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Does Whey Protein Make You Fat If You Don't Work Out?

Trained in dentistry, Sree is currently studying lab sciences. She enjoys researching various health topics and writing about her findings.

Whey protein, also known as protein powder

Whey protein, also known as protein powder

The Truth About Protein Powder and Weight Gain

Whey protein has been making headlines for quite some time, especially for those who are into bodybuilding. Anyone who wishes to bulk up or lose weight has probably heard of whey protein, too. Thousands have already used it to supplement their daily diets to help them achieve the body they want.

However, some wonder if whey protein makes you fat. Some people hesitate to use whey protein powder because they think they might gain unwanted weight if they use the supplement.

If you're one of those people, read on for answers.

Does Whey Protein Powder Make You Fat?

The short answer is yes—if you use a lot of it and don't work out.

But it's a little more complicated than that.

It is important to remember that any type of macronutrient (fat, protein, and carbohydrate), when taken in excess, will surely lead to weight gain. The body is able to use a limited number of calories per day, and if your caloric intake is more than what your body can use, you will inevitably gain weight. So although it is very useful to athletes, and although it does help them sculpt their ideal bodies, whey protein is not some magic ingredient to produce a muscular, athletic body. People who wish to lose weight must do more exercise to burn away the fat.

However, it is also important to know that there are no studies or scientific evidence showing that whey protein causes a greater increase in weight gain than other types of food. So there is no evidence to support the claim that whey protein makes you fat. Asking whether whey protein makes you fat is like asking whether pork or turkey makes you fat. If you eat more than you use, no matter what you eat, you will get fat.

Still, some argue that whey actually encourages the body to store more fat because it causes insulin levels to rise more compared to other foods that are rich in protein. However, in terms of balanced diets, insulin levels are dictated by the total amount of energy consumed to the total amount of energy spent. When looking at the bigger picture, the rise and fall of insulin in the blood is not relevant, as many of the carbohydrates that people consume cause insulin to spike more compared to whey protein.

As long as whey protein fits in your fitness program, it will not make you fat. However, you should understand that you need to keep an active lifestyle in order not to gain weight. There have also been studies that showed this source could help people burn fat a lot faster.

How to Use Whey Protein to Lose Weight

  1. Whey protein has been found to increase fat burning when it is used as a protein source before working out. If you consume whey protein before you work out, it rapidly burns your fat—a process otherwise known as beta-oxidation. In beta-oxidation, the fatty acid molecules in your cells will break down and generate acetyl-CoA, an important molecule in metabolism. Various cells and tissues will break down fatty acid molecules and give your body more energy. Whey, or a similar type of protein, must be used as your source protein for beta-oxidation to occur.
  2. Whey protein also increases the number of calories the body converts into heat energy (thermogenesis). During the process of diet-based thermogenesis, the body transforms calories into energy. For exercise-included thermogenesis, muscle cells will burn calories so that the body will have more energy for muscle contraction. A great amount of energy may be expended for contraction. Expended energy is ultimately converted to heat. This explains why you start sweating a lot during an exercise or a strenuous activity, and your body temperature increases. In this situation, you are experiencing a thermogenic process. The more energy you put in during your exercise, the more you waste your energy in the form of heat. However, this also means more calories have been burned along the way. Whey protein intake leads to more calories burned, translating to better weight loss.
  3. Whey protein helps regulate cravings and uncontrollable hunger pangs by increasing the secretion of cholecystokinin (CCK), which is an essential hormone involved in hunger regulation. CCK is a peptide hormone responsible for regulating hunger by stimulating fat and protein digestion. It is found in the gastrointestinal system. Grehlin production, or the hormone that stimulates one's appetite, is also suppressed. Whey protein puts a stopper on ghrelin production so that the individual does not feel any urge to eat. Ghrelin is also a peptide hormone found in the gastrointestinal tract. Alternately called the "hunger hormone" or Ienomorelin (INN), ghrelin functions as an appetite stimulator.
  4. Whey protein is a mood enhancer and energy booster. This helps to regulate energy and mood levels when a person restricts caloric intake by increasing the production of serotonin. In this regard, restricting your calorie intake and taking low-calorie whey protein at the same time can encourage serotonin production. Serotonin is a compound, which acts as a neurotransmitter. You can find it in the blood platelets and blood vessel serums. A large percentage of serotonin (as much as 90 percent) can be found in the gastrointestinal tract. The brain also produces serotonin, but brain-produced serotonin is only used within the brain. Serotonin can affect behavior, mood, sleep patterns, desire, and memory.
A protein powder shake

