Can protein shakes help you gain weight?
Protein powders are effective at helping to build muscle shortly after a workout. But can protein shakes help you gain weight?
Protein shakes can help you lose weight, get lean and build strength and endurance. But can protein shakes help you gain weight too? Protein shakes are an effective way to gain weight if you’re unable to do so through your diet alone. As well as gaining weight, adding protein shakes to your daily diet can also increase muscle mass.
“Protein shakes can be quite dense in calories, helping you to quickly and easily up your calories without eating high-calorie foods, which are often unhealthy and packed with hidden ingredients, which will do your body no favors,” said David Wiener, nutritionist and training specialist at Freeletics.
If you are using protein shakes to gain weight, it’s important to do it safely and in the healthiest way possible. According to the Mayo Clinic, too much protein in your diet for an extended period can result in nutritional deficiencies and can worsen existing kidney problems.
We spoke to the experts about whether the best protein powder can help you gain weight, and how to integrate it healthily into your diet. Plus, check out our guide to the best protein shaker to whip up your shake and sip on the move.
Can protein shakes help you gain weight?
Adding protein shakes to your daily diet can help you gain weight very easily and efficiently. The added calories, proteins and nutrients will help you to grow muscle and put on weight.
“If you're looking to gain weight and bulk up, but struggling to do so through your diet alone, protein powders could be the solution,” says Alice Williams, a qualified nutrition coach at OriGym Centre of Excellence. “To gain weight, you need to be in a calorie surplus – meaning you’re consuming more calories than you burn. Eating high-calorie junk foods such as ice cream, pizza and burgers will certainly make you gain weight. But these foods lack nutrients, including protein, and will make you gain fat rather than muscle. Instead, protein powders are a quick, easy and effective way to increase your calorie intake in a healthier way.”
It’s important to bear in mind that if you are using protein shakes because you’re underweight, or simply want to bulk up, it’s important to do it the healthy way. While protein shakes can help you put on weight, it’s still important to eat a variety of different foods as well. According to the FDA, supplements should not replace complete meals, which are necessary for a healthy diet. Our guide to the best meal replacement shakes can also help you to meet your calorie goals.
For people who train and exercise frequently and want to build muscle as part of their fitness goals, having between one to three shakes a day should definitely allow them. Or, if you're wondering if testosterone supplements really work, we've investigated.
Can protein shakes help you gain weight: which type to use
There are a variety of protein powders on the market that you can use to gain weight, some of which are healthier than others. The most common protein powder for weight gain is whey protein or plant-based alternatives, such as soy.
“Many brands create protein powder ‘blends’ or ‘mass gainers’ specifically targeted at weight gain. These blends contain a higher calorie content by combining protein with carbohydrate sources, such as oat, cereals and potato, or sources of healthy fats, such as flaxseeds and avocado,” says Williams.
“Powders which contain high levels of amino acids are beneficial for weight gain because these are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream and promote muscle growth and recovery,” adds Wiener. “You should also try to avoid pre-made shakes as these often contain extra levels of sugar, and other additives that will not be beneficial to you or your training.”
- Read more about how protein powder is made
Can protein shakes help you gain weight: how to use them
If you’re using a protein powder to gain weight, it is important to do it the healthy way. Here are some different ways to use your protein powder to gain weight:
1. Don’t replace meals with protein shakes
Use protein powders as a supplement to your meals and snacks, rather than a replacement. “You should try to gain most of your protein intake from a balanced, nutrient-rich diet. Some high-protein foods include eggs, chicken, yogurt, fish, seeds, nuts, pulses and soy products, such as tofu. As well as providing protein, these foods will also provide countless other essential vitamins and minerals,” says Williams.
2. Mix your protein powder with milk
“Although you can mix them with water, the best way to use protein powder for weight gain purposes is to use milk to make a protein shake. By doing this, you will add on some extra calories,” says Williams. You can also mix protein powder into things like oatmeal, pancakes or soups.
- Related: 5 easy protein powder recipes
3. Combine your protein shakes with exercise
The best time to have a protein powder is in between your meals, ideally after a workout to promote muscle repair and growth.
“Protein shakes work the most effectively in combination with weight and strength training as the shake will initiate a recovery in the muscles by providing your bloodstream with high amounts of amino acids,” says Wiener. “These are quickly absorbed into your muscle cells, which become new muscle tissue. The protein also helps to repair and restore your muscles, so you can perform effectively and to the best of your ability.”
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Karen Gordon is a freelance writer and web content editor with a special interest in health, and is based in the United Kingdom, As well as contributing to Live Science Karen has written for a variety of other publications, including NetDoctor, Patient.co.uk, Good Housekeeping, Prima, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar and others.