Can Too Much Protein Cause Weight Gain?
We all need to consume protein each day; it is essential for life. Alongside carbohydrates and fat, it is one of the three main 'macronutrients' in our daily diet. Anyone who studied science in school will know that protein is one of our cells' building blocks, supporting the biochemical functions within our bodies.
Given its popularity for gym-goers and athletes, its importance in muscle development and tissue repair is well-known. As humans, we get our protein from a whole range of sources. Meat, dairy, beans, and nuts, and more are healthy sources of protein. Supplements like shakes are another common source of protein in our diets.
But, can too much protein make you fat? The short answer is yes, too much of anything can make you fat. The long answer is somewhat more complicated. Generally, the reasons for weight-gains when consuming protein should consider a person's overall diet, including the number of carbohydrates and fats consumed.
This article examines the benefits of protein, how much protein we should be consuming, the risks of overconsumption, and the best protein sources for a healthy and balanced diet.
Benefits of Protein in Your Diet
As we have seen, sufficient protein intake is essential to leading a healthy life. While many people primarily see protein as something associated with the gym and athletes, it plays a vital role in our everyday lifestyles. Here are five reasons why protein is so beneficial in our diets.
Can Whey Protein Increase Muscle Mass
Yes, whey protein is used by people worldwide for the exact purpose of muscle repair and growth.
To further discuss, we understand that whey protein is popularly known for both increased strength and muscle mass. Unlike strength gains, however, a gain of mass is measurable via a person's weight. As to the composition (fat or muscle or bone) of the mass gains from protein intake, this is an area that deserves more thought.
A clear distinction exists between a person's volume and weight. It's not uncommon for two different people to weigh the same yet look wildly different; this phenomenon we attribute to differences in body composition.
When we are interested in answering the question sitting at the top of this article, we are generally speaking towards a person's shape and volume, not necessarily their weight. When we receive emails around this topic, we typically steer the discussion focal point towards body composition. By honing in body composition, our natural shape is what it is and little to do with the magnitude of our weight.
There is a well-established relationship between muscle mass and protein consumption because muscle tissues stem from protein. As a critical component of strength training, protein intake represents one of the most studied .
Protein in your diet promotes muscle growth and helps to maintain muscle mass. The more muscle mass a person has, the more calories they burn, maintaining healthy muscle function, which allows achieving fat loss .
Can Whey Protein Reduce Food Cravings?
We will get to hunger itself in a moment, but first, let's look at food cravings. Whether it's a late-night snack or your favorite treat, chocolate, for example, our body and our brains often crave them. By eating more protein, we can significantly reduce our cravings for unhealthy foods.
One study carried out on overweight men found that increasing protein intake reduced food cravings by 60 percent . Furthermore, the same study found a similar result in the reduction of late-night cravings.
One of the benefits of choosing protein over a carbohydrate or fat macro is that the energy required to break down and store the protein is far greater than the energy exerted to digest the other macros. A great example of this is choosing to eat twenty grams of protein. Five grams of those twenty are exhausted, breaking down the remaining protein grams. Below are the typical taxes the body charges for breaking down your macros.
- Protein - 25%
- Carbohydrates - 7.5%
- Fats - 1.5%
As you can see, the body barely burns any energy by eating fats; thus, if the goal is to avoid unintentional weight gain, the best midnight snacks seem to be protein.
Does Protein Support Bone Health?
Several studies have highlighted the importance of protein consumption for bone health . Not too long ago, the long-held belief was that protein is bad for bone health due to the associated increases of acid within the system.
The studies have shown that those who consume more protein generally maintain bone mass better as they grow older, which reduces the risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis in older age, particularly in women.
Can Whey Protein Help Maintain Body Composition?
Given this post asks the aggressive question 'Can too much protein make you fat?', you might be surprised by this addition. But when taken in moderation, protein in your diet helps boost metabolism, leading to weight loss.
By increasing the number of calories from protein you consume, studies show that you can lose weight without reducing your overall calorie intake. Studies have also indicated that increasing your protein intake can help with maintaining your weight .
Can Protein Intake Lower Hunger Levels?
Like our point on food cravings above, protein consumption naturally reduces the appetite due to protein being the most filling macronutrient.
One study found that by increasing the percentage of calories you consume from protein-rich foods, you can reduce your appetite and ultimately eat less. In this study, the overweight women ate some 441 fewer calories by increasing their protein intake .
Can Too Much Protein Make You Fat?
A widely held myth in the nutrition community is that eating excessive protein can ONLY result in a muscle-building frenzy. The reality is, the body has a path to convert any macro into stored fat. Each pathway is different depending on the macro, but an essential takeaway from this article is that too much protein CAN result in excess fat stores (lipid synthesis).
