As registered dietitian nutritionists and personal trainers, we’re talking about a hot topic, protein powder, and if it really does help you to lose weight, which is a great question– especially given that some people use it when they want to gain weight. And we’re also giving you a peek inside our personal pantries to see which protein powders we use, and which we recommend to our weight loss clients, once they understand how to use protein powder to work for their waistline, rather than against it.
Watch the video below or read the blog.
Does Protein Powder Help you to Lose Weight?
Let’s first consider this—research shows that:
Protein is an important nutrient for weight loss. Here’s the deal:
Protein can decrease hunger and appetite by reducing hunger hormones as well as by helping you to feel fuller because it takes longer to digest than carbohydrates. So, protein is especially great if you’re someone who’s always hungry and you’re eating extra food that’s contributing to weight gain because you’re trying to satisfy your hunger. In fact, we find that our clients that come to us skimping on protein, find themselves hungry. A LOT.
What’s also cool about protein is that it may help you to boost your metabolism, so that you burn more calories, particularly, if you strength train, because it helps you to repair and build the muscles you used. Muscle burns calories, so having more muscle increases your metabolism—yep, that means you even burn more calories in your sleep. In addition to that muscle building metabolism boost, protein actually takes more calories to metabolize than fat or carbohydrate do so it gives you a slight metabolism advantage compared to other foods there.
Protein is also great for weight loss because with weight loss/ fat loss, comes muscle loss. That muscle is metabolism boosting, fat blasting goodness. And protein helps you to maintain muscle even while losing body fat.
Does protein help you to lose belly fat?
If you struggle with belly fat—you’ll love this… protein may help you burn belly fat. Research has shown that in “high protein diets” (25% protein, so with a quarter of your calories coming from protein) compared to half that much coming from protein, lost 10% more belly fat in 6 months. And protein seems to prevent more weight regain after losing weight.
Given that many people regain back much of the weight they lose, this protein weight gain prevention edge, is a big deal.
Does protein powder help you to lose weight since it has all of these benefits that protein does?
With all of these weight loss benefits in protein it would make sense to assume that adding a protein powder to your diet would do the same.
Not so fast! How then, are people who want to gain weight, meeting their goals and not losing weight when they start taking protein powder?
You may say, it’s probably the protein powder formula. Maybe one has tons of protein and the other doesn’t. And while it’s true, there are different protein powders that play a part in this, which we’ll share below, how do you explain people who both use the same protein powder, but one is able to gain weight with it and the other is able to lose weight?
Let’s break this down.
For weight gain, in general, most people, simply add protein powder to their daily food intake and it works. They get more protein, they get more calories and voila…they gain weight.
But clearly, if protein powder alone was a magic bullet for weight loss, these people would be losing weight and not gaining it. So, if you’re looking to lose weight and you add protein powder into to your diet and don’t take away anything else, you’ll get extra calories, and although they are from protein, which seems to be better for helping with weight loss, you’ll still gain weight.
Adding protein powder alone to your diet, even given that protein boosts metabolism and is a helpful nutrient in weight loss, won’t cause weight loss, in fact, it would do the opposite.
But here’s the thing, despite the fact that protein CAN have all the positive weight and metabolism boosting benefits we just mentioned, protein powder won’t automatically help you to lose weight, even if you just swap it for carbs…
THERE ARE MANY FACTORS THAT ARE INVOLVED….
The key is knowing how much protein your body needs and whether you’re getting it–and if you are getting it, whether you are ABSORBING IT.
And if you are absorbing it, whether you’re getting the appropriate amounts throughout the day to make the most of it all—and whether you’re getting it from sources that your body can really utilize.
We’re all different and so many things come into play here.
For example, what if you already get the amount of protein that your body needs?
Even if you’re not consuming excess calories, if you take in more protein than you need, it can get in the way of your weight loss efforts.
In fact, if you already get plenty of protein and you try to add more in, but then CUT OUT OTHER FOODS THAT YOU NEED, you’ll fall short on the nutrients that your body needs to function at its best and that keep you healthy, make your metabolism run efficiently, provide you with energy and that also make the most of protein—like certain B vitamins that help you to turn your protein into usable energy and to be used appropriately for muscle growth. So, clearly in this case, if you’re adding in protein at the expense of cutting other important nutrients, protein powder isn’t ideal for you.
