Protein's Role After Weight Loss Surgery

Updated on February 28, 2017
Michelle Mollohan profile image

Michelle worked in mental health before retiring from nursing. She wants to use her knowledge to help educate and inform others.

The Importance of Protein in the Body and Diet

Protein is a component of every cell within the human body. It is used to build and repair tissues, such as when muscles tear during exercise, or following a surgical procedure. Protein is an important component in body structures including bones, cartilage, blood, and muscles. It plays a necessary role in hormone and enzyme production.

Protein is not stored within the body until a later time when it is needed. Thus, it is imperative to get an adequate oral intake of protein to meet the body's needs. After weight loss surgery, it is more important than ever to consume adequate amounts in order to avoid symptoms related to deficiency.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Our body produces 13 amino acids, yet there are 9 essential amino acids which we do not naturally produce. Protein sources consumed should be varied to ensure that all of the essential amino acids are incorporated into the diet (see the table below for examples of protein sources).

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Protein Sources

Meat Sources
Nuts/Nut butters
Powder Supplements
Soybeans (edamame)
Whey/Whey Isolate
Brazil Nuts
Soy milk
Soy flour
Cottage Cheese
Tempeh (meat substitute)
Brown Rice
This is just a small sampling of the many protein sources to choose from.

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Protein Needs After Weight Loss Surgery

After weight loss surgery, the body needs protein to promote wound healing. Weight loss procedures reduce the amount of food intake, making protein the most important nutrient to consume. Without adequate protein intake, unwanted effects can occur. These include:

  • malnutrition/anemia
  • muscle loss
  • decreased sex drive
  • depression
  • fatigue
  • thinning hair and brittle nails

According to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, most patients who have undergone bariatric surgery need 60-80 grams of protein daily. This amount can vary and is determined by the surgeon/physician. The human body cannot absorb more than 30 grams of protein at a time, so this must be broken up into multiple meals throughout the day. Protein shakes are often used as a supplement to ensure adequate protein with minimal calories is consumed.

Protein Shake

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Protein Supplementation with Powders

Protein powders are a popular way to ensure adequate protein intake without incurring excess calorie and fat intake. There are several protein sources that the powders are sourced from, which are described below.

  • Whey Protein comes from milk. It also contains lactose, which can cause issues for those with lactose intolerance (a common development after weight loss surgery).
  • Whey Protein Isolate is processed to remove the lactose for easier digestion. It is one of the most commonly used powder supplements with bariatric patients.
  • Casein is also derived from milk. It forms a gel when interacting with stomach acid, thus slowing digestion to maintain satiety.
  • Egg protein powder is typically made from egg whites only. It contains all 9 essential amino acids. Since the yolks are not used, it may not promote fullness as long as other powders.
  • Pea powder is made from the yellow split pea. It contains 8 of the essential amino acids. While relatively new and needing more research, it may help reduce blood pressure. Since it is plantbased, it is a great options for vegetarians and vegans.
  • Brown rice powder also contains all 9 amino acids, although it is relatively new to the powder market so there is not much research regarding its satiety factor.

Preventing Boredom in Daily Protein Consumption

Focusing largely on getting enough protein in the diet can get pretty boring after a while. This can make it hard to stay on track with weight loss goals. Varying the protein sources one eats is a good start to preventing boredom. Adding spices, sauces or gravies can give new life to some old favorites. Researching new recipes online is another great way to expand your protein options and maintain your interest.

Protein shakes can be made with a variety of ingredients to change their flavor. Adding frozen fruit increases the fiber and water content while providing different flavor options. Fresh spinach adds nutrients without altering the taste. If consuming a shake in place of a meal, yogurt can be added to make it creamier and more filling. Greek yogurt has more protein than traditional yogurt.

© 2017 Michelle Mollohan


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