Can Protein Powder Help You Gain Weight?

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    Protein powder can play a significant role in your attempt to gain weight. Cut the junk and add some pounds in a healthy, tasty way.

    What is protein powder used for?

    Protein powder is a powdered form of protein that comes from milk (casein or whey) or plants (pea, rice, potatoes, hemp, soy) and is used for weight management, bridging nutrient gaps, building lean mass muscle, improved athletic performance and recovery, and supplementing protein needs that arise from high protein diets like keto, or eating a vegetarian or vegan diet. Protein powder is often fortified with vitamins and minerals and can contain additional ingredients, including sugar, artificial flavoring, and thickeners. Each serving offers somewhere between 10-30 grams of protein. Before choosing to use protein powder, it is important to get all the facts so you can make an informed decision.

    How does protein powder for weight gain work?

    In order to gain weight, you need to consume more calories than you burn. While it seems like it would be fun to enter into this calorie surplus mode, the key is to do it healthily – and that’s not always so easy. Eating cake, ice cream, chips, pizza, and candy will certainly pack on the extra pounds, but it’s probably not the kind of weight gain you’re looking for. If you’re looking to build lean muscle mass, make “weight” for a competitive event, or even to put on weight to reach a healthy, but seemingly unattainable weight goal, protein powder can help you.

    When adding protein powder to your diet in order to gain weight, it is important that you carefully monitor your protein intake. Follow the direction of your physician or a registered dietician to create a healthy plan to attain the necessary caloric surplus for you to gain weight without consuming too much protein.

    Adding protein shakes to your diet will help you to gain weight easily and the added calories, proteins, and nutrients will help you build lean muscle mass. You can also add calorically and nutrient dense ingredients to your protein powder to make a healthy shake, smoothie, or snack, which avoids the challenging side effects of calories coming from processed foods and junk food.

    Resistance training, when combined with protein powder, can help increase muscle mass exponentially. Since muscle weighs more than adipose tissue, this can, in turn, increase your weight.

    There are also some protein powders that promote weight gain and are marketed as “mass gainers” and “protein powder blends.” While these may help get you to your goal weight, it is important to read the label to see exactly what you’re consuming. Gaining weight with protein powder requires as much discipline as any eating plan. It takes time, patience, careful monitoring, and knowledge of the process in order to be successful. If you are having consistent challenges with gaining weight, consult your doctor.

    What are the health benefits of consuming protein powder for weight gain?

    When aiming for healthy weight gain, protein shakes have proven to be quite effective, as they can be both nutritious and calorically dense. When upping your calorie intake for weight gain, it is easy to turn to unhealthy, processed, packaged foods with hidden ingredients (like sugar) that will be of no benefit to your body. Protein powder shakes will give you a caloric boost along with some vital amino acids that will help increase your lean muscle mass, which happens to weigh more than adipose tissue.

    It’s important to eat a variety of healthy foods when trying to gain weight. Get plenty of lean red meat, chicken, fish, nuts, seeds, eggs, butter, dark leafy greens, whole milk, avocados, Greek yogurt, and as many vegetables as you can eat as part of your healthy diet. Protein powder shakes make a perfect calorie-enhancing supplement as they are nutritious, delicious, and significantly better for you than pasta, pizza, ice cream, and candy. And they will help you gain weight gradually, which is optimal for your overall health and wellness.

    If you’re having trouble gaining weight, especially if you have a weak appetite, Care/of’s article 5 Best Supplements for Weight Gain might have some helpful information for you. As always, if you are embarking on new supplementation, check with your healthcare provider or a registered dietician to determine the best course of action for your individual needs.

    What to look for in a protein powders for weight gain

    Calorie count

    The calorie count of your protein powder shake depends on your individual calorie and protein requirements, health goals, and daily nutritional intake. Generally speaking, it takes about 3500 calories to gain a pound, which is approximately 500 additional calories per day to gain a pound in a week. This does not take into account any of the specifics of your lifestyle, diet, height, weight, gender, and activity level. Someone who is very active would burn more calories than someone who is sedentary. Older adults and athletes need more protein than young adults. It is important to get an accurate assessment of your caloric needs. Once you do, you can take the calorie count from your protein powder label (typically about 120) and do the math to determine the specifics to reach your weight goal. If you need additional calories in your shakes, adding fats like nut butter, avocado, coconut, olive oil, or avocado oil are an easy and healthy way to do so.

    Protein count

    The protein count of your protein powder will be listed on the package label. Read all labels carefully, and when in doubt, consult an expert like your physician or registered dietician. Specifics like serving size, 1 or 2 scoops etc, grams of protein per serving, calories per serving, and sugar content all matter when you are looking to supplement in a healthy way. Reading the labels and asking the right questions are always in your best interest.

    Number of carbohydrates

    The average number of carbohydrates in a protein powder is about 10 per serving, with some going as low as 2. The important thing to do is read the label and know your needs before you embark on any supplementation to gain weight. Look for carbs per serving, net carbs, sugar content, and any atypical ingredient that may not be helpful to your healthy weight gain and, as always, ask the experts for recommendations. (Your friends and family are usually not the experts!)

