cartoon of woman flexing in front of mirror in gym locker room after a post-workout protein shake
Protein Powder is an effective weight loss supplements.

“Why would I take protein powder? I’m not trying to get jacked or anything.”

You’ve probably heard this before if you spend any time in, or around casual gym-goers.

Heck. You’ve probably even said it yourself at one point.

But as you know now (or are about to know by the end of this article…) you were making a rather in-accurate statement.

Getting Jacked With Protein Powder.

If the first image that comes to mind when you think of a protein shake is a pumped-up bodybuilder (probably male) in a gym, you’re not alone.

Our modern perceptions of protein powder have been spoon-fed to us by how these products have been marketed over the years to young men, usually by older men.

Clever marketers ‘catered’ (or preyed, depending on how you look at it!) on the adolescent male’s desire to develop a more mature, muscle-bound physique.

Images of ‘jacked’ bodybuilders (most of them artificially inflated by steroids, and then inflated further by the magic of photoshop), graced the windows of the local nutrition store…

Bigger muscles. Bulging veins. Gritted teeth…

All made possible by a delicious whey protein shake!

Protein powder became synonymous with growth.

The only problem with all that is…

Protein powder is not solely responsible for crafting those superhero-esque bodies.

And while you certainly can use protein powder to help achieve a super-sized, muscular physique, it’s actually much more common to see it used by dieters, with weight-loss goals in mind.

…Are you feeling confused yet?

Does protein make you gain weight or lose weight??

It all seems so contradictory…but the correct answer is actually ‘both’.

Check this out.

Does Protein Make You Gain Weight?

We already discussed how ‘old-school’ protein marketing was all about getting big and ‘jacked’.

But fast-forward to modern day, and there’s a lot of mixed messaging around protein intake.

We now have different protein ‘gainer’ products for those looking to bulk up, and other ‘lean’ proteins for those with weight loss goals.

But how can that be possible?

Does it help you gain or lose weight?

Let’s get right to the point.

Protein does not make you gain weight, in most situations.

Consider the primary reason why we use protein powder after workouts in the first place:

To recover.

Your body needs protein to rebuild and repair muscle tissue after a tough workout.

In doing so, it also helps you build strength, as your body has a tendency to ‘over-compensate’ slightly, in case you decide to, you know, keep working out.

As a result of that development in new muscle, protein is sometimes associated with adding ‘bulk’.

But here’s the thing. 

That new, more mature, stronger muscle is rarely the cause of any weight gain.

While it’s true that consuming too much protein can cause your body to store the macronutrient as fat (just like it would store excess carbohydrates and fat), that’s not a typical scenario.

What is typical, is that the new muscle you built can actually help you lose weight (more on that below).

Furthermore, it’s actually hard to gain weight simply from protein over-consumption.

Studies1 show that consuming more than five and a half times the recommended daily allowance of protein did not contribute to any weight gain over the course of a two-month period. 

What’s true more often than not, is that increased protein consumption helps get you closer to your weight loss goals.

Here’s how.

Can Protein Help You Lose Weight?

Not only is protein unlikely to make you gain weight, but it can also actually help you lose weight when combined with a proper diet and regular exercise.

There are five major ways that the body uses protein to help promote weight loss.

Protein Supports a Healthy Metabolism

A sluggish metabolism can make it difficult to lose weight, but increasing your protein intake can help support a healthy metabolism by increasing your lean muscle mass.

Muscle tissue burns more calories at rest than fat, which means your body will keep burning calories long after your workout is over.

As your muscle mass increases, your resting metabolic rate will also climb, likely causing a drop on the numbers on the scale!

Protein Supports Healthy Hormones

Your body needs plenty of protein in order to produce and regulate the hormones that keep you at a healthy body weight.

Production of hormones like insulin, leptin, cortisol, and ghrelin all play key roles in helping you either maintain a healthy weight or shed excess pounds.

Protein Promotes Feelings of Fullness

If you’ve ever eaten a meal loaded with carbs but lacking in protein, you were probably disappointed to find that you were hungry again just a few hours after you finished eating.

There’s a scientific reason for this –

Drastic spikes and dips in blood sugar can contribute to crashes in energy and increases in hunger – which is why it’s so tempting to snack between meals.

Studies2 show that protein is more satiating than carbohydrates or fat.

