Can Protein Powder Help You Lose Weight?

male adding protein powder to his waterbottleProtein powder is strongly associated with a specific set of fitness goals: For those looking to build muscle mass, it’s a go-to product. Countless protein powder varieties cater to the weightlifting crowd, promising to enhance strength and fuel muscle growth.

But protein powder may also help with another common fitness objective: weight loss. After all, protein is an integral part of a healthy and balanced diet, and research suggests it can stave off the urge to eat by making you feel fuller

Additionally, many protein powder companies claim that their products can help customers lose and keep off weight (in conjunction with exercise and other forms of healthy eating). Some manufacturers even suggest replacing meals with shakes made from their proprietary powders as an effective way to curb calorie consumption.

As with all fitness products, however, it’s important to thoroughly investigate these possible benefits prior to buying in. When it comes to health supplements, there’s often a massive gap between hype and hard evidence. Before you rush to stock up on protein powder, it’s important to determine exactly how it might support your weight loss goals. Otherwise, you could burn lots of cash on a product that’s useless or even counterproductive.

In this article, we’ll help you sort through the latest research regarding protein powder’s weight loss benefits, empowering you to choose whether to include it in your weight loss regimen. While studies in this area can seem complicated at first, we’ll distill important insights into a straightforward list of pros and cons. From there, you’ll feel empowered to pick the right protein powder for your weight loss goals – or skip it altogether. 

Protein Powder Basics: Common Types and Uses

Before discussing protein powder’s potential role in weight loss, it may be helpful to briefly describe how it is made, how it functions in the body, and how it is typically consumed. At a cellular level, proteins are a fundamental component of our bodies, supporting the maintenance of healthy bones, muscles, and skin. Powders provide protein in a concentrated dose, ensuring that you get enough to keep up with your diet and exercise routines.

But because proteins are so abundantly available in the natural world, there are many ways to isolate and condense proteins into a consumable powder. And while experts debate which kinds of protein powder work best for consumers, most agree that the optimal type will depend on your personal health and fitness objectives. Here’s a brief list of the most common types of protein powders so that you can evaluate your options:

  • Whey protein powder: This dairy-based protein mixture is made from the parts of milk that separate when cheese is made. When this whey is processed into a powder, it can contain 90% protein or higher.
  • Casein protein powder: Another dairy-based product, casein is derived from the curds left over from cheese production. This type of powder is similar to whey but digests a bit more slowly in the bloodstream.
  • Soy protein powder: A great option for vegans or those with dairy allergies, soy protein powders are made from dehydrated soybean flakes. Sugars and fiber are typically removed from these soybean flakes during processing, leaving little but the protein behind.
  • Hemp protein powder: Another vegan-friendly option, this protein type is made from ground hemp seeds. This form of protein powder typically contains slightly less protein per ounce than other varieties.
  • Pea protein powder: This plant-based powder is composed of protein extracted from yellow peas. This type packs in as much protein per ounce as whey or casein, or even more in some cases. 

Shakes or smoothies are classic modes of protein powder consumption. Many powders are flavored: Just blend with them with water or milk and you’ve got a palatable (if not tasty) protein concoction. Other people get more gourmet, mixing protein powder with fruit and other nutritious ingredients to make delicious creations.

But protein powder consumption isn’t limited to liquid: Many people use it in breakfast foods and baked goods as well, putting a health-conscious twist on old favorites. From pancakes and oatmeal to muffins and pudding, the opportunities to inject some protein are virtually unlimited.

If your goal is weight loss, of course, you’ll probably want to steer clear of protein powder recipes that are particularly sugary or calorie-intensive. Similarly, dieters eager to try protein powder smoothies should be wary: While they may feature nutritious ingredients, smoothies can be packed with absurd amounts of sugar

In other words, while protein powder can be a surprisingly versatile ingredient, it’s no silver bullet for healthy eating. You’ll still need to be judicious about what you consume, even if protein powder is an essential part of the recipe.

Protein Powder Pros: Why It Might Help You Lose Weight

2 seniors doing curl-ups with dumbbell

Now that you understand the various kinds of protein powder and their potential uses, it’s time to consider whether to incorporate one into your own weight loss program. If you’re looking to slim down, there are some compelling, evidence-based reasons to give protein powder a try.

Protein shakes can replace unhealthy snacks.

If you have a sweet tooth or are a habitual snacker, resisting the urge to munch between meals can feel torturous. Many people rigorously plan healthy meals, then find their diets derailed by tempting treats.

If you need something to sustain you between lunch and dinner (or crave something sweet for dessert), you can do a lot worse than a protein shake. They typically contain fewer calories than processed snacks foods and actually supply healthy nutrients. Moreover, they’re easy to make in a time of need: Just mix the powder with milk or water.