    Product quality

    The market is flooded with protein powders and, once again, label reading is key to your choices. Know what you’re looking for, and if you don’t know, ask your healthcare provider for assistance. With quality products you will see things like grass fed whey, non-GMO ingredients, third party tested, and C.L.E.A.N. certified on the label. You may also find labels that claim to be “mass gainers,” and these products tend to be the exclusive domain of bodybuilders and weight lifters.

    What are the different types of protein powder?

    Whey protein

    Milk primarily contains two proteins: whey and casein. Whey is the liquid part of milk that separates during the making of cheese. It is a rapidly digested, rich source of leucine, an essential amino acid that helps build muscle mass, improve exercise performance, and speed up recovery from vigorous exercise. Whey protein, in powdered form, is an easy way to add protein to your diet. It is typically flavored vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry as its unflavored taste is rather unpleasant. When consuming whey protein, it is important to read the ingredients label, as it may contain unhealthy additives like refined sugar.

    Casein protein

    Cow’s milk is approximately 80% casein protein. It’s what gives milk its white color. Casein is digested more slowly than the other proteins and is sometimes said to be better at reducing appetite and satiety. It is often recommended at bedtime for overnight muscle recovery and sleep, though seldom is it mentioned in relation to weight gain. Casein powder is usually flavored vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry, as unflavored casein can taste rather unpleasant.

    Pea protein

    Made from yellow split peas, pea protein is rich in essential branched-chain amino acids (BCAA; leucine, isoleucine and valine), though it has a small amount of methionine so some powders may not meet the definition of a complete protein. Nonetheless, the non-GMO, gluten free, naturally hypoallergenic protein powder is an especially popular vegan alternative to whey protein powder.

    This study on the effects of whey versus pea protein on physical adaptations contends that the outcome of whey and pea protein intake after 8 weeks of High Intensity Functional Training is similar. It should be noted that the sample size was very small (15 participants). This study, a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial, reports that in addition to resistance training, the group that took pea protein had a greater increase of muscle thickness.

    Brown rice protein

    Though brown rice protein is an incomplete protein, it is rich in cysteine and methionine and can be combined with a legume source of protein to provide a rich source of lysine (an essential amino acid present in low quantities in rice). It is hypoallergenic, non-GMO, gluten free, and often used in baking. Brown rice protein is a popular vegan and vegetarian alternative.

    Differences between whey and casein protein for weight gain

    There are no specific studies that involve both whey and casein protein and its impact on weight gain. This study claims that whey is more effective than casein in older males. Another study found that there is no difference between casein and whey protein when it comes to muscle anabolism. Ultimately it’s an individual choice between the slower-acting casein and the fast-acting whey. Other factors that may contribute to your decision: whey protein powder is easy to mix with liquids, while casein protein powder may form clumps; whey protein powder usually tastes better and has a better texture than casein protein powder; and casein tends to have a higher price per gram than whey, which means you get more protein for your money with whey.

    Should you use protein powder for weight gain?

    This is a personal decision that is, hopefully, based on the best way to meet your needs for optimal health. Protein powder shakes are an excellent source of protein that are used by many to build muscle mass, improve athletic performance, muscle fatigue repair and recovery, bridging nutrient gaps, supplementing protein intake for keto and other high protein and low carb diets, eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, and weight management. It is a healthy way to add calories to your diet as it comes with added nutrients and amino acids that you won’t find in snack food. Nor will you find all the additives that accompany processed and pre-packaged foods. The most important thing you can do before you make your decision on whether to use protein powder or not is to get all the information and consult your physician, healthcare professional, or registered dietician. They are qualified to go over the details with you and to recommend the best and healthiest course of action. Whatever the reason for your weight gain, protein powder can play an important role in helping you to reach your goals.

    How to make a protein shake for weight gain?

    The most important thing to do before you make a protein shake for weight gain is to determine how many calories you need for optimal protein intake. Once that has been determined, do the math to figure out how many, if any, additional calories you need to add to the shake to reach the magic number. If you need to add calories, think of healthy fats like almond butter, peanut butter, avocado, avocado oil, olive oil, or coconut. Get creative. Add frozen berries or pineapples, use almond or soy milk for the liquid. This is your drink, snack, and supplement. Make it taste the way you like it – as long as it’s healthy. Don’t forget to read the labels before you choose the protein powder – added ingredients, especially sugar, should be avoided whenever possible.

    Final takeaways

    Protein powder can be a real help when you’re trying to gain weight. It can be a quick, easy, healthy snack tailored to meet the exact number of calories you need to successfully, and healthily, gain weight. It can also fill in any nutrient gaps in your diet. Ideally, most of your protein should come from a healthy, varied diet that includes lean meat, chicken, fish, lentils, nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, and a variety of fresh vegetables. You have to be informed to make smart choices. Care/of’s article Protein Powder 101 is a good source of information that may help you to make these choices.

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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.