This means that eating more protein leads to more sustained feelings of fullness that may help you reduce your overall calorics intake.

Protein Builds Lean Muscle Mass

It’s common for people who are dieting to eat too few calories in an attempt to lose weight.

Now, this should work in theory.

But it rarely does.

That’s because without enough circulating nutrients (from eating), your body uses existing muscle tissue as a back-up fuel source.

It’s one of the main reasons that people sometimes fail to lose weight in a caloric deficit.

To avoid this common dieting pitfall, you’ll need dietary protein.

Some people also supplement with amino acids – which are the building blocks of protein.

Protein is used by the body to build and repair muscle tissue, among other functions.

In addition to supporting healthy metabolism, increased protein intake can also help improve body composition by increasing lean muscle mass. 

Protein Helps Maintain Weight Loss

It’s often said that the hardest part of weight loss is maintaining your new figure.

Luckily, a high-protein diet can actually help you do just that.

Studies3 show that increasing your protein intake by a modest 15-18% can reduce the amount of weight gained back after weight loss by up to 50%.

The bottom line?

Some simple dietary changes might just help you keep that weight off that you’ve worked so hard to lose.

Can Protein Help with Weight Gain?

If protein is such a powerful weight-loss tool, why do some people associate the nutrient with weight gain?

As we described in the beginning of the post, a lot of it has to do with the way protein powder is marketed.

But also, recall that protein powder can certainly be used to help with weight gain.

While there are some exceptional scenarios, a caloric surplus will often lead to weight gain.

If your goal is to gain muscle mass and weight – getting enough protein per day, combined with a caloric surplus will probably do the trick.

We’ll have more information in the coming weeks about how to gain weight in a responsible way.

In the meantime, let’s re-focus on incorporating more protein into a diet with a weight loss goal.

If you are trying to lose weight, but suspect that you need more protein in your diet, be sure to avoid this next common trap.

A Common Dieting Pitfall…

One of the most common mistakes people make when adding more protein to their diets is failing to adjust their caloric intake to account for the extra calories.

Remember, there are still calories in a protein shake or protein bar!

Adding additional calories — even calories from protein — into your diet can contribute to weight gain over time, if you aren’t careful.

If you decide to add more protein to your diet, it should come at the expense of another macronutrient…

Meaning you need to reduce your daily allotment of fats, or carbs.

Now, before you go ahead and boost your protein amount, a quick note on quality…

Protein Quality Matters.

The quality of the protein you add to your diet is also important, as not all protein is created equally.

If you use protein supplements like shakes, powders, or bars, it’s important to check the ingredient label.

After all, with some many different types of protein available, it can be difficult to know which ones to choose.

Follow these four rules to help you identify the high quality protein sources that your body deserves:

  1. Make sure you’re not choosing a product that’s packed with added sugars, fat, or carbohydrates, as these ingredients can contribute to weight gain.
  2. Lean protein will always be superior to forms of protein that come mixed in with other macronutrient sources.
  3. It doesn’t take long before a simple post-workout snack turns into a meal that’s packed with ingredients that will contribute to unwanted weight gain.
  4. When choosing protein supplements, look for products that use protein isolate instead of concentrates. Isolates are more pure, and have less fat than concentrated protein.

So now you have some general rules that will help you choose the right protein sources…

But how much of it do you need?

How Much Protein Do You Need?

As you now by now, protein serves plenty of important purposes within your body.

But how much of it does your body need?

The answer is that each person’s protein needs vary depending on their age, gender, and level of physical activity.

On average, mostly sedentary people need about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or about 0.36 grams per pound of body weight, to meet their body’s needs.

However, some people need more protein than this baseline amount, especially anyone who works out regularly, plays sports, or has certain body composition goals, such as reducing body fat.

We have explored this topic in greater detail in our recent blog post here.

Summary

So, what’s the bottom line?

It’s that consuming a high-protein diet does not make you gain weight.

In fact, getting plenty of protein from lean protein sources can often help to support a healthy metabolism, build lean muscle mass, and may even help you lose weight. 

So get enough protein per day, exercise consistently, and eat healthy veggies.

More often than not, your body weight, physique, and overall health will surprise you.

Sources:

1The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals | National Library of Medicine 

2Effects of dietary protein intake on body composition changes after weight loss in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis | National Library of Medicine 

3Protein, weight management, and satiety | American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

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