So, you’ve been working hard at losing weight and recently started adding in a daily protein shake. But when you look around the gym, you notice that lots of bodybuilders and bulky-looking dudes are also hitting the protein powder on a regular basis. Does this mean you’re going to start gaining weight? Will adding more protein to your regimen cause you to look big and bulky?
- How does protein cause weight gain?
- How does protein help with weight loss?
- How much protein do you need?
It might feel confusing to learn that high protein diets are beneficial for weight loss and, at the same time, are used to gain weight and build muscle. The truth is, dietary protein can have many uses when it comes to your health and fitness goals. Protein can help you gain weight and lose weight, it just depends on how you use it in your overall nutrition plan.
Here is a basic breakdown of the complex and intriguing role that protein plays in your diet and health, along with tips for tailoring your ideal protein intake.
What Does Protein Do?
Protein is an essential macronutrient that is used in many bodily functions. It helps build, repair, and maintain muscle mass, and every cell in your body. Protein is also used as a critical component in enzymes, hormones, and much more.
Protein is also a key source of essential amino acids, the building blocks your body needs to function properly. When you don’t get enough protein in your diet, your body has to borrow it from your lean mass, which can result in losing muscle and strength, decreased bone density, a weakened immune system, and anemia.
How Does Protein Cause Weight Gain?
Weight gain is caused by consistently consuming more calories than you burn, not by how much protein you eat. Some think of large athletes when they ask, does protein make you gain weight? Even on a high protein-bulking diet that is intended to build large amounts of muscle mass, higher calorie intakes are essential for results. Protein can assist in the type of weight you gain, such as more muscle than body fat, but it is typically not responsible for weight gain as a whole.
However, protein is one of the main sources of calories in the diet, and consuming too much can put you over your calorie needs. The other sources of calories from food comes from dietary fat and carbohydrates.
Each gram of protein provides about four calories. With this, you can calculate the number of calories you are getting from just protein. So if your protein powder has 20 grams of protein in it, you can assume that it contains 80 calories from protein.
It is only when your daily protein shake is causing you to go over your daily energy needs that it may lead to weight gain. If you want to keep the benefits of protein consumption and cut calories, you can always look at trimming from other areas of your diet - such as any added fat from cooking oils or added sugar in your morning coffee.
How Does Protein Help with Weight Loss?
Similar to weight gain, eating more protein alone won't cause you to lose weight, calorie control is still the most important factor to consider. However, protein supports fat loss in a number of ways that are worth considering.
Because of the many roles protein plays in your overall health and bodily functions, it is not typically considered a great source of fuel- especially when compared to fat and carbohydrates, which are used mostly for energy.
On a low-calorie diet, your body will prioritize protein use for the necessary essential functions and use up body stores of fat or carbohydrates for your energy needs - causing you to lose weight and body fat (1).
This is a basic understanding of how high protein intake can support fat loss and help you build small amounts of lean mass in a calorie deficit.
Protein is also the most thermodynamic of all the macronutrients, meaning it takes more calories to digest and utilize protein than it does fat or carbs (2). This thermic effect (TEF) is minor on your overall calorie burn, but still worth noting.
Protein is commonly praised for its potential role in helping to manage hunger and cravings, and there is plenty of research to back up these claims (3,4,5,6,7,8). Eating more protein is thought to be one of the main contributing factors to why people tend to do so well on a high protein low carb diet for weight loss.
Lastly, because increased protein consumption paired with strength training can support building lean muscle mass, this change in body composition may have a favorable impact on your overall metabolism. Muscle is more metabolic than body fat, so the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns naturally.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
The minimum requirement for daily protein intake is 0.8 grams to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight (9). For a 200-pound adult (91kg), this would equal out to be about 73 grams to 91 grams of protein each day.
If you are looking to tap into the benefits of high-protein diets, it is recommended you up your intake a bit to around 1 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (10,11,12).
Learn the exact amounts of protein you should be eating for weight loss or muscle gain, using this free protein calculator.
Quickly estimate your daily protein requirements with this free protein calculator.
Although eating too much protein isn’t necessarily harmful to your health, excess protein intake does not necessarily help you achieve your goals any faster than a balanced high-protein diet. According to the research, there isn't much benefit to eating more than 3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 1.5 grams per pound (13,14,15,16). Eating excess protein can also cause you to miss out on the benefits of other key nutrients in your diet.
Want to master a high-protein diet for weight loss? One of the best approaches is to consume protein at every meal. Trifecta offers six different high-protein meal plans to choose from. Start losing weight today and enjoy the convenience of getting all of your meals cooked and shipped right to your door!