Is Protein Powder Good for Weight Loss? The Science Explained

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    Protein powder can absolutely play an important role in your weight loss plan, but you need to know what you’re doing. Get all the delicious details here.

    What is protein powder?

    There’s a reason protein powders are so popular. They can be a healthy, nutritious, convenient way for a person to increase their protein intake. Whether you are watching your diet or not, it is important to make sure you’re getting an adequate supply of protein. It’s an essential macronutrient that is involved in the creation and maintenance of every cell in the body.

    Protein builds muscle, cartilage, and skin, helps to maintain muscle mass, plays an important role in hormone regulation, and aids in keeping the blood sugar level stable. It is also responsible for the growth, repair, and maintenance of cells, the transportation and storage of molecules, immune function, and hair growth. Protein is a major source of energy, and without an adequate supply of it your body could start to instead use muscles for energy.

    It is important to get enough dietary protein every day because your body does not store it the way it would store excess carbohydrates or fats. The amount you need depends on your age, gender, lifestyle, and health. The most abundant sources of protein in our diet come from animal products such as lean meat, eggs, poultry, pork, fish, and dairy products including yogurt, kefir, cheese and Greek yogurt. Other excellent sources of protein include nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and quinoa. Aside from soy, most of the plant proteins are incomplete, so it is especially important for those eating a plant-based diet to eat a variety of different plant proteins each day to meet their body’s needs. If you haven’t figured it out already, protein powder is simply powdered forms of protein made from a number of sources including milk (casein, whey), eggs, plants (peas, soybeans, hemp, pumpkin), and brown rice. Ideally it would be used as a supplement to a healthy diet that includes adequate portions of healthy protein, though some opt to use protein powder shakes as meal replacements.

    When choosing a protein powder, it is important to read the label, as many protein powders contain vitamins, minerals, and some non-protein ingredients like thickeners, non-caloric sweeteners, artificial flavoring, and added sugars. These fillers can add unwanted calories and also make the flavors, typically chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, not as tasty as you might like.

    Benefits of protein powder

    There are a number of benefits to including protein powder in your diet, not the least of which is satiety. Eating protein-rich foods and supplements may help you feel fuller for longer periods of time. Feeling full often results in smaller portion sizes and less frequent snacking, both of which are beneficial to any weight management program. Protein powder can be a real plus for people who find it challenging to meet their daily requirement of protein intake by diet alone. Athletes, bodybuilders, weight lifters, and older adults may need to exceed the normal protein range on a daily basis and a quick protein powder shake may be the perfect way to do so. Those eating a vegan or vegetarian diet may also benefit from meeting their protein requirement with protein powder shakes, or even by adding some of the plant-based protein powder into baked goods. It is important, however, for vegetarians and vegans to closely monitor their protein intake even with shakes as a supplement. Since there is no plant protein that, by itself, is considered a complete protein, vegetarians and vegans will have to find the right combination of protein powders to meet their dietary needs and personal preferences. There are also people who cannot find sufficient foods that please their palate to get their daily intake of protein. They’re not haters, just people who would prefer to drink a shake than to snack on a chicken leg or lamb chop on a daily basis.

    Protein powder is popular with many athletes from the elite to the regular gym enthusiasts. Protein is essential for muscle growth and they believe that these drinks will help them bulk up after strength training or bodybuilding. Protein powder also helps to speed up recovery from muscle soreness after exercise.

    In many cases, protein powder shakes are the easiest, most nutrient-dense way to get a quick hit of protein. And it may prove to be among the most cost effective as well.

    If you are interested in more information about protein powder shakes, Care/of has an article titled Do Protein Shakes Really Work and another called When to Take Protein Shakes that may be a great help to you.

    Does protein powder help with weight loss?

    May Promote Feelings of Fullness

    Protein powder can promote the secretion of satiety hormones that enable you to feel fuller for longer periods of time which can help curb snacking throughout the day.

    During weight loss, thermogenesis and protein use appear to be influenced by chronic protein intake, while appetite and ghrelin are more responsive to acute protein intake. This article on the role of protein in weight loss and maintenance demonstrated that high-protein diets can provide improvements in appetite, body weight management, cardiometabolic health, or all three of these health outcomes.

    This single-blind crossover study of 15 healthy men found that using protein powder regularly can have an effect on reducing the release of hunger promoting hormones such as ghrelin.

    This study of the impact of protein drinks on the appetite of young women found that whey protein can stimulate gastrointestinal peptides, and managing the appetite of the subjects under investigation. The researchers called for further additional studies to demonstrate the effects in the subjects when administered as preload before eating.

    May support metabolism

    Higher protein diets are known to result in increased thermogenesis, which can promote weight loss because it increases the body's ability to burn calories. A metabolism increase can result in 80 to 100 calories per day just by increasing protein. This study reported higher body temperatures in participants following a high protein diet in comparison to a low fat, high carb diet.

    When you get your protein intake high enough, especially proteins that are rich in leucine, it can be more efficient in activating your muscle protein production and promoting muscle growth. Whey protein contains 50 to 75 percent more leucine than other proteins, and as such has a greater ability to stimulate muscle metabolism. When making any dietary changes, always talk to your doctor about the best plan for you.

    May help in weight management

    There is no magic bullet for weight loss.

