Does Protein Powder Make You Gain Weight?

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Vanessa Gibbs

Published 05/21/2024

Smoothies, oatmeal, pancakes — is there nothing protein powder can’t make better? Protein powder is a quick, easy, and often tasty way to increase your protein intake. 

But, does protein powder make you gain weight? It’s all about how you use it (and how much of it you use). 

Consuming protein powder may make you gain weight if you don’t make changes to account for the added calories. But protein powder can also help you lose weight when combined with a reduced-calorie diet and exercise routine.  

Read on to learn how protein powder can make you gain weight, how it can help you lose it, and how much you should eat to achieve your health goals. 

Adding a scoop of protein powder to your morning smoothie or drinking a protein shake post-workout isn’t guaranteed to cause weight gain. But there is a reason gym bros adore the stuff — it can help you bulk up. 

If you regularly consume protein powder and don’t make adjustments to your lifestyle (like upping your physical activity) you may notice some weight gain over time. 

Here’s how protein powder can make you gain weight: 

  • Your protein powder has calories and sugar. In addition to calories, many products have added flavors that raise their carb count. If you’re not accounting for this with increased physical activity or a reduced-calorie diet, you may be eating more calories than you burn. This leads to weight gain over time.

  • Your smoothie isn’t filling you up. It may not be the protein powder itself that’s adding to your calorie intake. If you make a protein shake as a meal replacement for breakfast, you might find yourself hungry again in a couple of hours. Drinking your meal doesn’t feel the same as eating something solid. So you’re more likely to indulge in an extra snack or two.

  • You need to move more. When energy demand is low — aka when you’re not doing much walking or exercising — the protein you’re eating can be converted into glucose or ketone bodies, which can then be stored as fat. 

  • You’re putting on muscle. If you’re strength training alongside consuming extra protein, you might gain muscle mass. This is a good thing for your overall health and body composition. But muscle growth may translate to a higher body weight, even though you’re not gaining body fat.

  • You’re bloated. For some, protein powder can cause side effects like gas and bloating. This isn’t true weight gain, but it can make your clothes feel tight and uncomfortable. 

Yes, protein powder can help you lose weight — if consumed correctly.

High-protein diets can help support: 

  • Weight loss

  • Fat loss

  • Reduced waist circumference 

  • Preservation of lean muscle 

  • Reduced triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood)

  • Reduced blood pressure 

If you can’t get enough protein from food, protein powder can help top up your intake. This can lead to weight loss if you’re consuming fewer calories than you burn. 

How does protein work its magic? 

Protein may increase feelings of fullness and even help with hunger hormones. This can help you stick to nutritious food choices. 

Beyond that, your body burns more calories when it’s digesting protein than when it’s digesting carbohydrates or fats. Protein also helps you maintain and build muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest. 

Finally, protein can help you recover from exercise, so you can feel your best and maintain your routine. 

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According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, women need 46 grams of protein a day. (Men need 56 grams.)

But this is the minimum amount of protein you should aim for.

Some research states that certain people — like those who are very physically active — should aim for 1.2 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day.

If you’re looking to lose weight on a high-protein diet, your daily intake goals may be even higher. 

But you don’t need to add protein powder to every meal. You may not need any protein powder if you can fit in some dietary protein.

High-protein foods include: 

  • Chicken

  • Turkey

  • Tofu

  • Tempeh

  • Eggs

  • Fish

  • Nuts

  • Seeds 

Exactly how much protein your body needs will depend on several factors, including your age, sex, activity level, and goal weight.

Consider seeking personalized advice from a healthcare provider or dietitian who can talk with you about your protein needs. 

The licensed providers at Hers can also support you on your weight loss journey. Our holistic weight loss program involves cognitive behavioral exercises, mindful eating, and weight loss medications (for those who qualify).  

Learn more about how much protein to eat to lose weight.

There are many different types of protein powder, made from a variety of different ingredients. Common protein supplements include: 

  • Whey protein. Whey is a substance found in milk that can be extracted during the cheese-making process. It’s often considered better than other types of protein powder because it’s digested more quickly than some of the alternatives (casein and soy). It may help you lose less muscle mass when you start losing weight and help you recover after strenuous resistance training. 

  • Casein protein. Casein is also found in milk and used to make cheese. In protein-powder form, it may help you feel fuller than whey protein does.

  • Pea protein. Pea protein is a plant-based option. It may be your best bet if you’re vegan, lactose intolerant, or have a soy allergy. It’s been shown to help you feel full, maybe more so than whey protein.

  • Soy protein. Soy protein is another plant-based protein, making it a great vegan option. It may help reduce insulin resistance and promote fat loss, but more research is needed.

Does whey protein make you gain weight? What about casein, pea, and soy? All protein powders can make you gain weight if you don’t make changes to your lifestyle to account for the added calories. 

How Much Protein Powder to Take

There are no hard-and-fast rules for how much protein powder to take. One glance at the nutrition labels on protein products and you’ll notice serving suggestions vary from product to product.

Follow the recommended serving to ensure you’re not consuming too much.

Protein powders are a convenient way to up your protein intake. But if you’re using protein powder to lose weight, it can backfire and lead to weight gain if you don’t make necessary adjustments to your overall lifestyle to account for the extra calories. 

Protein powder — or protein in general — can help you reach your weight loss goals. But there’s more to keep in mind. 

To maximize your weight loss efforts, make sure you’re eating nutritious foods, incorporating more steps and general movement into your day, drinking more water, and getting enough sleep. 

If you’re looking for support on your weight loss journey, take our free online assessment to find the best weight loss options for you.

11 Sources

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