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Does Protein Make You Gain Weight? The Health Team Explains
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Does Protein Make You Gain Weight? The Health Team Explains

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on July 14, 2022
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6 min

We all need protein, but how much is too much? This article discusses protein consumption in detail to determine the relationship between protein and weight gain, the symptoms of eating too much protein, and the best protein sources.

does protein make you gain weight

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Dietary protein is one of the three vital macronutrients. It aids muscle growth, muscle repair, and organ and bone health.

It’s not uncommon for dieters to follow a high-protein diet to lose weight. Increasing your protein intake can help you burn fat, increase satiety, and maintain muscle mass. Alternatively, a high protein diet can help you gain weight and support muscle building. 

As with anything in excess, too much protein can have potentially adverse effects. This is especially possible if you’re overdoing it with protein supplements and protein shakes.

One undesirable effect of an excessive protein intake is the possibility of unwanted weight gain. That said, many people deliberately ramp up their protein intake to gain some pounds.

This article reviews whether the protein can make you gain weight, the side effects of overconsuming protein, and the best protein sources to include in your diet.  

Can Protein Make You Gain Weight?

Consuming protein can potentially lead to weight gain, whether intentional or accidental. However, an adequate amount of protein as part of a balanced diet is unlikely to impact your weight.

The human body cannot store protein. If you consume protein in excess, the extra calories you take in can be used as energy. Otherwise, eating an excessive amount of protein can lead to a surplus that stores as fat in the body, which can cause your overall body weight to increase.

If you combine a high-protein diet with regular strength training, you can gain weight by increasing your muscle mass. Muscle is denser than fat and therefore weighs more. So, it is perfectly normal to gain weight as you gain lean muscle.

On the other hand, protein consumption can facilitate healthy weight loss in the right quantities. To get your desired results from protein, it’s essential to monitor your protein intake and where you take your protein from.

You should take your protein from healthy sources, such as low-fat dairy products, lean poultry, fish, nuts, and beans. Aim to keep a well-balanced diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, and fibers.

Can You Eat Too Much Protein?

Yes, it is possible to consume too much protein. Continuously eating extra protein for long periods can incur health problems. Adverse side effects include digestive issues like constipation and diarrhea and an increased risk of certain diseases.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for most healthy adults is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This is the minimum amount necessary to meet your body’s nutritional requirements. 

0.36 grams per pound of body weight equals around 10–35% of your daily calories. 

How much protein you need depends on various lifestyle factors such as age and activity level. For example, healthy individuals who lead an active lifestyle may need more protein to maintain fitness levels, while older people may need extra to prevent muscle loss.

How much protein is too much?

There are conflicting opinions on what constitutes too much protein in the diet. Most health experts suggest that more than 2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day is excessive. 

2 grams per kilo works out at roughly 125 grams per day for a 140-pound individual.

The RDA is a good target to keep in mind when adjusting your protein intake. 

Can Protein Make You Fat?

While high-protein diets may promote weight loss, too much protein in the diet can cause weight gain with increased body fat. As the body cannot sufficiently store protein, when your protein needs are met, any calories left over from protein sources can store as body fat. It’s not just protein, either. Excess calories from any source that your body doesn’t need or burn can be stored as fat. 

Remember, more protein means more calories. If your increased protein consumption leads you to consume additional calories that you can’t shift through exercise, it’s natural to gain weight over time. It’s important to eat a balanced diet with adequate protein to prevent the risk of weight gain if you do not plan to increase your exercise regime to match the extra protein intake.

Symptoms of Consuming Too Much Protein

Copious amounts of anything over a prolonged period can pose health risks. Below are some of the symptoms you can expect from eating too much protein. 

#1 Sudden weight gain

While this may benefit specific individuals, it’s an adverse reaction for those in the weight loss game. A high-protein diet may work initially for losing weight, primarily because it boosts satiety. But overdo it, and there’s a risk you’ll gain weight

If you notice the scale tipping, you could be taking in too many calories from your protein foods. And when your body doesn’t burn the extra calories through exercise, it’s generally stored as fat. 