A protein powder shake

Types of Whey Protein

  • Whey protein concentrate: This contains low levels of fat and carbohydrates (lactose). The protein percentage of WPC depends on its concentration levels (between 30 percent and 90 percent).
  • Whey protein isolate: This is a processed type of whey protein. It contains 90 percent protein with no fat and lactose.
  • Whey protein hydrolysate: This predigested form of whey protein has been subjected to partial hydrolysis. It requires less digestion than the other types of whey protein. This variant is usually added to medical protein supplements and infant formulas due to its better digestibility and low allergen potential properties.

What Is Whey Protein?

Milk is made up of two proteins: casein and whey. The whey protein can be separated from the casein or formed as a by-product of cheese. Whey protein, which is low in lactose, is a complete protein and contains all 9 essential amino acids. High amounts of branched-chain amino acids are responsible for better muscle protein synthesis. What makes whey protein different from other protein sources is that it has the highest bioavailability compared to the rest, helping your body absorb the biggest amount of total protein content.

Studies have been conducted that indicate that whey protein has properties that help fight inflammation in cancer patients. Whey protein is now considered a topic of great interest among many researchers, who are studying its use in reducing the risks of certain diseases. There are already reports showing whey protein to be beneficial in regulating the metabolism and as a supplemental treatment for many conditions, including unwanted weight loss due to certain illnesses.

Nowadays, whey protein is commonly used and marketed as a supplement for the diet. In the alternative medicine world, there have been many health claims made about the product. Although the casein protein is the culprit in most cases of milk protein allergies and intolerances, both milk proteins can trigger similar issues in certain individuals.

The prevailing attitude toward whey protein has changed a lot through the years. In the past, it has been vastly used by bodybuilders alone, but nowadays, it is used by all kinds of athletes and those who simply want to have fitter bodies. It is commonly known to be a complete protein containing all of the 9 essential amino acids (like quinoa, meat, eggs, and dairy) that the body can easily digest and use.

When talking about high-quality protein, whey protein is simply one of the best sources, especially for fat burning and muscle building. Its bio-availability, or the body's capability to absorb the protein, is the highest compared to other protein sources. It is very convenient because the powdered form is easy to prepare in a shake form. You can prepare and consume the protein within a few minutes.

But if you aren't an athlete and don't work out, will whey protein make you fat?

It's a Myth That Whey Protein Makes You Gain Weight

The claim that whey protein makes you fat may well be a myth. Whey protein, by itself, does not make you fat. However, how you consume it can affect your weight. Consuming whey without knowing what type of protein it is and what it does to the body will understandably come with unnecessary risks. Whether you intend to shed off some pounds or bulk up or gain more weight, it will show you the way. The benefits attached to whey consumption are endless. The trick is to have a real fitness goal and customize your whey intake to achieve it.

If all the studies about whey protein were to be believed, then the myth that it makes you fat certainly does not hold water. Whey has been proven to be more of a fat burner despite the fact that it is also a good source of calories.

A strawberry-flavored whey protein shake

A strawberry-flavored whey protein shake

Decreases Fat and Maintains Muscle

In a 12-week calorie intake study conducted by Minnesota-based researchers, a group of participants reduced their calories by 500 after they were given whey. Participants who were not asked to consume whey were given drinks with an isocaloric concoction. Whey-consuming participants lost around 6.1 percent of their body fat and were able to preserve their muscles.

Benefits of Whey Protein Powder

No supplement can fully replace the benefits of a diet of unprocessed, natural, whole foods. However, whey protein has been proven to be a useful and easy source of protein for busy people, and there have been many studies to suggest a wide range of health benefits and uses.