Of course, an overreliance on shakes could still stall weight loss. Shedding pounds demands a daily calorie deficit, and too many shakes can erase that essential gap.

Protein shakes can even replace meals in some cases.

Pushing the protein powder replacement theme even further, some dieticians recommend replacing whole meals with protein shakes when trying to lose weight. The benefits of this approach are obvious: When you swap a full meal for a calorie-conscious shake, you force your body to burn fat. 

While this idea may sound appealing, experts advise caution. If you do swap a real meal for a shake, make sure that your remaining meals provide a full slate of balanced nutrients. To that end, make sure the protein powder you’re using offers more than protein alone. Many powders also contain other key vitamins and minerals, which you’ll need to function fully.

Protein powder can make you feel fuller.

Some research suggests that protein-rich foods activate hormones associated with satiety or fullness. For those seeking to lose weight, that benefit can be the difference between occasional hunger pangs and feeling absolutely famished. When your hunger is under control, diet-breaking foods are a lot less tempting. 

Additionally, protein can help you feel less ravenous when you do sit down to a meal, allowing you to curb portion sizes. A recent review of existing studies found that adding whey protein to a balanced diet could help reduce body weight and total fat mass in individuals who were overweight.

More muscle burns more calories.

As we’ve already discussed, protein can help increase and maintain muscle mass, especially if you’re consistently maintaining a strength training program. While you’ll love looking “swole,” that added muscle offers more than meets the eye. 

A body with more muscle burns more calories throughout the day, even when you’re not actively exercising. This phenomenon can be key to reaching and sustaining your ideal weight. If protein powder helps you build additional muscle, it will aid you in slimming down as well. 

Protein Powder Cons: Potential Weight Loss Pitfalls

While the possible weight loss advantages of protein powder are certainly appealing, they represent just one side of a more complicated cost-benefit analysis. Indeed, many experts believe that protein powder may do more harm than good for many dieters, especially if you rely on them too heavily. 

Liquid protein can leave some people hungry.

While many studies indicate that protein can help you feel full, other research suggests that people are far more satisfied when they eat, rather than drink, their calories. Accordingly, nutritionists sometimes advise against protein shakes, fearing their clients will be tempted to snack again later.

Of course, this advice still leaves other modes of protein powder consumption on the table. To avoid unwanted hunger later, add protein powder to oatmeal or pancakes instead. Even thickening up your smoothie could help: A “smoothie bowl” eaten with a spoon could be more satisfying than sipping a smoothie through a straw.

Sugar and sweeteners can cause problems.

Many protein powders are surprisingly delicious – and suspiciously sweet. If you’re trying to adopt healthier eating habits for the long haul, certain protein powders can keep you dependent upon sugar. If you keep obliging your sweet tooth, you’ll always be on the brink of resuming your old habits.

Even brands that include relatively little sugar can prove problematic. Many powders utilize low-calorie sugar alternatives, such as stevia. But experts note that these aren’t proven to be effective for weight loss, and can sometimes cause unpleasant side effects.

Shake diets aren’t always sustainable.

Propelled by their enthusiasm, many dieters make a sudden conversion to shakes, replacing dozens of meals each week with protein concoctions. While this radical approach can feel exciting at first, your body may soon rebel.

Any successful diet should be focused on long-term change, rather than immediate gratification. If you aim to keep off the weight you lose, you’ll need your dietary adjustments to be truly sustainable. 

Perhaps you can subsist mainly on protein shakes for a few days or weeks. But if you make them a central component of your diet, how will you successfully transition to solid foods? Don’t set yourself up for failure: Make shakes a supplement to your healthy diet, not your main source of sustenance.

Individualized Approach: Matching Person and Product

Clearly, protein powder alone won’t ensure weight loss success. Healthy and sustainable weight reduction is a challenging, nuanced process that no single product can accomplish. But when used judiciously as part of a broader diet and exercise plan, protein powder can help you achieve incremental progress. 

As with many matters related to our health, moderation should be your guiding principle. If you’re relying primarily on protein shakes, for example, you’re hardly building a foundation for long-term change. On the other hand, if you find yourself short on protein, a powder is one way to supply your body with the nutrients it needs. These calculations should be just one dimension of a diversified diet, rather than the focal point of your eating decisions.

Moreover, diet and exercise must be seen as inextricably entwined, demanding equal and simultaneous attention. From specific nutrient needs to overall calorie counts, your diet should reflect your physical activity. 

And whether your fitness plan emphasizes cardio for weight loss or a comprehensive strength-building approach, you’ll need the right equipment to stay safe and consistent. Our expert reviews help you decide which machines will work best for your goals, helping you continue your fitness journey from the comfort of home.