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No doubt about it, protein is a nutritional powerhouse.
Like the other macronutrients, carbohydrates and fat, protein plays a unique and vital role in both your overall health and your day-to-day functioning. It’s essential for building and maintaining muscle and other tissues, like bones, skin, and other organs.
And, protein isn’t just for bodybuilders. Even if you’re not actively trying to build muscle, getting adequate protein ensures that the muscle you have (and we all have muscle) stays healthy.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that the average person consume 10 to 35 percent of total calories from protein, and the minimum recommended amount is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight; for a 185-pound man, that’s just 67 grams per day.
However, as Men’s Health previous reported, consuming 20 to 30 percent of your calories from protein, which breaks down to about 1.2 to 1.6 grams per kilogram, is a better goal. That’s between 90 and 120 grams of protein if you weigh 185 pounds.
But what about protein and weight gain? Because protein contains calories (4 per gram), it stands to reason that eating more protein can increase your calorie intake overall. And, consuming more calories than you burn each day is what leads to weight gain. That said, will increased protein consumption lead to weight gain?
We have answers.
Can protein make you gain weight?
The short answer is, yes, of course protein can help you gain weight. “Protein plays an important role in muscle growth,” says Vandana Sheth, a registered dietitian and nutritionist based in Los Angeles. “It may help you with weight gain. However, it is not the only factor.”
Protein isn’t a magic bullet for muscle growth and weight gain. In fact, it’s not even the most essential piece of the puzzle. “For those trying to gain weight, it’s important to get more overall calories in than the body is able to use,” Sheth says.
Protein, like carbohydrates, contains four calories per gram, whereas fat contains nine calories per gram. Run a calorie surplus for long enough and you’ll gain weight.
That said, it’s probably not a good idea to rely on increased protein intake for weight gain. Research suggests that protein can actually make you feel more satisfied than you would be if you got the same number of calories from carbs or fat. So, if you’re just increasing your protein consumption, you’ll probably get full more quickly, which can make it harder to eat more.
For muscle gain, Sheth recommends increasing your consumption of all three macronutrients.
What type of protein is best for weight gain?
“One of the best types of protein for muscle growth and weight gain is whey protein and whey protein isolates,” Sheth says. “Whey contains all the essential amino acids and has a high biological value,” meaning that your body is able to absorb and use all of the amino acids present, instead of letting some of them pass through your digestive system. Whey also digests quickly and goes down easily in a protein shake or smoothie, so it’s easy to consume enough.
Protein from meat, poultry, and fish is also extremely bioavailable and thus good for muscle gain.
How do you know if you’re eating too much protein?
“While there is no exact recommendation for what constitutes too much protein, most current research suggests keeping it to no more than 2 grams per kilogram of body weight to avoid any long term, negative side effects,” Sheth says. For a 185-pound man, that’s 168 grams of protein per day.
Although there’s some concern about excessive protein intake causing kidney damage, no significant research studies have been able to prove this link, so it’s probably not something to worry about.
The biggest worry about getting too much protein isn’t really about protein, but about the things you might be missing out on if you’re pounding whey shakes and steaks all day.
Specifically, eating a diet that’s very high in protein might mean you’re not getting enough fiber, a compound found in plants that helps digestion and is important for overall health. Without adequate fiber, which the Dietary Guidelines for Americans cite as about 38 grams per day for men, you might feel constipated, experience diarrhea—yes, fiber helps prevent both!—or feel bloated throughout the day due to poor digestion.
Should you eat more protein if you’re trying to gain weight?
If you’re trying to gain weight, the most important thing is increasing your overall calorie consumption, Sheth says. Stick to getting 20 to 30 percent of those calories from protein, which means increasing your protein intake along with your carbs and fat.
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