Here are some of the possible generic benefits of taking a high-quality whey protein supplement:

  • Whey protein helps increase muscle mass and increases one's power when doing sports.
  • It also helps in weight loss by focusing the loss on fat and preserving lean muscle.
  • It increases levels of glutathione, the body's main water-based antioxidant.
  • Whey protein can help slow the progress of certain kinds of cancer and slow unwanted weight loss due to cancer treatment.
  • It decreases triglyceride levels.
  • It decreases the symptoms of training too much and lessens recovery time.
  • It may help delay the progression of HIV symptoms and helps combat unwanted weight loss (wasting) associated with the disease.
  • It enhances different functions of the immune system.
  • It increases HDL (good cholesterol) while at the same time decreasing total cholesterol.
  • Whey protein may improve the immune response to asthma.
  • It decreases blood pressure in patients with hypertension and reduces their risk of developing heart disease or stroke.

The following is a list of whey protein benefits based on university research and clinical studies:

Decreases Fat and Maintains Muscle

You may have wondered about the best way to cut back on your calorie consumption and shed off pounds. In a 12-week calorie intake study conducted by Minnesota-based researchers, a group of participants reduced their calories by 500 after they were given whey. Participants who were not asked to consume whey were given drinks with an isocaloric concoction. Whey-consuming participants lost around 6.1 percent of their body fat and were able to preserve their muscles much better than the other group of participants.

Lets You Gain More Strength and Size

If you are currently on a workout spree, training at the gym for long periods of hours in an attempt to bulk up some weight, whey protein consumption will help fast track this goal. A study initiated by the Baylor University in Texas proved that whey significantly contributes to fat-free mass and muscle strength increases. One group was given a 20-gram placebo, while another group composed of 19 males performing resistance training for 10 weeks consumed 6 grams of free amino acids and 14 grams of whey and casein protein.

Individuals adopting a regular workout regimen may want to consume whey an hour before and after starting their routine. Add whey and strength-training exercises to your existing workout regimen, and you can bulk up and make your muscles leaner.

Lowers Blood Sugar Levels

Whey protein's natural properties may help lower blood sugar levels. However, if you are taking prescription drugs, herbal medicines, or supplements that affect blood sugar, caution is highly advised when consuming whey protein. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional (doctors, nurses, and pharmacists) and have your blood sugar levels constantly monitored in case there are adjustments to your consumption.

Controls Hunger

Constant hunger is a sign of hormonal imbalance. Taking in whey will not only keep you from craving food at random instances; it also helps you avoid developing an unhealthy physique. In an Australian-based study, researchers asked 28 obese males to drink four kinds of beverages, including whey protein. The group tasked to drink 50 grams of liquefied whey showed greatly reduced ghrelin levels for four hours. Ghrelin is a hormone, which sends “hunger signals” to the brain. With this in mind, you may want to whip up a whey protein shake whenever you feel excessively hungry.

Helps Address Cancer

A deadly disease passed on from generation to generation if not acquired through environmental factors, cancer is a bane of society. Thanks to new technological advancements, however, more methods to fight or prevent it have become available. Regular checkups and cancer screenings are particularly helpful in identifying specific types of cancer that your bloodline can be vulnerable to.

Studies show that whey protein has cancer-fighting properties and may be effective in addressing prostate and colon cancer.

Improves Stress Coping Mechanisms

Stress is a silent killer and leaves you vulnerable to all kinds of diseases and mental disorders. Resorting to alcohol is not even an option. Researchers from the Netherlands conducted a study that proved there is a healthier alternative for individuals prone to stress. In a clinical research study participated by 58 subjects exposed to experimental or synthetic stress, it was discovered that the group who consumed whey protein had fewer manifestations of depression, and its members appeared to be in a better mood than the group who did not take whey.

Researchers concluded that whey protein intake impacts the brain's serotonin levels, improving a person's mood and resilience to stress. During stressful times, just grab a whey protein shake. It will help you cope with stress better than alcohol.

Boosts Your Immune System

According to researchers from the University of Alberta, whey intake can also contribute to improved immune system health. In the study they conducted, male subjects engaged in physically demanding aerobic exercises experienced greatly reduced glutathione levels that tended to weaken their immune systems and nervous and gastrointestinal systems.

