December 4, 2015

The Truth About Protein: Will It Make Me Fat?

protein shake

I’ve always supplemented my diet with protein shakes, so it still surprises me when people ask me things like, “Will protein shakes make me fat?” or “Why do you drink protein shakes?”

I personally choose to supplement my diet with protein shakes for three reasons: (1) because I like the way they taste, (2) because it’s a highly efficient option when I’m running late for work, and (3) because it’s a money-saver and time-saver when compared to buying and preparing additional food.

To help bust some of the infamous protein myths, I’ve listed a few common questions and my thoughts below.

Will protein shakes make me fat?

No. A calorie is a calorie. Just like anything else you eat, it needs to be balanced within your overall diet. If you are experiencing weight gain, it could be a number of things. You might be consuming an excess of calories or fat based on your weight and current activity levels. I would also take a look at those labels. Some protein shakes are actually meal-replacement shakes that have more carbohydrates and fats than they do protein. Others just have higher sugar and carbohydrate content. So, if you’re adding fruit and other mix-ins, there’s a good chance you could be doubling the calories.

Why do I feel bloated or puffy after I drink a protein shake?

If you’re feeling bloated or puffy as a result of drinking protein shakes, it could be an intolerance to things like dairy or soy. Take a look at your labels and adjust as necessary. I personally prefer the taste of whey protein, so I mix half a scoop with half a scoop of plant-based protein, which is easier on my tummy. There is likely a little bit of sodium in your protein powder, as well, but not enough to really be making a drastic impact. Make sure you are staying hydrated!

Why do I need protein?

Proteins have always been referred to as the building blocks of life. They are essential to cell growth and recovery, and are used by your body to build and repair tissues. Unlike fat and carbohydrates, your body does not store protein, so there is no reservoir to draw from when it needs a new supply. In addition, protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, so you will feel full for a longer period on fewer calories (aka it’s great for weight loss).

How much protein do I need?

Again, it is so important to understand that everyone has different needs based on their current fitness and activity levels. I do not believe in cookie-cutter diets and I do not believe in one-size-fits-all meal plans. I have seen DRI (dietary reference intake) recommendations ranging as low as 0.36 grams per body pound for the average sedentary adult, all the way up to 1.0 gram per body pound for serious bodybuilders. For me, that’s anywhere from 46 to 130 grams. That’s a huge difference. If you are interested in better understanding your calorie and nutrient goals, send us a nutrition coaching inquiry here.

I’ve heard high-protein diets are bad for you. Is that true?

This myth started when high-protein and low-carbohydrate diets (like Atkins) were a fad. One common side effect of high-protein diets is ketosis, which often happens as a result of your body not getting enough carbohydrates. You can read more about that on WebMD. Another side effect is calcium loss, which can occur when protein consumption is approximately three times the recommended amount. You can explore that topic here. My best recommendation is to maintain a balanced diet that avoids restriction and is rich in minerals and nutrients. As always, check with your doctor if you are considering adopting a high-protein diet.

Do I have to drink protein shakes if I want to put on muscle?

No. You are totally capable of putting on muscle and maintaining lean body mass without drinking protein shakes. In fact, the only way to build muscle is through exercise. If you prefer, you can opt to get your entire daily protein goal from other food sources.

What are your favorite sources of protein?

If you are non-vegan, I suggest lean meat sources like chicken, eggs and egg whites, fish, turkey, etc. I also eat bacon, chicken sausage, and deli meats. I don’t eat red meat very regularly because it tends to be higher in fat. However, flank steak, ground beef, flat iron, filet mignon, etc. are all great sources of protein, too! If you’re meat-free and/or dairy-free (or just watching your cholesterol and saturated fat levels), you can opt for green peas and edamame, quinoa, various nuts and nut butters, beans, chickpeas, tofu, leafy greens, chia seeds, or soy milk. I prefer whey and plant-based protein powders. You can find the links to my favorite brands here in my shop. If you are curious about other protein powder options like casein or soy, I found this article very helpful.

Please feel free to leave a comment below if you are anxious to know more. If you are interested in nutrition guidance and coaching, or if you need help with a customized meal plan, you can inquire here!