How and When Should You Use Protein for Weight Loss or Muscle Gain?

12. 6. 2024
Reviewed by Mgr. Kristýna Dvořáková
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How and When Should You Use Protein for Weight Loss or Muscle Gain?
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Protein has rightfully gained a firm place in the supplementation plans of many athletes, with many promising almost magical effects. While protein alone won't save your diet without a solid foundation, it can really help in various situations. The important thing is to know how to use it correctly and adapt its use to your goals and expectations.

So, today we're going to look at not only what protein powder is and how it can help us lose weight and gain muscle, but, most importantly, how to use it correctly. Shall we go for it?

What is protein powder anyway?

Protein is a concentrated source of quality protein that contains all essential amino acids. But where does this protein come from?

  1. From cow's milk, we get classic whey or casein protein, which is not only a simple source of protein but also of valuable biologically active substances with a positive effect on immunity.
  2. From plants (e.g., peas, soya, hemp), there are increasingly numerous products on the market that serve as alternatives to whey protein, known as vegan proteins.

How to use protein powder to gain muscle?

The courier has just delivered a package containing protein, and we can't wait to taste it and feel our muscles grow like mushrooms after the rain. However, after drinking protein for a month, we see no results. What are we doing wrong? While protein intake positively affects muscle growth, it's not enough on its own to achieve Arnold‑like muscles.

For muscle growth, the following are essential:

  1. Muscle growth requires consuming more energy than you expend
  2. Load the muscles with strength training to stimulate growth and strengthening
  3. Consume about 1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight

Energy and protein intake are crucial for muscle growth

If you've been strength training for some time and muscles are not appearing, check your energy intake. Simply put, start eating more, particularly protein if your diet lacks it. Often, we might not be eating enough, and that's where a protein drink can help, as it provides a concentrated source of protein.

Grass‑Fed Whey Protein

Grass-Fed Whey Protein Powder with Stevia

How to use protein for weight loss

Protein can indeed help us with weight loss, but it’s not a magic solution that works just by drinking it. The overall context matters, as protein helps us feel fuller for longer and thereby positively influences hunger.

Basic prerequisites for weight loss:

  1. To lose weight, your energy expenditure must be greater than your intake
  2. Ideally, we should engage in strength training to preserve as much muscle tissue as possible
  3. Follow a properly distributed diet, such as the Healthy Eating Plate from Harvard
  4. You can prefer more fats or carbohydrates in your diet composition based on self‑observation and personal preferences
  5. Consume about 1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight

Why is protein important during weight loss?

Why do we need to consume similar amounts of protein when gaining muscle? Protein, along with strength training, can minimise the loss of muscle tissue caused by a caloric deficit (targeted reduction of energy intake from the diet).

As we discussed above, a higher protein intake means we will feel more satiated after eating. An interesting finding is that higher protein intake increases levels of appetite‑reducing hormones such as GLP‑1, PYY and cholecystokinin while decreasing "hunger" hormones such as ghrelin.

In a study by Weigley (2005), an increase in protein intake from 15% to 30% of total energy intake led to a spontaneous reduction in energy intake by 441 kcal per day. After 12 weeks, the study participants lost an average of 5kg.

However, more is not necessarily better, and there is no justification for a higher protein intake than about 2 grams per kilogram of body weight. Remember, total protein intake is ideally spread out over several servings throughout the day.

Diet Whey Protein

Diet Whey Protein Powder for Weight Loss

How to achieve a higher protein intake

  1. After a workout, a dose of protein (20‑40g) will provide enough for immediate recovery of the muscles damaged by the workout. Within about 2.5 hours, we shouldn't forget to eat properly.
  2. Throughout the day, we can use protein to supplement our total intake. If we don't have time to prepare a full snack, protein can serve as an alternative.
  3. Our favourite protein bar can also help us increase our protein intake.
  4. A number of studies have shown that overnight intake of micellar casein positively affects muscle growth due to its slower absorption rate. Even old‑school bodybuilders knew this when they had their favourite night curd, but we won't feel as stuffed after micellar casein as we do after a tub of cottage cheese.
  5. We can also increase our overall protein intake by using protein powder as a baking ingredient to improve the macronutrient composition of our favourite cakes. Similarly, protein is an ideal choice to increase the protein content of porridge or rice porridge. 
  6. How about protein‑packed ice cream? Blend two bananas (200g) with two scoops of protein powder (70g) and Greek yoghurt (140g). You can add your favourite Cheat Spread, shredded coconut or cocoa powder to taste. Mix everything together and leave in the freezer for at least 3 hours. Serve whenever you feel like it.

Bottom line

Using a protein shake can effectively increase our protein intake, helping us build more muscle, provided we consume enough energy and engage in strength training. Similarly, using protein while consuming less energy can help us lose weight.

In addition, protein contributes to greater food satisfaction and has the highest thermic effect on food (TEF) among macronutrients, meaning the body burns more energy to metabolise it. Protein will help us achieve our goals, but it must always be used appropriately; otherwise, we can't expect miracles.

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