Do Protein Shakes Make You Gain Weight Without Working Out?

Do protein shakes make you gain weight without working out?

Do protein shakes make you gain weight without working out? Learn more about how to use protein shakes to achieve your wellness goals.

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Protein shakes can make you gain weight without working out. 

The paradox. 

Although protein shakes are often championed as a weight loss food, they can also help you gain weight. This may seem paradoxical, but it makes perfect sense because depending on how they are used, protein shakes can help you achieve a calorie deficit or a calorie surplus.

Losing weight is all about achieving and maintaining a calorie deficit – eating fewer calories than you burn. It takes an extra 3,500 calories to gain a pound, and to gain weight at a safe rate – 0.5 pound per week – you will need to eat an extra 1,750 calories weekly, or 250 calories daily. Adding a protein shake to your diet is an easy way to eat an extra 250 calories because it is easier to drink your calories than it is to chew them.

Gaining weight is all about achieving and maintaining a calorie surplus – eating more calories than you burn. You have to burn 3,500 more calories to eat to lose a pound, and to lose weight at a safe rate – 0.5 pound per week – you will need to eat 1,750 fewer calories weekly, or 250 calories daily. Replacing a meal or part of a meal with a protein shake can help you eat less. This works because high protein foods are among the most satiating foods. They keep you feeling full for longer, which helps prevent cravings and overeating. In other words, increasing the percentage of your calories that come from high protein foods can help you lose weight. 

So, do protein shakes make you gain weight without working out? Protein shakes can make you gain weight without working out as long as they help you achieve and maintain a calorie surplus.

What about muscle?

If you are not only looking to gain weight, but also looking to gain muscle mass, then you have to work out. Essentially, muscle growth can occur only if muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown. This is called positive muscle protein balance, and is regulated by two mechanisms : amino acid availability and resistance exercise. 

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 of them, 9 of which are essential and must come from food. Resistance exercise is the use of resistance to muscular contraction to build skeletal muscle mass. Both amino acid availability (dietary protein) and resistance exercise (strength or weight training) are required to build muscle, and if one of the two is absent, muscle building cannot occur. This is why you have to “work out” in order to gain muscle mass. I used quotation marks because working out does not necessarily mean going to the gym. Daily activities like walking and vacuuming can also help you build muscle. 

What happens if you drink protein shakes without working out? Again, if drinking protein shakes helps you achieve and maintain a calorie deficit, you will lose weight, and if it helps you achieve and maintain a calorie surplus, you will gain weight. Whether or not protein shakes help you build muscle depends primarily on whether or not you work out. If you start drinking protein shakes but do not workout, do not expect to gain much muscle mass. 

vegan chocolate protein powder
chocolate protein powder

How much protein? 

The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight a day for sedentary adults. This amounts to about 56 grams per day for the average man, and about 46 grams for the average woman. These numbers can vary depending on a number of factors, however, including activity level, age, and health. People who regularly lift weights, for instance, may need as much as 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This means that a 150 pound person who does regular strength training may need to consume over 100 grams of protein each day! Getting this much protein from normal food can be challenging, especially if you are vegan or vegetarian, which is where protein shakes come in handy. 

Which protein shake is best? 

There are two types of protein shakes, ready-to-drink (store-bought) protein shakes, and protein shakes made with protein powder. In order to make a protein shake with protein powder, you have to mix the powder with milk or water. This requires a blender or a shake bottle, and a little extra time and effort. Some people buy ready-to-drink protein shakes instead of protein powder because they value convenience, but if they knew what they were drinking, they would probably vomit. 

Ready-to-drink protein shakes are full of food additives like emulsifiers, stabilizers, and thickeners. Ingredients like these help with shelf stability (sitting on the shelf for a long time without spoiling), and can replicate the creamy, dairy-like mouthfeel that people crave. Although this sounds like a good thing, food additives look nothing like real food and can cause a number of side effects. This is why I recommend that you make your own protein shakes with protein powder. Unfortunately, however, not all protein powders are created equal, and many contain the same additives found in ready-to-drink protein shakes. You will therefore have to read ingredient lists to find the good ones. Keep reading to learn more about the top ingredients to avoid when buying protein powder.  

vegan chocolate protein powder
chocolate protein powder

Avoid food additives.

Again, most ready-to drink protein shakes and many protein powders are full of food additives. Although not necessarily bad for you in small quantities, additives can add up quickly (especially if you drink a protein shake every day) and cause gastrointestinal (GI) side effects like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas, and stomach pain. This is because food additives are, generally speaking, hard to digest. They sit in your gut for longer than food should, which gives your gut bacteria more time to eat. As they eat, these bacteria produce gas, which causes bloating and stomach pain. Gas also slows colonic transit (the amount of time it takes food to travel through the colon), which can lead to constipation.