Our client Shayne:
When Shayne came to us, she was relying mostly on protein bars and protein powders to fuel her, but was missing out on important nutrients that she needed. She wasn’t fueling her body efficiently– or burning fat or building muscle– the way she should have been, and it was messing with her energy levels and her ability to build muscle. She was completely depressed and felt like her body was betraying her because she was working so hard and not seeing any weight loss or the muscle tone that she really wanted.
We analyzed her diet, and we evaluated her protein intake to see if she was getting the right amount for her body, the right amounts throughout the day and from the sources that she needed. We quickly saw what was happening. She was getting metabolism-boosting protein but couldn’t take advantage of it because she was missing out on other foods that she needed and their nutrients to help her body to function at its’ peak and also to help her to metabolize the protein.
We were able to help her by adjusting the protein she was getting—actually cutting back on it a bit to make room for some wholesome carbohydrates that provided the energy she craved and the nutrients her body needed, as well as making some other dietary adjustments. We were able to keep some protein powder in her diet, which she loved because she had such an on-the-go lifestyle. And within weeks (after having been at what she called a plateau for a year!!!), Shayne had already lost five pounds just from us making a few dietary tweaks that allowed her body to function at its best and that allowed her to let go of body fat and to lose weight.
Note: We had also evaluated her digestion (to see if she was actually absorbing the protein and nutrients that she was eating) and other factors that were telling, but the protein evaluation on its own revealed a lot of what we needed to know about her.
Are you getting the right amount of protein for your body?
If you’d like to know more about if you are getting the right amount of protein for your body and your needs, and if you’re wondering if you’re getting the right amount of protein to help with your weight loss efforts or hinder it, we’d be happy to send you our FREE protein evaluation, just email us at [email protected] and let us know you’d like our protein evaluation. We’ll send it right over and then we can set up a time to chat so that we canreview and see how we may be able to help. That’s a great place to start to get a good idea of where you stand in terms of the protein that you need for fueling weight loss.
If you’re wondering if you’re absorbing protein and other nutrients properly to assist in weight loss, we can help you here too.
If you are someone who is bloated all of the time, or you’re constipated or have other digestive issues, you likely have some issues with digestion that may not help you to digest and absorb what you eat well, including protein powder. This is something we help our clients with.
But regardless, it’s a great idea to start with our free protein evaluation and to understand what’s going on in your protein world and if it’s helping your weight loss efforts are harming them. So again, just email us at [email protected] and let us know that you’d like to have our free-protein evaluation.
What protein powders are in our pantries?
Now, let’s take a peek in our pantries so that once you know if protein powder will help you to lose weight, you can choose some of the best ones—instead of carb-rich snacks or instead of a sweet treat at night instead of ice cream.
Lyssie does this swap by making popsicles with protein powder for her sweet evening treats. We have some of our clients sprinkle chocolate protein powder on their yogurt or roll dates in it.
Tip: If you’re hungry in the afternoon and end up at vending machine: mix a spoonful of protein powder and blend with fruit, or mix it in with frozen fruit for a chocolatey or vanilla fruit flavor—or even have one of these options as part of a meal to stave off hunger.
Not all protein powders are the same, especially when it comes to weight loss!
Some are loaded with sugars and calories and lots of other ingredients you don’t want in your body. Others aren’t trustworthy and can contain contaminants or poor protein quality.
Pick protein powders that are mostly protein, are low in added sugar (ideally 3 grams or less), and see which kinds keep you most full.
Below are a few of our favorites and why. One thing you’ll notice is that the protein to calorie ratio is really good for these, meaning you get a lot of protein without a lot of calories. Remember, you don’t want so many calories that it inhibits weight loss.
A high protein (think 17-20 grams) to calorie ratio is what you’re looking for, like the ones below.
Orgain Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder Chocolate. (150 calories, 21 grams protein, 0 g sugar)
We’re fans of this organic vegan protein powder and appreciate that the main protein is pea protein, which is a good source of branched chain amino acids and is critical for muscle building. Plus, pea protein gives you the benefits of pulses (these include legumes like dried peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas), which means you can get closer to meeting the recommended 1-1/2 cups per week of pulses for heart health benefits, including lower blood pressure and lower blood cholesterol. We like that it includes a few other plant proteins, making it a complete protein, and is a good option for vegans and those who have to avoid soy, dairy, gluten. It blends well and the majority of our clients who are looking to boost their protein intake find they love the chocolate flavor on its own and even like mixing it with only water. It’s free of artificial ingredients and we prefer that it’s sweetened with organic stevia rather than sugar as most of our clients are looking to lose a few pounds and keep their sugar intake low. It doesn’t hurt that Orgain hosts quality educational webinars for registered dietitians and it’s clear that they care about the quality of their products.