How Does the Body Convert Protein into Stored Fat?
Suppose more protein is introduced to the body than is needed for muscle growth & repair. In that case, the excess protein is stripped of its nitrogen components and on the fast track to entering the gluconeogenesis cycle. At this point, the body no longer recognizes whether the origins of the resulting glycogen come from carbohydrates (glucose, fructose, galactose) or proteins (amino acids). When the body has excess sugar, it's straightforward for the body to store it as fat.
Deamination - The biochemical process of the body converting amino acids into sugars. Deamination represents the most costly process to make energy (glucose) from protein versus carbohydrates or fats.
How Much Protein is Too Much?
We know that we need to consume protein to prevent malnutrition and maintain muscle mass and strength as we grow older. But what is the correct amount of protein per day? Well, it depends on a range of factors, from your age, weight, and gender to how active your lifestyle is.
According to Harvard Medical School, if we take a weight-based recommendation, the figure is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight .
If you weigh 140 pounds, then you would need to consume 51 grams of protein per day. If you are particularly active or looking to increase your muscle mass, your protein needs may be much higher.
Harvard Medical School states that 'too much' protein would be more than two grams per kilogram of body weight unless you are an elite athlete. In that case, a 140-pound person should refrain from consuming less than 125 grams per day to be within the maximum safe amount.
Risks of Protein Overconsumption
It is essential to understand the risk associated with consuming excessive amounts of protein over an extended time. We have highlighted just some of the benefits of consuming protein as part of our daily diets. Here are four reasons you should check the amount of protein you are drinking each day.
When we consume excessive amounts of protein, depending on the ease of access to other forms of energy, the body could convert the protein into sugar, stored as fat. When people attempt to increase their protein intake, they often raise their overall calorie intake, which leads to weight gain.
Ensuring a reduction in macros when increasing protein intake can help mitigate against weight gain. AGN Roots Whey Isolate can provide an easy fix for adjusting the protein macro without impacting others.
Damage to Kidneys
Studies show that excessive protein intake can cause damage to those with preexisting kidney disease. Healthy individuals maintaining a well-balanced diet have little to worry about here.
When the body recognizes the need to strip the nitrogen components from the excess protein to store the excess as energy, it forms ammonia, which your liver has to process. The liver then converts ammonia to urea and releases it into the blood. Your kidneys are responsible for removing the organic waste from the bloodstream and excreting the urea via urine, which in general puts a lot of work on your kidneys.
Protein advocates with preexisting kidney disease should consult a doctor before they seek to increase their regular protein intake.
Risks to Heart Health
Relating to diets heavily weighted in high-fat dairy and red meats, both of which are naturally high in protein, are not the best for our cardiovascular health. Due to the higher intake of cholesterol and saturated fat through such foods, there are increased chances of heart disease.
That said, eating foods such as chicken, fish, and nuts - themselves high in protein - has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease .
Our bodies flush out any excess nitrogen - present in proteins - with water and other fluids. Therefore, some people report feeling more dehydrated. Dehydration is common for folks new to the Keto diet.
When the body isn't receiving adequate carbohydrates, it begins to exhaust the stored glycogen molecules.
As the body burns glycogen molecules for energy, the body no longer needs to keep three water molecules for every glycogen molecule exhausted. This process results in a drastic reduction in the ability to store water, which is why water + electrolytes are so very vital when on the keto diet.
One study found that when athletes' protein intake increased, so did their dehydration feeling .
Positive Sources of Protein
As well as protein supplements, which are typically low in calories and fat with high-quality protein, there is a range of healthy options that are high in protein.
Fish, such as tuna and salmon, are excellent sources of protein. As a lean protein option, you will benefit from their omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins such as B-12 and D. A six-ounce portion of salmon contains some 34 grams of proteins and just 18 grams of fat.
Chicken and turkey are beloved by gym-goers for their range of benefits. They are high in protein, low in fat, and can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease compared to eating red meat .
Legumes, such as lentils, peas, and beans, are likewise high in protein while having little fat. Nuts, such as peanuts, walnuts, and cashews, are another healthy option that is high in protein.
Other positive sources of protein you can consider adding to your diet include lower-fat dairy products, eggs, and grain-based products.
Learn More: Grass-Fed Whey Recipes
Make Smart Choices When Consuming Protein
As we have attempted to answer the question 'Can too much protein make you fat?' we have seen that protein, in moderation, is an essential and valuable macronutrient.
By choosing where you get your protein from, and making smart choices, you can combine protein intake with a healthy and active lifestyle.