The myth of protein as a viable weight gaining macronutrient started in the ‘80s, somewhere between The Terminator and Hair Metal.
So why does the misinformation about protein and bulk persist when most protein shakes are only around 100 calories?
In this episode of That’s Healthy, Right? host Adam Bornstein looks at the scientific differences between proteins, fats, and carbs, what you can realistically expect from taking a protein shake, and your best dietary options for staying lean and gaining muscle.
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A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats — Nutrition and Metabolism
Effect of protein source and resistance training on body composition and sex hormones — Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition
Effect of Protein Overfeeding on Energy Expenditure Measured in a Metabolic Chamber — American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Adam Bornstein: It’s in everything from eggs to your quinoa, but does protein actually make you bulky?
This myth really started to pick up around the 1980s when weight gainer shakes became a more common dietary supplement. Those as well as meal replacements.
And when those first hit the market, those weight gainer shakes – the Weight Gainer 2000s – were not really the protein shakes that you see today, which tend to be about 100 to 130 calories.
These were 2,000 calorie bombs that yeah, they made you bulky, but protein itself is probably the opposite of what you would consider as a weight gaining macronutrient. And there are many reasons for this.
For one, at the most basic level, one gram of protein is only equal to four calories, so it’s pretty low on the energy spectrum. For comparison’s sake, one gram of fat is going to be nine calories, so more than twice the caloric density.
But when you start breaking down protein, you find out that it’s really designed to help you stay lean.
For one, it has the highest thermic effective food. And this is the metabolic rate by when you eat a particular food, you burn up calories. Protein has a thermic effect of food upwards of 30%. So for every 100 calories you eat from protein, 30 of those calories are going to be burned up. Compare that to only 3% for fats and about five to 10% for carbohydrates.
What you’ll also find is that protein is the most satiating. It’s the most likely to fill you up, which means that when you eat protein in a meal, you’re likely to eat less during that meal or eat less for the rest of the day.
And lastly, protein has the most difficult pathway to becoming stored as fat on your body. It is easier to store carbohydrates or fats as body fat compared to protein.
So for all of those reasons, protein will only make you fat if you eat way too much of it to the point that you’re taking in too many calories because bulk is simply a byproduct of calories and not any one macronutrient.
And if you had to focus on just one macronutrient to eat a little bit more of to help keep you lean, your best option without a doubt would be protein.