*Although most of our clients love the Orgain powder (above) and would eat it daily, we suggest that if protein powders are a part of their regular daily routine, that they alternate between a few powders as research has indicated that plant protein powders, are more susceptible to absorbing heavy metals like cadmium, lead, arsenic, etc. that come from the soil in which the plants are grown. Chocolate powders may have higher levels of these metals since cocoa may also be grown in soil with these metals. Switching the powder also allows them to benefit from the positive attributes of the different proteins, while not being consistently exposed to the same possible toxins.
Nutiva Organic Plant Protein Superfood Smoothie Vanilla (120 calories, 22 grams protein, 1 g sugar)
We like that this is organic so the food used in it is not grown with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It uses mainly pea protein which we’re fans of (see above), as well as antioxidant-rich pumpkin protein, hemp and sunflower protein. Also, since most of our clients are looking to add protein powder mostly for more protein and not extra calories, we like that the calorie to protein ratio is low (110 calories, 22 grams of protein) and that it’s sweetened with monk fruit so it has no added sugar. It tastes great and blends well making it a nice swap with the chocolate pea protein above.
Well Wisdom’s Vital Whey Unflavored: (85 calories, 16 g protein)
For our clients who prefer a single protein powder that has nothing added to it, including no added sweeteners, we like Vital Whey Grass fed (year-round) Whey Protein. They’re a small company who can’t pay for the Organic Certification but when we reached out to them, they immediately sent us the results on their product which is tested by a third party and shows all of the levels of pesticides and contaminants as well as amino acids, and their quality is top notch and as clean as we could ever hope for—pesticide and chemical free. A popular organic brand of protein powder refused to share their results on their contaminants or to give us their COA (Certificate of Authenticity), so we stopped using it. Transparency goes a long way with these two dietitians! We find that Vital Whey blends well and we appreciate that it’s very minimally processed and that they shared exactly how much of each amino acid and branch-chain amino acid the test showed, and each value left their competitors amino acid counts in the dust.
Nutiva Organic hemp protein (90 calories, 15 g protein, 1 g sugar)
We like this high fiber protein powder that is a great way to get some plant-based omega-3 fats, especially for vegans. It’s also nutrient rich and has 8 grams of fiber per serving and a good source of magnesium, iron and zinc. Hemp contains all 9 essential amino acids and good-for-you essential fatty acids (2g per serving). It’s a bit grittier in texture so once you play around with it you’ll see how you like to use it best.
Vega Protein & Greens chocolate (120 calories, 20 g protein, 1 g sugar)
It’s non-GMO and contains ingredients like organic kale powder and organic alfalfa grass powder, sacha inchi powder and broccoli powder. Tammy sometimes just mixes a little bit in with collagen and water for a quick way to get a little extra protein boost in a meal.
Nature’s Force Organic Whey Protein (110 calories, 22 grams protein)
We like this grass-fed organic chocolate whey protein. It has just a few simple ingredients that are good quality and for us it’s a nice way to divide up our protein powders between the different sources of protein.
We also use collagen but we’ll talk about collagen another time, because that has a whole different range of benefits and doesn’t quite act the same in your body the way that these proteins do.
The Bottom Line
Protein powders may be right for you when it comes to weight loss—they’re not right for everyone, but for some people they can really assist in nudging the scale in the right direction. How do you know if protein powder can really help you to shed extra pounds vs. causing you to gain weight? First, you need to know if you’re getting the amount of protein that you need for your body and for your activity. Then you also need to consider things such as if you’re dividing it appropriately over the course of the day and if you’re choosing the best sources. If you’d like to know more about if you are getting the right amount of protein for your body and your needs, and if you’re wondering if you’re getting the right amount of protein to help with your weight loss efforts or hinder it, we’d be happy to send you our FREE protein evaluation, just email us at [email protected] and let us know you’d like our protein evaluation. We’ll send it right over and then we can set up a time to chat so that we can review it and see how we may be able to help. That’s a great place to start to get a good idea of where you stand in terms of the protein that you need for fueling weight loss.