How post-workout protein can actually help weight loss

Protein's muscle-building effects are well-known, but adding a shake after exercise could help drop pounds too

Woman drinking a protein shake
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Getting high-quality protein into your diet is an essential part of any training regime. This is why you'll see countless fitness enthusiasts glugging a protein shake after their training. 

But protein isn't only for building muscle and bulking up. Instead, adding the best protein powders for weight loss to your post-workout routine could play a crucial role in helping you drop the pounds. 

These effects are well known, but most evidence is anecdotal rather than scientific. However, researchers at the Geisel School of Medicine found that whey protein is an effective intervention for weight loss. 

The team split the participants into two groups, with both following a 12-week exercise routine performed three times per week, but one consumed protein after a workout, and the other didn't.

To monitor activity, both groups wore one of the best fitness trackers throughout the study. Those taking whey protein chose either 27g for vanilla-flavored and 29g for the chocolate variety, with 8oz of water.

At the end of the trial period, both groups had lost weight. However, the average weight loss for the protein group was lower at 3.45kg than the non-protein participants, who dropped 5.7kg. 

A scoop of chocolate protein powder

(Image credit: Getty Images)

These results initially suggest that protein powder could scupper the fat-burning impacts of exercise, but there's more to the results than the numbers on the scales. 

The supplementation group had enhanced grip strength by the end of the 12 weeks and this showed a significant improvement compared to the non-protein group. This isn't entirely a surprise, though.

Protein contributes to the development of muscle, so this aligns with previous research. Importantly, those adding additional protein into their diet saw their waist circumference drop further than the others. 

There may have been additional factors influencing these results as well. One previous study found that drinking a protein shake immediately after exercise reduced energy intake from food at your next meal, suggesting we consume fewer calories overall.

The decision to use whey protein during the study is an important one too. Although there are many forms of protein powder out there, whey protein is generally seen as the most effective and high-quality option. 

A review published in the Journal of Food Science analyzed past research on protein supplementation. The researchers compared the effectiveness of whey, soy, and creatine-based protein sources. 

The authors found that "whey protein is the optimal protein source to support muscle protein synthesis at rest and following exercise to induce muscle hypertrophy and strength gains with resistance training."

Of course, it'd be great if a high-protein drink three times a week made the pounds drop off, but you need to couple this with the best exercises for weight loss to get effective results. 

You don't need much equipment for these moves, but to really torch fat, it's worth investing in one of the best kettlebells for some intense, full-body workouts. 

James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.