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Do All Protein Powders Make You Gain Weight?

Posted on May 25, 2018

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It's well known that protein is an essential part of our diet. As a component of every cell in our body, it is an important building block in everything from bones and muscles to skin and blood. Your body uses it to build and repair tissue, and it is important for general health as well as muscle recovery and repair.

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Protein is something we need relatively large amounts of in our diet in order to stay healthy. Though we do store amino acids in skeletal muscle tissue, which act like a reservoir, muscle tissue can become difficult to rebuild as we get older, and therefore should be maintained. Muscle can be compared to a water tank that it very labour intensive to repair, and as we get older, this task gets harder and harder. Therefore, we should do everything that we can to keep this water tank in good working order. This means, we keep active with resistance exercise and eat regular quality protein-rich food.


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An effective way to make sure you're getting enough protein, especially if you are an athlete or have a restricted diet, is to use protein powders or essential amino acids to supplement what you eat. However, some people worry that protein powders will make them gain weight and put on body fat, which is somewhat of a misconception.


While it is technically biochemically possible for protein to make you gain weight and fat, this would only happen if you were ingesting extremely high numbers of calories or extremely large amounts of protein, and low quality protein at that. If you take the correct amount of protein suggested for your size, lifestyle, and end goals, you will only see positive effects.


Let's dig a little deeper into this fact, as you’re probably wondering how this is the case, given that protein contains practically as many calories as carbohydrates, per gram. However, there is a substantial thermogenic or heat-effect that occurs in the body after we ingest a meal rich in quality protein. This means that the metabolism has been stimulated, which offsets some of the calories contained within the protein. We have to feed the fire, after all, to keep it burning.


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This heat-effect is believed to be caused by an increased level of protein synthesis. You see, the essential amino acids found in quality protein are so important that much of them are immediately incorporated into tissues to create structure and replace old worn out proteins. One of these tissues is skeletal muscle tissue.


However, you would find it incredibly hard to bulk up just from eating protein or using protein powder. However, if you are exercising in such a way, such as heavy weight-lifting or bodybuilding style training, protein will assist in boosting muscle size. If you're looking to gain weight in the form of bulk and muscle mass, ensure you are on a specific nutrition program and engaging in strength training, as well as increasing your protein intake, in order to gain lean muscle.


Some protein powders, for example mass gainers, can have a negative effect in terms of weight and fat gain if taken incorrectly and without the correct training. The purpose of mass gainers is to help those who struggle with gaining weight and mass, due to a fast metabolism or because they are unable to eat large portions of food. If this is not a problem for you, you should avoid mass gainers. These products deliver a calorie surplus by combining protein with carbohydrates and healthy fats. If you take too much mass gainer, or use it without engaging in strength training, this can result in excess calories stored as fat.

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While mass gainers may have this effect, other protein-only powders are unlikely to. In fact, if anything protein powders can be effective in aiding weight loss. Protein is great for hunger control, as it is very filling, giving you greater feelings of satiety. It also delivers a slow and modest release of glucose into the bloodstream, rather than causing the spike in blood sugar that carbohydrates do, meaning you have sustainable energy throughout the day, and resulting in fewer cravings. While you still want to include healthy fats in your diet, protein powders are especially good for weight loss as they can be virtually fat and carbohydrate free.


Ultimately, the effects of protein powders come down to the way you take them, and other aspects of your lifestyle such as diet and exercise. Obviously, if you consume very large amounts of quality protein through food, while being sedentary, they might contribute to weight gain. It’s common sense really. Used correctly, protein can actually help you burn fat and shed pounds, and adapt to your chosen form of training in a much more efficient way.