Do protein shakes make you fat?

Protein shakes used to be associated with body builders, but nowadays they are consumed by all types of athletes and also by people who simply want to have a fitter body.

They provide a convenient way to increase ones protein intake, taste delicious and are cost effective.

However you might be confused about drinking them if you are also watching your waistline.

On one hand, you may have heard that drinking protein shakes can help you to easily shed off excess pounds.

On the other you may have heard that they cause weight gain. Which is true?

Nutritional information

When people think of protein shakes, they are usually thinking of whey, a protein obtained from milk. However there are also plant based powders such as hemp that can be used to prepare protein shakes. The table below provides nutritional information for a one scoop serving of whey and hemp protein.

Whey Hemp
Calories 100 113
Fat 0 3 g
Cholesterol 0 0
Sodium 140 mg 0
Carbohydrates 5 g 7 g
Fiber 1 g 5 g
Sugar 3 g 1 g
Protein 20 g 13 g

Both protein powders contain a similar amount of calories. When it comes to weight management and fat gain, calories are important.

They are units of energy and all foods that we eat have them, but in differing amounts.

Protein and carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram, whereas fat provides 9. This is why fat rich foods like nuts and seeds tend to contain far more calories than water rich foods, such as most fruits and vegetables.

The consumption of excess calories is what leads to weight gain. This is because calories that are not used up are stored as fat around the body.

The opposite is also true; if you consume fewer calories than what your body requires, your fat stores will be utilized as a source of energy.

The number of calories that a person needs to consume in order to maintain their weight depends on their age, gender, height, weight and how active they are.

Therefore the calorie requirements of two people can differ greatly.

You can use the calculator on this page to get a rough estimate of the number of calories you should be consuming, depending on your goals.

Gender Age Weight Switch to lbs Height Switch to feet and inches Activity Level

This calculator will never show a number below 1000 calories per day. Please speak to a qualified health professional before attempting to eat less than that.

For example, a 35 year old lady who weighs 70 kg, is 165 cm tall and exercises 4 times a week will require around 2200 calories to maintain her weight, 1700 calories to lose weight and 1300 calories to lose weight fast.

The number of calories in a protein shake will depend on how you prepare it. A shake made of whey protein and water (which has 0 calories) will have around 100 calories total. A shake made of hemp protein, a cup of low fat milk and a medium sized banana will have around 320 calories.

Provided you stay within your calorie requirements, both shakes can be consumed without leading to weight gain. For example, on a 2000 calorie diet (which is the average calorie requirement for most adults), the first shake will only account for 5% of total calories. The second has 3 times as more calories, accounting for 16% of total calories, but it will also fill you up for longer and you will therefore eat less food later on.

Protein shakes are just like any other type of food and do not contain any mysterious ingredients that will make you fat. And just like any other food, if they are consumed in excess, they will lead to weight gain.

So the key here is to have them in moderation, as part of an otherwise well balanced diet. Your overall diet and not just one type of food is what leads to weight gain and fat storage in the long run.

How protein shakes can be beneficial

They are a handy source of potent nutrition – as mentioned previously, protein shakes are convenient, because they don’t require much preparation. Most protein rich foods need to be cooked before they can be eaten, but in order to prepare a simple shake all you have to do is mix some protein powder with a liquid of your choice, shake for a few seconds and gulp it down.

Protein is required by the body in order to build and repair muscle tissue, which is why protein shakes are so popular among gym goers. Many fitness experts recommend that you ingest some high quality protein soon after finishing a work out, making protein shakes a much more appealing choice than eating solid food.

Your general goal should be to preserve muscle mass whilst losing fat, and protein shakes can help you achieve this. Granted, you shouldn’t rely on them alone but they are definitely recommended, provided you follow a well balanced diet.

Side note: you shouldn’t rely solely on a weighing scale when monitoring weight loss progress. This is because just like fat, muscle has mass, but it is much more compact. So whilst it may seem as though protein shakes aren’t providing any benefit when you look at the numbers on the scale, you may in fact be ‘turning’ fat into muscle.

They could help with weight loss – protein is highly satiating, which means it keeps you feeling full for longer. Out of all three macronutrients (the other two being fat and carbs), it is the most filling. Whey protein in particular is highly satiating as has been seen in studies such as this and this. This is important when trying to lose weight as eating less food means you consume fewer calories over the long run.

Increasing protein intake is recommended when trying to lose weight because it can help to suppress ones appetite whilst also boosting metabolism, thereby increasing net calorie expenditure. For example, this study found that protein at 30% of total calories caused people to consumed 441 fewer calories per day.

This study involved participants whose caloric intake was reduced by 500 calories for a period of 12 weeks. Some participants consumed whey protein whilst others consumed an isocaloric ready to mix beverage. Participants in both groups lost weight but those taking whey protein lost significantly more body fat and preserved more lean muscle.

Whey appears to be the best protein powder choice for making shakes with, but powders that are obtained from plant sources such as hemp or brown rice also work well. Soy protein powder is a controversial subject, some experts recommend it whilst others say you should avoid it.

Conclusion

Provided you don’t consume more calories than what your body uses up on a daily basis, protein shakes will not make you fat. In fact they are often recommended as a supplement for an otherwise healthy diet. It is also important to exercise regularly to gain the most benefit from taking a protein based supplement.

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