    In order to lose weight, you need to be in a sustained caloric deficit that will help your body burn more calories than you consume. This is not an easy task, but the key to getting the maximum impact from your eating plan is to make sure that it is healthy. Instead of looking for the next fad, you might want to get back to basics. Fresh fruit, leafy greens, whole grains, healthy fats, vegetables, and, yes, lean protein are all part of a healthy eating plan that you can use to create the caloric deficit required to lose weight in a healthy way. The majority of your food intake should be fresh, whole foods. Skip the pre-packaged aisles in the supermarket and read all of your labels. Some of the best sources of protein are lean meat, chicken, turkey, fish, cheese, Greek yogurt, lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and, what is often referred to as the perfect protein, eggs. Supplements are typically used to fill in the nutrient gaps, and protein powder can have a significant impact on both the quality and the volume of your protein intake.

    When adding protein powder to your diet in order to lose weight, it is important that you carefully monitor your protein intake, especially as a part of your total daily caloric intake. Follow the direction of your physician or a registered dietician to create a healthy plan to reach the ideal caloric deficit for you to lose weight at a safe, steady pace.
    Protein powder shakes can actually help you with your weight loss plan. They can be a low-calorie, nutritionally sound snack that will provide enough protein and nutrients to enable you to build lean muscle mass. While muscle mass weighs more than adipose tissue, it burns significantly more calories, ultimately fueling your weight loss.

    Protein powder shakes can also serve as healthy meal replacements (especially breakfast) that are easy to track calorically, convenient to make, and provide you with plenty of nutrients you wouldn’t get in your low-calorie, low-fat muffins and related treats.

    Dietary protein increases energy expenditure by eliciting a greater postprandial thermic effect of food (TEF) than carbohydrates or fats. It requires 20-30% of its usable energy to be expended for metabolism and/or storage, whereas carbohydrates require 5-10% and dietary fats require 0-3%. Higher-protein diets have also been found to prevent a decline in resting energy expenditure (REE). The positive effect of higher-protein diets on body weight management are thought to be partly due to modulations in energy metabolism, appetite, and energy intake.

    If you want more information on how to best incorporate protein powder into your plan for weight loss, Care/of’s article How to Use Protein Powder for Weight Loss can be an excellent resource.

    Types of protein powder


    Milk primarily contains two proteins: whey and casein. Whey is the liquid part of milk that floats on top of a freshly opened container of yogurt or separates during the making of cheese. It is rich with amino acids and is a rapidly digested source of leucine, an essential amino acid that helps build muscle mass, improve exercise performance, and speed up recovery from vigorous exercise. Whey protein powder is an excellent way to add protein to your diet. Though whey is arguably the most popular choice of all of the protein powders, it is a dairy-based product that is not suited for a vegan diet, or for anyone who chooses to be dairy free. On its own, whey protein powder is not very tasty, so it is usually available in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry flavors. When combined with other ingredients, it can actually be a very tasty and still very healthy treat.

    For years, bodybuilders and those wishing to increase lean muscle mass have used whey protein as part of their fitness routines to improve performance. Whey protein, when replacing other sources of calories, stimulates a rise in muscle protein synthesis and can result in weight reduction when combined with exercise and other healthy lifestyle factors.


    Casein is a complete protein that is digested more slowly than whey and is sometimes said to be better at managing appetite and increasing satiety. Many of its proponents use it at bedtime for overnight muscle recovery while sleeping. Like whey, casein is not all that tasty, which is why it comes in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and cookies and cream flavors.


    Plant-based protein powders are fairly new to the market. These powders are made from a number of plants, including soy, pea, hemp, and brown rice, just to name a few. When looking for options, you should make sure the quality is in alignment with your dietary preferences. Ideally we recommend ingredients that are non-GMO, gluten free, and naturally hypoallergenic. Soy is one of the most popular protein powders, as it contains all of the nine essential amino acids in sufficient quantities to be considered a high-quality, complete protein. There is also quinoa protein powder, which is considered a completed plant based protein as well. Individually, most plant based protein powders do not contain enough amino acids to be considered a complete protein, so you will usually see combinations in most protein powders o ensure that they can create a complete amino acid profile.

    How much protein powder per day?

    There is no definitive upper limit for daily intake of protein powder. It is not uncommon to take one serving a day with excellent results. The best practice is to eat a variety of foods to get a variety of nutrients. You should always consult your physician or a registered dietician about supplementation, especially if it is part of a weight management program.

    The bottom line

    While it is always best to get your protein from whole food sources like lean meat, eggs, dairy, fish, nuts, seeds, and legumes, protein powder can be an excellent supplement option for people who want to increase their protein intake. It is a convenient, healthy, nutrient-dense way to meet your body’s daily requirement of protein, whether it’s for weight management, difficulty eating protein-rich foods, improved exercise performance and recovery time, building lean muscle mass, or if you just don’t have enough time for a full meal.

    While it can be a helpful tool for weight loss, protein powder is not a magic potion promising quick results. If you are committed to a healthy weight loss program, protein powder can be a great addition to your daily plan. But you must pay attention to the details.

    Always read the labels when looking for protein powder. If you are looking to make it part of a weight reduction plan, try to stick with those powders that are low in calories and carbohydrates, and even lower in unhealthy additives, fillers, and, most importantly, sugar. If you’re not paying attention, you could easily make a protein powder shake with enough calories to catapult you into an unintended caloric surplus. And nobody wants that.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Our Editorial Staff
    Freelance Contributor
    The Care/of Editorial Team is made up of writers, experts, and health enthusiasts, all dedicated to giving you the information you need today. Our team is here to answer your biggest wellness questions, read the studies for you, and introduce you to your new favorite product, staying up to date on the latest research, trends, and science. Each article is written by one of our experts, reviewed both for editorial standards by an editor and medical standards by one of our naturopathic doctors, and updated regularly as new information becomes available.