#2 Digestive issues

Eating enough protein can keep your digestive system happy, but overconsuming protein can cause gastrointestinal distress, including indigestion, constipation, and diarrhea.

Constipation may be a reaction to a reduced fiber intake. If you’re swapping proteins for carbohydrates, you may be limiting the amount of fiber you consume daily.

Alternatively, you may experience loose bowel movements from an increase in fatty and processed foods in the bid to hit higher protein goals.

#3 Bad breath 

High-protein diets can trigger a foul smell and taste in the mouth. With too many proteins present, the body can’t break them down properly. The excess acids from the proteins can mix with the bacteria in the mouth, causing an unpleasant scent.

This adverse effect is especially likely in those following a low-carb diet, such as the keto diet. When the body reaches the metabolic state known as ketosis, certain chemicals are produced, creating a pungent fruity smell.

#4 May lead to kidney damage

It seems that kidney damage is not an immediate risk in healthy adults following a high-protein diet, but protein overload may cause kidney damage in people with preexisting kidney disease. 

The amino acids that make up protein contain nitrogen. When you eat more protein, you consume more nitrogen. The body must flush out the excess nitrogen, which requires extra work from impaired kidneys as they struggle to eliminate the waste from protein metabolism.

#5 Dehydration

A diet too high in protein can result in dehydration. 

Again, this can be a side effect of the excess nitrogen and waste products. For your body to eliminate the nitrogen, it uses water and other fluids to flush it out of the system. It is this additional use of fluids that can leave you dehydrated.

Increasing your water and protein intake can reduce the risk of dehydration.

What Happens to Excess Protein in the Body? 

When your body’s daily protein needs are met, any leftover is considered excess protein. 

The human body breaks down protein into amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Your body doesn’t preserve a store of excess amino acids. So, if you eat more than you use up, your body can handle the extra dietary protein in one of two ways.

Your body may convert the spare protein into molecules to burn for energy. Otherwise, the protein’s extra calories can become part of your fat stores. 

Protein to Gain Weight 

Although many people follow a high-protein diet to lose weight, others practice it for the opposite reason.

A high-protein diet is attractive among those who want to build muscle mass and those who need to gain weight for health reasons. 

Protein powders and protein shakes can be a great choice if you want to gain pounds quickly and efficiently. If consumed alongside strength training and other muscle-building workouts, these protein supplements contribute to muscle gain.

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Whey protein and mass gainers (muscle growth supplements) are popular products used in sports nutrition. Adding whey protein to your daily diet helps you increase your overall calorie intake. It can also enhance lean body composition. Additionally, many protein supplements enhance your energy levels to support your fitness routine.

Always choose a high-quality protein powder low in sugar, additives, and saturated fat. 

Best Sources of Protein

To get the overall health benefits from protein, it’s essential to select nutritious, high-protein foods that contain essential amino acids.

You should avoid high-fat dairy and meat products as they are not heart-healthy proteins.

Here are some of the best protein foods:

  • Grass-fed, lean cuts of red meat 
  • White meat poultry 
  • Seafood 
  • Beans, peas, and lentils
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Greek yogurt 
  • Nuts 

A Word From Nutritionist

Protein is an essential macronutrient and an interesting one for the fact that it can aid weight loss as well as weight gain.

The key is to understand how protein works in the body to ensure you get the results you’re after from a higher-protein diet.

Not enough protein can be detrimental to overall health, but too much can be just as problematic. So, it’s important to calculate the adequate amount of protein you need personally to reach your goals.

To increase your protein intake, you must eat healthy protein sources that don’t put your heart at risk, such as lean meats, eggs, poultry, and low-fat dairy products.

If you combine your new diet with regular physical activity, your body will benefit from the additional protein.

Conclusion

It’s true; protein can make you gain additional pounds. 

So, if your goal is to lose weight, it’s beneficial to monitor your overall calorie intake to ensure you aren’t allowing a buildup of protein to store as fat.

On the other hand, if you want to gain weight, protein is an essential addition to a balanced diet to grow, repair, and maintain your muscles alongside resistance training and regular strength workouts.

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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