They found out that consuming whey protein as a supplement only reduced the subjects' glutathione levels to a significantly lesser extent. Whey is, therefore, a great supplement to take for those doing extended cardio workout routines as it does not greatly reduce a person's glutathione levels.

Good Source of Protein for Post-Workout Recovery

Whey is an ideal source of protein for individuals recovering from injuries incurred during a workout. Whey's high protein quality and its easy-to-absorb properties make it a good protein source for post-workout recovery—a fact already confirmed in the 2012 Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

If you drink a whey protein shake following a strenuous workout, you will receive the right amount of nutrients to ensure muscle growth that can make your frame leaner. To get the best results, check the nutrition facts on the label of your whey supplement. Take note of each serving (ideally 3 grams of leucine to help build muscles) and your supplement's amino acid breakdown.

Retains Muscle and Manage Weight

It has already been proven that customizing your whey protein shake and adjusting the calorie dosage helps in reducing or adding weight. In a study published in Nutrition and Metabolism, whey demonstrated an ability to help retain muscle and manage weight. Obese people were asked to drink a whey protein shake to help them lose body fat. Another group of obese people was given a different kind of shake. Both groups followed the same diet method for a period of 12 weeks.

Not only did the group with a whey-based diet succeeded in losing more body fat, but the members also retained much of their muscles compared to the other non-whey group. Muscle retention is particularly important in maintaining your weight. If you have leaner muscles, then you will also be able to burn your calories faster. Lean muscles boost a person's metabolism and preserve their weight.

Lowers Blood Pressure

With the right whey protein dosage, workout regimen, and diet, whey protein can help lower blood pressure levels. This protein variant can stimulate the production of nitric oxide, a molecular, chemical compound, which contributes to the regulation of blood pressure by dilating the arteries. Lack of nitric oxide in the body can spur the aging process and increase one's risk of heart disease.

These benefits show that whey protein can provide a person with benefits that vary from the physical aspects to more intricate functions of the body.

Most protein shakes are mixed with water.

Most protein shakes are mixed with water.

How Do I Consume Whey Powder?

The general consensus is that you can consume 1–2 scoops (25–50 grams) of whey powder per day, although you should follow the dosage instructions on the packaging. In general, the total amount of protein you consume will depend on your weight and activity level. You can use this calculator to determine your protein needs based on height, weight, gender, and activity level.

Some dieticians recommend taking protein with other liquids like water, milk, and fruit or vegetable juice. You can also add fruits. However, a blend of milk and protein can lead to certain complications. According to nutritionists, milk's high lactose content can trigger constipation, which means your digestive tract is not functioning as well as it should.

If you regularly perform a heavy workout routine, experts recommend around 25 to 30 grams of protein three times a day: first in the morning, second after you wrap up your exercise regimen, and third just before hitting the sack at night. Around 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilo of body weight is ideal for competitive athletes, while athletes focused on building muscle mass need 1.5 to 2.0 grams per kilo.

The high lactose content of milk can trigger constipation when mixed with protein powder.

The high lactose content of milk can trigger constipation when mixed with protein powder.

When Is the Best Time to Take Whey Protein?

Whey protein, as mentioned above, is quickly digested, so it is best taken within 15 to 60 minutes after exercise. If you wish to take it any other time, you may want to slow down the digestion of the whey protein by taking it with other types of food. For example, if you wish to add extra protein during breakfast but don't want eggs, you can add some whey protein to your oatmeal. For a quick snack, you can drink a shake with nuts or some fish oil to help decrease the rate of protein digestion.

To the people who are still worried that whey protein makes you fat, keep in mind that anything in excess will be converted to fat in the body. Excess protein is not exactly bad, but it will still mean excess calories. To prevent weight gain, whether you actively exercise or not, you have to make sure that your daily consumption of calories does not go over what your body is able to burn. Many online calculators can help you estimate what your body is able to burn based on your age, activity level, size, and gender.

How Do I Balance the Calories in My Whey Protein Diet?

More than adding whey protein to your regular diet, the number of calories you consume must coincide with your specific weight goal. Take, for instance, consuming an additional 250 to 500 calories each day. If you do not exercise enough, you are likely to add between 0.5 and 1 pound to your weight every week. Conversely, if you curb your calorie intake by 500 to 1,000 calories per day, you will still lose around 1 to 2 pounds weekly even if you do not exercise regularly.

