Does protein make you gain weight?

Let's bust some myths about protein

Happy athletic woman using mobile phone while drinking a protein shake at home
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Protein powders have a terrible reputation. Well, not necessarily bad, but the public's image of protein supplements is indeed distorted, to say the least. It's often thought that protein powders are full of additives, are bad for health, and might even cause weight gain. Are these urban myths true?

There is a lot to unpack here. First of all, what is protein? Dietary protein is one of the three main macronutrients the body needs to function. All of them are important, but protein is essential for muscle recovery, among other functions. Hence, the best protein powders are so popular among bodybuilders.

This is the same reason why many people associate protein with muscle building only. However, protein alone won't give you big muscles. You need to consume a lot of protein from various sources and work out with weights frequently for muscles to grow, and even then, they will probably never get as big as you think they might.

Can protein help you lose weight?

Protein is recommended for muscle recovery after any exercise. Runners and cyclists often consume protein shakes or have a quick protein bar after training to help their muscles get back on their feet, so to say. And if you ever saw long-distance runners and cyclists, you know they aren't big people.

So, does this mean protein won't make you gain weight? As a matter of fact, protein can help people lose weight. Protein is considerably low in calories (1 gram of protein is around 4 calories), and protein-rich food will make you feel fuller for longer. Consuming fatty foods have a similar effect, but fat has a much higher calorie content (around 9 calories per gram).

Protein shakes are generally low in calories, making them an ideal snack for people trying to lose belly fat. A serving of protein powder contains around 100-120 calories when mixed with water and is made mainly of protein. This is why bodybuilders prefer protein shakes; they can fine-tune their diet and protein consumption.

Person eating a plate of food with a fork and a knife

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How not to gain weight using protein

How come some people put on weight when drinking protein shakes? Many people will add extra protein shakes to their diets without removing unhealthy snacks, which might be why they don't see weight loss results.

When additional protein is consumed, and that isn't needed for muscle recovery/maintenance, it will be used as energy and can potentially be stored as fat in the body.

If you want to lose weight using protein, you must match the intake with physical exercise so your body can utilise the macronutrient for what it's for. This doesn't have to be strength training, but admittedly, long term weight loss is only possible if you increase your basal metabolic rate; adding extra muscle mass is a great way to do that healthily.

To reiterate, we aren't talking about professional bodybuilder-level muscle mass, only more muscle than an average person has.

Can protein help you gain healthy weight?

As we already discussed, protein supplements are often used in bodybuilding circles. Considering how big those people are, protein powder surely can help you gain weight and bulk up. Under the right circumstances, it certainly can.

Protein can build mass by helping your muscles recover properly after resistance training. You see, when they are put under tension, microscopic tears appear in muscles. Protein can help patch these tears up, leaving muscles slightly bigger so they are ready for a similar event in the future.

After a long period of frequent resistance training sessions, this process can result in noticeable muscle growth. The way to gain weight is to have good training and a decent diet plan in place. Not to mention, allowing your body to recover. If you are one of those people who struggle to put on weight, you can try mass gainers; these are high-calorie protein supplements for so-called hard gainers.

two bodybuilders walking in a gym drinking protein shakes

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Does protein make you gain weight?

Protein can help you gain and lose weight easier, depending on your fitness goal. It can only do either of those things if your increased protein consumption is part of a healthy diet plan. Just drinking an extra protein shake a day won't cut it.

You should have protein from a variety of sources and not just protein powder. Both animal and plant-based protein are available in abundance, including organic poultry, tofu, leafy greens, beans and so on. Mix things up and monitor your intake so you don't go too overboard.

And whatever your weight goal is, make sure you exercise accordingly so you can reach it sooner. Here are some workouts for inspiration: best full-body workout, best HIIT workout, best kettlebell workout and best push-pull-legs exercise routine.

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This feature is part of T3's Get Fit 2022 campaign. We’ll be bringing you a wealth of guides, features, deals and news to help you get healthy, fit and ready for anything the new year can throw at you. Whether you’re a newcomer to fitness or someone with a passion for it, we’ll bring you all the best workouts, diet advice and gear to set you on the right track.

Matt Kollat
Matt Kollat

Matt is a fitness fanatic (a.k.a. fitness and nutrition writer) who's been rambling on about all things health and fitness for over two years now here at T3. His achievements include a short-lived fitness podcast called Fit Mentality Podcast and being a judge on the Fit&Well Awards 2021. In his free time, he works out at home, runs, cycles and loves a good ol' walk around the city. He writes about general fitness stuff, fitness tech, workouts, workout gear/equipment, nutrition and much, much more.