Stop by the protein powder section in virtually any health food store, and you're likely to find a variety of whey protein options. And while you don't need protein supplements for good health — even if you're trying to change your weight — adding whey protein to your diet can help you reach your goals. Whey doesn't have to make you gain weight; in fact, it offers some benefits for weight loss diets, but it can help you gain mass if that's your fitness goal.
Whey protein alone can't make you gain weight. But it can provide your body the extra protein it needs if you're trying to gain more muscle mass. Weight gain requires an increase in calorie intake.
Calorie Balance and Whey Protein
Changing your weight requires adjusting the number of calories you eat, not just adding whey protein to your daily diet. For example, if you eat 250 to 500 calories more than you burn each day, you'll gain weight at a safe rate of 0.5 to 1 pound weekly. On the other hand, reducing your intake to 500 to 1,000 calories less than you burn daily will allow you to lose weight — 1 to 2 pounds each week.
Whey protein serves as a source of calories, so you can use it to get the extra calories needed for weight gain. On the other hand, you can budget the calories in whey into a restricted-calorie diet, which will allow you to lose weight. How many calories you'll find in a serving of whey depends on the type you choose, and whether it is isolate protein or concentrate protein. Isolate protein is processed to remove more carbs and fat, so it provides more protein per scoop, and often it provides fewer calories per gram of protein.
If you're trying to add more calories and gain weight, whey concentrate protein might be a good choice. However, if you're trying to lose weight, a protein supplement made from isolate protein may be a lower calorie option. In addition to the type of whey protein used, if you're drinking a premixed shake, there may be other high-calorie ingredients added. If you're trying to limit extra calories, make sure you check the nutrition facts label, or ask what's in your shake.
Whey Protein and Weight Loss
If you're trying to avoid weight gain, or lose weight, including more whey protein in your diet might help. According to Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, protein tends to make people feel more full for longer, for fewer calories. In fact, a January 2015 article published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that whey protein increases blood levels of several hormones that are related to satiety, or the feeling of fullness.
Higher protein diets may also help to maintain lean muscle mass if you're eating to lose weight. That might be helpful for your metabolism. The results of a small research study published in the May 2017 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that men who used a whey protein supplement along with a calorie-restricted diet lost weight but maintained more muscle than men who used a carbohydrate-based supplement.
Benefits for Weight Gain
Whey protein, consumed as part of a weight gain diet, can also help you pack on pounds. Simply adding a whey protein shake to your typical diet can promote weight gain. If you drink a 250-calorie whey protein shake on top of what you'd need to maintain your weight, you would gain weight at a rate of slightly more than a half-pound per week.
Adding whey to your routine might also help you bulk up and add lean muscle to your frame, as long as you pair it with strength training exercises. Whey serves as an ideal source of protein for post-workout recovery, according to a review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in December 2012, due to its high protein quality and bioavailability. That means taking a whey shake after a tough strength workout provides nutrients you need to support muscle growth so you can add lean mass to your frame. For the best results, check the nutrition label on your whey supplement to look at the amino acid breakdown; each serving should provide 3 grams of leucine for muscle-building benefits.
What's the Cleanest Protein Powder?
When shopping for a good supplement, you may wonder, what's the cleanest protein powder? The best way to determine what's the cleanest protein powder is to read the label carefully. Avoid protein powders that have artificial colors, flavorings and added sugar or artificial sweeteners.
In addition, when preparing your protein shake, be sure to mix your protein powder with fresh, clean ingredients. If you're trying to shed pounds, for example, simply mix a low-calorie whey protein powder with water and a handful of fruit for a shake that's not too calorie-dense. A 113-calorie powder made with water and blended with a cup of strawberries, for example, contains just 166 calories. If you're aiming for weight gain, on the other hand, you could blend a higher-calorie whey powder with whole milk, 2 cups of berries, and add a tablespoon of almond butter for a 662-calorie shake.
How you customize your shake is up to you. You could use different fruits, add leafy green vegetables or use liquids like almond milk, green tea or juice instead of milk or water; just count the calories in your whey shake and pair it with a diet to meet your daily calorie target to gain or lose weight.
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "Protein Timing and Its Effects on Muscular Hypertrophy and Strength in Individuals Engaged in Weight-Training"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Food and Diet"
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Dietary Whey Protein Influences Plasma Satiety-Related Hormones and Plasma Amino Acids in Normal-Weight Adult Women"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "Effect of Whey Protein in Conjunction With a Caloric-Restricted Diet and Resistance Training"