Many athletes and gym enthusiasts often carry around protein shakes throughout the day to help them bulk up. If your goal is the exact opposite, it may leave you wondering, “Do protein shakes make you fat?”
The answer depends on several factors.
When you consume more calories than your body burns, the rest will get stored as fat.
While protein shakes can help bodybuilders bulk up and pack on the pounds, they can help just about anyone reach their fitness goals. It all boils down to how you consume them.
This article will explore the topic of protein shakes and fat gain. It will also explain how you can use protein shakes to reach any fitness goal you may have.
- Protein powder alone will not make you fat.
- If you are pairing protein shakes with strength training, the increase on the scale is likely from lean muscle growth rather than fat storage.
- Unintentional weight gain can occur from consuming too much protein, blending high-calorie ingredients into your shakes, or using a low-quality protein powder.
IS WEIGHT GAIN FROM PROTEIN POWDER GOOD OR BAD?
Although many people often freak out when they see a rise in the number on the scale, it’s not always a bad thing.
Your protein shakes may be doing exactly what they’re intended to do — build lean muscle and enhance performance.
However, if you’re consuming protein shakes the wrong way, it may result in unwanted fat gain.
Let’s explore the difference.
GOOD WEIGHT GAIN
If you feel like your diet has been on point, and you’ve been putting in the work at the gym, the increase in your weight is unlikely to be caused by extra fat storage.
In fact, when used appropriately, protein supplements coupled with resistance training can improve muscle mass, which can cause muscle weight gain and more muscle definition.
BAD WEIGHT GAIN
If you’ve been heavily relying on protein shakes to grow your muscles, it can lead to excess weight gain.
Why? Because protein still has calories.
One gram of protein has approximately four calories. If you’re drinking whey protein supplements like they’re going out of style, the extra protein can get stored as body fat which is not beneficial for your overall health or appearance.
5 WAYS PROTEIN SHAKES CAN CAUSE YOU TO GAIN WEIGHT
Here are the five of the most common reasons why protein shakes can cause you to gain weight.
- Increases Lean Muscle Mass
- Too Much Protein
- Caloric Surplus
- Adding Too Many Ingredients
- Choosing the Wrong Protein Powder
INCREASES LEAN MUSCLE MASS
Because both resistance training and protein found in high-quality protein powder can stimulate muscle synthesis, it makes sense why they are the perfect combination.
Protein shakes provide amino acids in a form that your body can easily absorb. Whey protein, in particular, is highly digestible. It’s quickly broken down to provide all of the essential amino acids your muscles need to recover and grow.
According to one 2015 study published in Nutrients, researchers found that whey protein can help retain and promote muscle growth even if you are following a reduced-calorie diet.
So if you have been training hard and get on the scale and notice you’ve gained a few pounds, odds are you’ve gained more muscle mass, which is more dense than fat.
Chances are you will visibly appear and feel slimmer despite the number on the scale increasing.
TOO MUCH PROTEIN
Protein is an important tool to aid in muscle building and tissue repair.
However, more protein does not always = more muscle gains.
A common misconception is that you need to eat massive amounts of protein to achieve maximum muscle gains.
Amounts beyond what your body needs each day will be stored as fat rather than being used to create muscle mass.
For example, research suggests that skeletal muscle synthesis is generally maximized at ~25 grams of high-quality protein per meal. So, anything beyond that will be used for energy or stored as fat.
Additionally, if you are consuming too much protein, your fat and carbohydrate intake will likely decrease. This can lead to your macro ratio getting thrown off, causing you to miss out on essential fats, fruits, vegetables, and fiber that your body needs for energy and to maintain its structure and systems.
When we shift our focus to prioritizing protein, we can easily end up exceeding our daily calorie needs.
If you eat 3,500 more than what your body burns, you will gain a pound. While this may sound like a lot, it can quickly add up and prevent you from losing weight.
This is especially true if you’re choosing high-calorie, high protein sources. For example, a 10-ounce ribeye contains approximately 67 grams of protein, yet it clocks in at nearly 1,000 calories. After you add your side items, it could quickly become a 1,500-1,800 calorie meal.
Additionally, red meat is high in saturated fat, which is linked to an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke,
Drinking too many protein shakes per day will also cause your overall calorie intake to go up, resulting in weight gain.
Depending on your individual goals, a caloric surplus can be a good or bad thing. If weight gain is your goal, aim to follow a lean-bulk diet plan.
If weight loss is your goal, aim for a total calorie deficit of around 500 calories a day.
ADDING TOO MANY INGREDIENTS
In reality, it’s highly unlikely that the protein powder itself will cause you to start gaining weight. However, the way you are using it might.
Just mixing whole milk with your protein powder can add an additional 160 calories. If you choose to blend it with high-calorie ingredients like peanut butter, bananas, and rolled oats, it can quickly grow in calories and result in weight gain.
CHOOSING THE WRONG PROTEIN POWDER
All protein powders are not created equal. Some contain added ingredients to increase flavor and palatability. While it may taste better, these ingredients can counteract the nutritional benefits and stand in the way of your fat loss efforts.
Added sugar is one of the main ingredients you will want to steer clear of, no matter what your fitness goals may be. Even if your protein shake is relatively low in calories, added sugar can increase hunger and cause you to overeat during the day.
Studies show that high amounts of sugar in a person’s diet can lead to increased hunger, making it challenging to lose weight.
In contrast, research suggests that high protein, high fiber diets with minimal added sugar can promote fullness and reduce hunger.
A clean protein powder without added sugar and empty calories can be an excellent addition to help increase muscle growth while promoting fat loss.
Be sure to look at the nutrition labels and choose protein powders with minimal added sugar and artificial ingredients.
SO, HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO YOU REALLY NEED?
Whether you're trying to build muscle, lose fat, or do both at the same time, it’s important to know how much protein your body actually needs.
In general, 10-30% of your daily calorie needs should come from protein. An active person will need higher amounts of protein than a sedentary person.
Your protein intake should be spaced out throughout the day and after workouts to ensure your body can absorb it all.
Protein is essential for preserving and building muscle mass and, therefore, very important to help you reach your goals.
However, simply drinking protein shakes won’t cut it.
It’s important to consume a well-balanced diet with whole foods and include optimal amounts of carbohydrates and fat.
Carbohydrates are important to fuel your muscles so that you can exercise harder.
Fat is important to help manufacture and absorb important nutrients. It also serves a role in protecting vital organs in our body.
We realize you may not have time to calculate your protein needs, and — let’s be honest — there is no cookie-cutter answer to how much protein you need.
This is why we created a free protein calculator to help you fine-tune your protein intake and crush your goals. Simply take the quiz, and we’ll do the math for you.
Setting daily protein goals and hitting them every day is vital to reaching your fitness goals, whether you're trying to gain or lose weight.
Protein powder itself is highly unlikely to solely contribute to weight gain. If you are crushing your workouts and hitting your macros and notice an increase in the scale after drinking protein shakes, it’s likely muscle mass.
If you notice your clothes fitting much tighter or overall just feeling “blah,” you may want to rethink your overall diet, including how you are preparing your protein shakes.
Making a few small changes in your diet and how you consume protein is key to reaching your fitness goals while minimizing fat gain.