Indeed, whey protein does have calories. Those who need to increase their size or bulk up can utilize these calories properly. If you have the opposite goal, you must adopt a calorie-regulated diet and use only a measured amount of whey protein. There are low-calorie whey protein powders for weight loss and high-calorie whey protein powders for weight gain. The exact number of calories per serving in each depends on the brand.

How Do I Serve a Healthy Dose of Whey?

Before making drastic changes to your diet, such as adding whey protein into your diet regimen, it is advisable to consult your doctor for expert advice and guidance. If the reason you need to gain further weight is to combat a pre-existing medical condition (e.g., kidney disorder), consuming protein supplements may not be beneficial to your health.

For you to take whey protein, medical clearance is necessary. Whether your goal is to lose or gain more weight, you may need to adjust your dosage accordingly. For individuals looking to lose weight, low-calorie whey protein powder mixed with fruit and water will make for a fiber-rich shake that's not saturated with calories. If you mix a low-calorie whey protein powder with a cup of berries and water, for example, you'll have a healthy, delicious shake with under 200 calories.

If you need to gain weight, increase you caloric intake with whey protein.

If you need to gain weight, increase you caloric intake with whey protein.

How to Use Protein Powder to Gain Weight

If your goal is to gain weight, then you need to add a few extra calories to your diet. First, choose a high-calorie whey protein powder. Next, you can add whole milk instead of water and increase one cup to two cups of berries. To complete your 600-plus calorie shake, you can add a tablespoon of almond butter to the mix.

You have plenty of options to customize your whey protein shake. Berries may blend well with whey powder, but you can actually use other fruits, or even vegetables and other liquids like green tea, fruit juice, and milk.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Vee on April 17, 2019:

I believe the Whey protein is causing heavy blood flow during menstrual cycle. I went from 5 to a heavy 8 days cycle. Has anyone else had this experiences?

Albert merricks on September 27, 2017:

I train six sessions a week, for eighty minutes ,per session

Skinny on July 24, 2017:

Hi im skinny guy .. If i take whey protein it will help me to gain fat / weight ? I just want to try this take whey protein for 1month without hard workout just push ups and lift barbel .. It will help me or not ? It will be good for me or not ? Please I need an answer thanks Godbless..

viki patel on July 05, 2017:

i am a skinny men and i dont have enough time for gym or either workout since my work is physically. i want to make muscle can you suggest me use of whey protein for me or not.

Sj on May 07, 2017:

I am a 19 years old girl. i'm slim.i want to be fat .will protein powder help to be fat? Please give me answer..

Lei Ling-Ling on November 03, 2016:

I don't know how much is too much. I'm a pretty short woman I was already losing 2lb a week. I started drinking 3 scoops of the stuff a day as an appetite suppressant to eat smaller dinners or avoid late night snacking, & just before doing aerobics or hiking. It has not caused me to gain or lose more than the 2lb a week I was already working on.

Jennifer on September 04, 2016:

My LDL increased over the past 3 years and I've read that whey protein will help to reduce it. I just got back those results and just began using whey protein in my smoothie with 1/2 cup skim plus milk, 1/2 cup fat free Greek Yogurt (vanilla flavored) and 1 frozen banana whirled up. I plan on having more blood work in 6 months to see what the results are. I've also cut back on bad fats such as butter, etc. Increased good fats such as adding avocado to my already very healthy diet (Weight Watcher's). I'm interested to see what the new numbers will be.

nina on May 22, 2015:

I am using whey protein to put on weight with not going to gym just general exercise will i gain weight

Sandra Micheals from Sydney, Australia on May 08, 2015:

Nice Hub!

Ensorcelie from Albania on April 21, 2015:

I have head that any kind of protein in form of powder supplements it's extremely bad for your body because it fills your muscles with air [meaning that once you don't consume it anymore, or don't workout as much your muscles will shrink very fast], and it also contains hormones that alter your body's natural hormonal balance causing many other problems. How true is this?

Hezekiah from Japan on April 15, 2015:

In my experience, I certainly bulked up to too much with a combination of fat and muscle from whey protein. I switched to a more sport type which seemes to be better.

