Does protein powder make you gain weight?

Does protein powder make you gain weight? We asked the experts

Does protein powder make you gain weight? Image shows woman drinking shake
(Image credit: Getty)

If you’ve been wondering; does protein powder make you gain weight, then you’re in the right place. We look into the science behind protein powders and how they affect the body, including whether these powders can cause you to put on weight.

As with all nutrition, weight gain depends on whether you’re consuming more calories than you expend per day. When it comes to protein powders, in particular, consuming them in large quantities without an exercise regime can lead to weight gain. However, you can also use supplements such as the best protein powders for weight loss to help you feel full in between meals so that you’re more likely to stay on track with your calorie goals for the day. These powders can also be a great addition to your diet by helping repair your muscles after a workout.

Here, we look into whether protein powder makes you gain weight and we’ll cover the other pros and cons of adding this supplement to your diet. 

Looking to find the right powder now? Check out the best protein powder for women

Does protein powder make you gain weight? Here’s what we know

Protein powder alone isn’t likely to cause weight gain, but the way you’re using it might. For example, if you add protein powder to your diet without changing the rest of your meals to accommodate the extra calories, you may start gaining weight. Of course, for some people, weight gain is their goal when they supplement their diet with protein powder, but it’s something to be mindful of if you are trying to lose weight.

One potential source of weight gain when consuming protein shakes may occur when you use them as a meal replacement. Some people do not feel as full after consuming liquids instead of solid food, which may lead to snacking (adding more calories to your daily intake). For example, one study (opens in new tab) found that whey protein supplements did not result in a measurable increase in fullness or decreased food intake. If you are hungry and need a snack, stick to high-protein foods like Greek yogurt, boiled eggs, or almonds.

Does protein powder make you gain weight? Image shows protein shake and phone

(Image credit: Getty)

What are the benefits of taking protein powders?

 Many people assume consuming protein powder is all about building muscle, but it can support several health and fitness goals, including weight loss, getting lean, and muscle repair.

Protein powders might be a good supplement if you are trying to lose weight. A 2017 review (opens in new tab) found that supplementing with whey protein might reduce body weight and total fat mass in people who are overweight or obese.

High protein intake has been shown (opens in new tab) to significantly boost metabolism and increase the number of calories you burn. This can amount to 80–100 more calories burned each day. In one study (opens in new tab), a high-protein group burned 260 more calories per day than a low-protein group. That’s equivalent to an hour of moderate-intensity exercise per day.

Protein is essential for muscle growth. Many athletes and gym enthusiasts consume protein shakes to support their muscles after strength training, and there is evidence to support this. A 2015 review of studies (opens in new tab) found that protein supplementation may enhance gains in muscle mass and performance in healthy adults. 

As well as contributing to muscle growth, protein can help repair damaged muscles and tissues. As a result, athletes may use protein powder to speed up recovery from muscle soreness after exercise. Many studies report (opens in new tab) that taking protein supplements after a workout can aid recovery by reducing muscle damage and improving muscle performance.

Plant-based protein powders may also benefit those who are don’t include animal and dairy protein in their diet. Nutritionist and thyroid health specialist Alice Godfrey (opens in new tab) said, “It can be difficult for vegans and vegetarians to get enough protein in the diet so protein powders can be really helpful in increasing it.”

Does protein powder make you gain weight? Image shows woman flexing arm muscle

(Image credit: Getty)

What are the cons of taking protein powder?

When it comes to protein powders, you might not know exactly what’s inside the tub. As a supplement, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) leaves it up to manufacturers to evaluate the safety and labeling of products. So, there's no way to know if a protein powder contains what manufacturers claim.

Most protein powders have healthy ingredients, are free of contaminants, and act as nutritional supplements to your diet. However, before you start drinking shakes, consider getting extra protein through a whole food snack or batch cooking meals rather than using shakes as a meal replacement. If you turn to shakes, read nutrition labels carefully and avoid those high in sugar, cholesterol, or saturated fat.

Alice Godfrey said, “I use pure protein powder, for example, those made from pure hemp or pea protein, because you can get protein powders with added ingredients like thickeners, sugars, and sweeteners which are less desirable.”

Some manufacturers add sugars to protein powder to make them more palatable, so look at the label to check the sugar content before adding to your cart. Otherwise, your shake could be adding more than just protein to your day.

Protein powder should be used as a nutritional supplement, not a total meal replacement. If you overuse protein while cutting out other food groups, you may miss out on the nutritional benefits of a healthy, balanced diet.

Does protein powder make you stronger?

Muscle is made primarily of protein; therefore high protein intake can help you gain muscle mass and strength. Protein is essential for muscle growth and a 2018 analysis (opens in new tab) of 49 studies supports the use of protein supplements for this purpose. In addition, the research suggests that protein supplements significantly improve muscle size and strength in healthy adults who perform resistance exercise training, such as lifting weights.

A study published in the journal Sports Medicine (opens in new tab) claims that increased protein levels led to enhanced muscle mass and performance when consumed while doing regular strength training. Another study (opens in new tab) compared two groups of men doing the same workout routine, with one consuming double the protein of the other. At the end of the trial period, the high-protein group had higher muscle mass and performance than the low-protein group.

Looking for more? Check out our feature on muscle recovery after workouts: what to do.  
Alternatively, if you want to give protein powder a go, here’s how to use protein powder to lose weight or gain muscle.  

Catherine is a freelance journalist writing across titles such as Verywell Health, Healthline, The Daily Telegraph, Refinery29, Elle, and Vogue. She specializes in content covering health, fitness, wellness, and culture.
A once reluctant runner, Catherine has competed in 30 running events in the past five years and looks forward to one day running the London Marathon.