Does Protein Make You Put on Unwanted Weight?

Protein is a vital nutrient in the human diet, but too much of it can lead to weight gain. Like other macronutrients, including fats and carbohydrates, protein contains calories. Each gram of protein contains about 4 calories, and as you increase the amount of protein in your diet, you’re also increasing your total caloric intake. Your body can use only so much protein at once, and excess protein may get stored as body fat.

What it Does

Protein has several functions in the body, including cell growth and hormone regulation. Protein also plays a critical role in muscle growth. As you consume protein, your body breaks it down into individual amino acids. These amino acids enter your bloodstream and seek out damaged muscle tissue. The amino acids help repair broken-down muscle tissue; this is how your muscles grow. Your body can only handle up to 0.91 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day, according to the University of California Los Angeles, or UCLA. Excess protein and amino acids are stored as fat or excreted from the body.

RDA

The recommended dietary allowance for protein varies depending upon your bodyweight and physical activity level. If you’re sedentary or work out very infrequently, you typically need 0.36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day, according to UCLA. However, if you are doing resistance training to build muscle, you might need up to 0.82 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. If you are not working out hard enough or frequently enough, a high-protein diet may lead to unwanted weight gain. If you notice an increase in body fat, try increasing your workout intensity or frequency or lowering your intake of protein.

Supplements

If you use protein supplements to help build muscle, it is important to factor in how much protein you’re taking in through whole foods as well as the protein supplement. If you exceed your daily need for the nutrient, you’re at a higher risk of putting on unwanted pounds. Use protein supplements with caution, and consult your doctor before trying them. Most Americans consume more than enough protein in their current diet, so protein supplements are often unnecessary.

Evidence

Some sources of protein may help get rid of unwanted body fat while sparing lean muscle mass. A 2008 study published in the journal “Nutrition and Metabolism” found that whey protein may have this effect. The study found that supplementing 10 grams of whey protein once in the morning and again just before dinner helped participants lose a significantly more body fat while minimizing the amount of lean mass lost during the 12-week period studied.