Alisa Johnson from Southeastern Ohio on April 13, 2015:

I love my Whey however, I do always use it in conjunction with working out. I normally drink it before a heavy lifting session.

Jemma from Cumbria, United kingdom on April 10, 2015:

I don't think i have lost weight with it, least not yet. However i have noticed it gives me a LOT of energy to burn at the gym. I come home from a workout wondering how i was able to do all the exercise i just did, i can barely walk most places. so whey powder in moderation is brilliant.

I only use one full scoop of whey powder, half a cup of water, one banana, and chocolate flavoured coconut milk/or/chocolate flavoured rice milk, does the trick just fine.

Tanya bernedoodle from Sandpoint idaho on April 10, 2015:

Great info

Kathleen Kerswig on April 10, 2015:

I'm so glad I came across this article. I found it to be extremely interesting and I appreciate your efforts to share this with us here on HubPages. I am changing my eating regimen for health reasons and whey protein has been on my list of things to investigate. Thanks again and blessings!

Neha Sharma from United States on April 10, 2015:

Wow thank you for this article, very informative! I just started using whey protein but haven't been able to keep up with my workouts.

Salamun Kawla Sheema on April 10, 2015:

To prevent the process of weight gain, whether we actively exercise or not, we have to make sure that our daily consumption of calories does not go over what our body is able to burn.

Rick Grimes on March 30, 2015:

I just wish people would realize that there are no magic solutions out there! Protein isn't going to build your muscles for you anymore than a gallon of gas will steer your car!

Hard work, persistence and dedication is the key to everything. Protein powder is a tool to get you where you need to be, not a magic solution.

Great article!

ANDRO GAM from US on March 26, 2015:

deeply info thanks

sharda on March 26, 2015:

my son is very thin...what i do to make him fat

Krzysztof Willman from Parlin, New Jersey on March 19, 2015:

Great tips, I have never tried whey protein but I'm looking into it. I was worried if there were any downsides to using it, but I feel more confident about starting after reading this.

Naomi's Banner from United States on March 15, 2015:

Nice HUB. I have used Whey protein supplements to lose weight and had very good results.

john vincent bannister on March 14, 2015:

I have been using whey protein ,only half the dose on the tub by the way ,& already have noticed a difference , i was starting to feel gutted health wise & very drawn in my face ,after 3 weeks of using it my face looks like it has come to life & certainly looks better & most of the lethargic feelings have just about gone from my body .I am 60 yrs of age & feel much better . thanks whey.

Melissa Reese Etheridge from Tennessee, United States on March 13, 2015:

This article is very informative in regards to defining whey protein, how to use it, and its benefits. Voted up and useful. The writing is clear and concise.

Kelly A Burnett from United States on March 13, 2015:

Very well done! I have tried whey protein before my workout and I like it! But I wondered if I skipped the workout what then? Thank you!

Hezekiah from Japan on March 11, 2015:

Protein should definitely be used in conjunction with physical training. otherwise it pointless. It doesn't even have to be the gym. jobs that require a lot of physical work will give you good muscle if you increase you protein intake.

Abu sahadat md ayeat ullah from Dhaka,Bangladesh on March 11, 2015:

Great writing.

Miles on January 28, 2015:

Eat whatever you want as in carbs whatever but work out so you don't get fat slow down your diet when you gain the weight and convert it to muscle mass

muuuuse on January 23, 2015:

I am very thin what is the best way to get a weight with whey protein

rishu on January 13, 2015:

Hiii can I used whey protein

Without exercise because I'm busy with my job so I didn't have time to go let me know plz?

Thank you

Haley Booker-Lauridson from GA on January 04, 2015:

Interesting. I've never tried any sort of protein powder before, mostly because I don't trust myself to consistently burn all of it off, but I might try it sometime when I can be focused on building a little muscle.

KAY on September 15, 2014:

My son is a dialysis patient and when you do dialysis it washes the protein out of your system, I give him whey protein in the morning and in the evening in the amount of 3oz. each time. It not only helps with his dialysis but it also has helped him heal in some areas of his health problems. whey protein is a very important part of his diet.