In the long term, food additives can disrupt regulatory pathways in the intestine, which can result in the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and systemic inflammatory disorders. Artificial sweeteners are among the most harmful additives in the long term as they alter the composition of your gut microbiota (the collection of microorganisms that help you digest food). This can lead to serious, chronic GI problems and widespread inflammation. Some sweeteners, especially sugar alcohols like xylitol, are also poorly absorbed by the gut (meaning they feed those hungry gut bacteria) and cause diarrhea because they draw water into your intestine. Now you finally have something to blame for those post-protein shake trips to the bathroom!

Here is a list of the most common food additives in protein powder:

acacia gum, acesulfame potassium, artificial flavors, aspartame, carrageenan, cellulose gum, dextrin, dextrose, erythritol, gellan gum, guar gum, gum arabic, inulin, locust bean gum, “natural” flavors*, maltodextrin, rice syrup solids, soy lecithin, silica, sucralose, sunflower lecithin, xanthan gum, xylitol

When it comes to identifying food additives, go with your gut. 😉 As a rule of thumb, they are the ingredients that you cannot pronounce. Food additives are not the only thing to look out for when buying protein powder, however. There are several other ingredients that can upset your stomach.

our ingredients: 

egg whites, coconut, cocoa, monk fruit

the alternative:

Protein Matrix Comprised of (Whey Protein Concentrate,  Whey Protein Isolate, Calcium Caseinate, Micellar Casein, Milk Protein Isolate, Egg Albumen, Glutamine Peptides), Polydextrose, Sunflower Creamer (Sunflower Oil, Corn Syrup Solids,  Sodium Caseinate, Mono- and Diglycerides, Dipotassium Phosphate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Soy Lecithin, Tocopherols), Natural and Artificial Flavor, MCT Powder (Medium Chain Triglycerides, Nonfat Dry Milk, Disodium Phosphate, Silicon Dioxide), Lecithin, Cellulose Gum, Salt, Yellow 5, Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium, Papain, Bromelain.

*This is the actual ingredient list of one of the best-selling protein powders in the United States.

Avoid dairy. 

Dairy-based proteins like whey and casein, which are byproducts of cheese and yogurt production, are known to cause digestive issues, especially for people with lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Over one in three Americans are lactose intolerant, and the prevalence of IBS is somewhere between 10 and 15 percent in the United States. It follows that you may be lactose intolerant or have IBS and not even know it. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a poorly understood condition, and it is unclear why dairy triggers symptoms. Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, is clearly understood. People with lactose intolerance are unable to fully digest lactose, the sugar in dairy. As you just learned, partially digested food feeds the bacteria in your gut, which produce gas. 

Avoid protein concentrates and isolates.

Finding an additive-free, dairy-free protein powder is hard. Finding an additive-free, dairy-free protein powder made with real foods is next to impossible. Why? Most protein powders are made with protein concentrates and isolates, foods stripped of everything but the protein. They are listed on the ingredient list as “pea protein,” for example, as opposed to “peas.” We will not go into the details, but protein concentrates and isolates undergo heavy mechanical and chemical processing before becoming protein powder. Sometimes, manufacturers use chemical solvents like hexane to isolate (separate) the protein from the food. This means that what you end up putting into your body looks nothing like real food. The potential problem here is that your gut might not know what to do with ingredients like these. Your gut prefers the real thing, not some heavily-processed imitation, so protein concentrates and isolates might be hard to digest for people with sensitive stomachs.

vegan chocolate protein powder
chocolate protein powder

Instead of protein concentrates or isolates, we use egg whites and almonds. Egg whites are simply pasteurized and dried before becoming protein powder. Almonds are just roasted, pressed, and ground. Minimally-processed ingredients like these are easy to digest and a stomach and gut-friendly alternative to protein concentrates and isolates.  

Unless you have a sensitivity or allergy to eggs, egg white protein is the best protein for people with sensitive stomachs. Egg whites are low in fiber, low-FODMAP, and have the highest protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) of any whole food. Our customers have experienced fewer digestive issues with egg white protein than with any other type of protein. 

If you cannot eat eggs, try our almond protein powder. Unlike protein concentrates or isolates, almonds contain lots of healthy fats, fiber, and other nutrients like calcium and vitamin E. We prefer almonds to other minimally-processed plant protein sources because they are more gut-friendly. Research suggests that almonds can improve the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome. Research also suggests that almonds possess prebiotic properties, meaning they stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.

★★★★★

“I just finished my first bag and ordered 2 more! I Iove this stuff! I have IBS and every protein powder hurts my stomach…except drink wholesome!”

-Julio

Can you drink protein shakes without working out? You absolutely can drink protein shakes without working out. Do protein shakes make you gain weight without working out? If drinking protein shakes helps you achieve and maintain a calorie surplus, then you will gain weight. Looking for a new protein shake? Try drink wholesome

Protein shakes can make you gain weight without working out. 


Hi, my name is Jack. I created drink wholesome because I was sick of protein powders that upset my stomach. drink wholesome is handmade in Plymouth, MA. 

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.