Protein powder for weight loss: how does it work?

A lot of us don’t necessarily associate weight loss with protein powder. Protein powder is often mentioned by bodybuilders looking to bulk up, build muscle and gain weight, as opposed to trying to shed the pounds.

However, you don’t need to be a bodybuilder to benefit from protein powder, and you certainly don’t need to shun protein powders if you’re trying to lose fat (don’t worry, one protein shake won’t turn you into Arnold Schwarzenneger, I promise!) 

In fact, ensuring you get enough protein is one of the most important aspects of losing weight, and protein supplements in the powdered form can help you reach your goals.


How does protein powder work? 

The way protein powder works for weight loss is that your body takes longer to digest protein-rich foods, meaning you feel fuller for longer and are less likely to graze on ‘empty’ calories (food with no nutritional value e.g. chips, cookies, chocolate and other processed snacks) throughout the day. Your body also has to work harder to digest protein compared to other macronutrients, so you burn more calories through the digestion process with protein than you do with other food groups.

We know that the way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories than you burn. Consuming loads of protein isn’t a magic pill for weight loss, especially if you’re consuming the calories to go with it! That’s why loading your plate with yet more chickpeas and legumes might not necessarily be the best route to go down.

That’s where protein powder comes in! Combining a protein supplement with a slight caloric deficit, a healthy whole foods plant-based diet and an effective workout routine are the stepping stones to healthy and sustainable weight loss.


How to use protein powder for weight loss

First things first: we’re absolutely not recommending that you use protein powder as a replacement for whole foods. Protein powder is no substitute for a full rounded meal, and you don’t want to miss out on the nutrients found in real food, especially if you’re cutting calories and want to ensure everything you consume is nutritious. Protein shakes should be supplementing your food intake, not replacing it.

Instead, protein powder should be used as an addition to your healthy diet. Drinking a protein shake in the morning, for example, can promote fullness and curb your appetite throughout the day. This means you’re way less likely to snack on high calorie foods as you’ll have curbed those sugar cravings.

Alternatively, a protein shake can be a snack in and of itself. Choose a brand you trust and a delicious flavour, add some nutritious extras like fruit and seeds, whip it into a yummy smoothie and you’ve got a great post-workout tummy filler. You’re also way more likely to actually keep consistency with using your protein powder if you enjoy it, rather than gulping down a bad tasting protein-and-water combo one time and never wanting to touch it again! If you're stuck for ideas, try out our trio of vegan protein smoothies!

If you don’t enjoy drinking your food,  you can also incorporate protein powder in a variety of different ways, like in baked goods, for example. For the target of weight loss it’s important to bear in mind the calorie and carbohydrate content of your protein cookies, protein pancakes or protein energy balls, but these are all good ways to disguise your protein powder in the shape of an indulgent treat.


How to choose the right protein powder for weight loss

Given how saturated the protein powder market is these days, it can be hard to choose just one holy grail to soldier along with you on your journey to weight loss. In types, flavours and formulations, protein powders can differ wildly - but what is the best protein powder for weight loss?

The main thing to look at when you’re choosing a protein powder to help you lose weight is the ratio of protein and fibre to carbs and calories. Choosing a powder high in fibre is important for your gut bacteria, your blood pressure, and for your overall fat loss. It should also be low in carbs and high in protein - but not too high! The generally agreed optimum amount of protein is around 20-25g at a time, and overconsumption of protein can damage your kidneys, so there’s no benefit to overloading on it. Our PERFORM vegan protein powder, for example, has 24.7g of plant-based protein and 3.2g of fibre, but only 3.9g of carbs.

You should also avoid protein powders that contain carbohydrate-heavy thickeners or sugar, which are high in calories and low in nutritional value. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin and sucralose are linked to weight gain, as well as negatively affecting blood sugar, blood pressure, and your metabolism. Opt for a protein powder with natural sweeteners like stevia extract, or go completely sugar and sweetener-free with a powder like our Unflavoured RITUAL: Vegan Protein

Issues with whey protein are common, and you want to make sure that whichever protein you go for is gut and digestive-system friendly. If you’re opting for a plant-based protein, make sure you select a blend (we use hemp and pea) for a full amino acid profile to help your body function at its best!

Read more about what ingredients to look for and avoid in protein powders.


How protein powder can work with other lifestyle changes

Of course, protein isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to shedding the pounds. To be truly effective, protein needs to be combined with healthy and sustainable lifestyle changes, like exercise and a healthy diet.

If you’re putting tons of effort, time and energy into a workout routine, you want to get the best results possible - which is where protein can be a huge help. A high protein intake in combination with training will burn fat faster and encourage muscle protein synthesis, helping you grow lean muscle and appear more toned. 

Not only will protein help you grow lean muscle, it will also help you retain it. Loss of muscle mass can be a natural side effect of a calorie deficit, so it’s protein that you need to keep your gains while shedding the fat.

While exercising helps fat loss, a satiating protein shake can help you exercise by fuelling your body for a workout without adding too many calories. The best protein powder for weight loss is something like our RITUAL: Vegan Protein, which will barely make a dent on your calories (it only contains 115 of them!) but contains 20g of plant-based protein.


Is protein powder good for weight loss?

The bottom line is that there is no replacement for real food, and you shouldn’t try and substitute the high levels of vitamins and minerals found in whole foods for a shake, no matter how easy, convenient and tempting it may be! 

However, when protein powders are used in a healthy and sustainable way alongside a good diet, a calorie deficit and exercise, they can be a great tool to help you reach your goals.

For other tips on how to lose weight, check out our tips for easy fat loss! https://www.vivolife.co.uk/blogs/news/8-tips-for-easy-fat-loss-without-counting-calories


Sources

‘The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review’ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15466943/

‘Dietary protein - its role in satiety, energetics, weight loss and health’ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23107521/

‘The effects of consuming frequent, higher protein meals on appetite and satiety during weight loss in overweight/obese men’ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20847729/

‘Nonnutritive sweeteners and cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies’ https://www.cmaj.ca/content/189/28/E929

‘Single-component versus multicomponent dietary goals for the metabolic syndrome’ https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M14-0611?articleid=2118594&

https://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2017/02/07/ajcn.116.136762.abstract?sid=187de680-e319-4d4d-8179-da6ab0835359