Whey protein leads to weight gain (what they got wrong again)

Let’s take a deep breath before this post. Done? Great.

It is absolutely frustrating researching about whey protein and its effects, harmful or not. There is so much half baked research floating around which makes it extremely hard to get a clear picture about the reality of whey protein. Whey is one of the best studied supplements in the world, it should be possible to get a clear picture.

I want to make sure that after this post, you walk into the world and you have zero doubts about the effects of whey on your body and everything that comes with it.

Let’s start with a kick – off question, what is whey protein?

What is whey ?

To be precise, whey is the byproduct that separates from cheese during the cheese – making process. The liquid that collects on top of yogurt, that’s whey protein which is roughly 20 %, whereas 80 % is casein protein. To make it a business, it is dried to kill off bacteria and sold in a powdered form in massive containers. Mostly sweetened. It also contains essential amino acids (EAAs), making it a high quality complete protein. Whey contains three important EAAs known as branched chain amino acids (BCAAs): leucine, isoleucine and valine. These BCAAs are known to promote muscle growth and tissue regeneration.

Here is where they went wrong

Recently news put out by the abc7 newschannel, an american commercial broadcasting company owned by the Walt Disney Company, spread the idea that protein shakes may lead to weight gain, depression and shorter life span.

They based their claims on a study made by the University of Sydney. What they failed to mention is that the study found these results when BCAAs where consumed excessively. The results are also based on a study conducted on mice which were fed 200 % the standard amount of BCAAs. The mice which were fed this excessive amount became obese and had a shortened lifespan. The ones who were given normal amounts or less than normal amounts of BCAAs, saw no negative effects. Next to this, a mouse and a physically active human being are also a little different, or not?

Bottom line, everything in moderation. Do not over – consume whey protein or BCAAs, stick to the recommended doses. Double the amount will not give you double benefits. Maybe Walt Disney should have stuck to Micky Mouse instead of giving diet advice.

Whey protein is safe if you stick to the recommended dosage of it. If your overall protein intake is already high, think about taking extra whey protein twice.

Simple breakdown

The recommended amount is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight and 56 grams per day for sedentary males.

If you are not sedentary, 1 gram per body weight seems to be a good amount. Let’s say your weight is 82 kg. Using my math skills, the recommended amount should be 82 grams of protein for the day.

1 scoop of whey protein is usually around 25 grams of protein, meaning 2 scoops equals roughly 50 grams. This varies per company and the size of their scoops. However, with 2 scoops you would have roughly 60 % of your recommended protein intake already. Let’s say you eat 2 eggs for breakfast (12 grams protein) plus 100 grams of chicken breast (31 grams protein).

12+31+50= 93 grams of protein

Image result for protein meme

As you can see it is actually quiet easy to reach you protein intake, and that is without dinner included or any snacks.

Some sources say that a range of 1.8 grams – 2.0 grams per day is safe if you are highly active which means intense exercise 6 – 7 times per week. If you want to see for yourself you can calculate your recommended intake here: Protein Calculator.

Now that we have some more clarity about amounts, there is some other things that need to be adressed.

Bitter sweetness

Whey protein without any sweeteners would not be sold. The reality is that whey protein would taste absolutely sh** without added sweeteners. They would be ultra bitter.

Most sweeteners are at least 200x sweeter than sugar. Meaning that only relatively small amounts are added to the powders. In addition, no extra calories are added from sweeteners. But there is evidence that sweeteners cause some problematic effects.

Some studies show that sweeteners increase cravings for sugary foods, as well as increasing the chances of developing glucose intolerance. Artificial sweeteners do not activate the same reward pathways in the brain the way that natural sweeteners do. This leads to the lack of complete satisfaction from food or in this case protein shakes and will increase cravings later.


One of the most used sweeteners is sucralose. It causes intestinal overgrowth of E.Coli, a harmful gut bacteria. Gut inflammation is increased and directly linked Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease. Symptoms include abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and bloody stool.

You will find that in most protein shakes, there is a combination of sucralose and Acesulfame Potassium, another sweetener 200x sweeter than sugar. It has the E-number 950 (E-950). Another highly controversial sweetener claimed to cause all kinds of health problems such as cancer, disrupting metabolism and weight gain. But of course, authorities in the US and Europe have declared it as safe to use.

Image result for sucralose protein powder
Source: melmagazine

Sucralose containing powders:

  • MuscleTech NitroTech Pure Whey Protein
  • Nitro Tech 100% Whey Gold
  • Gold Standard Whey 100% Whey
  • ISO 100%
  • Syntha 6
  • Combat Protein Powder
  • COR Performance Whey


About 65 % of the human population has at least a lactose sensitivity. Whey still contains lactose, if you are lactose intolerant, avoid whey. If you are lactose sensitive, take it easy with whey or choose an alternative. Many isolate whey protein powders are lactose free or contain only very small amounts. You can find alternative sources from peas, hemp, brown rice, cranberries, soy, eggs also.

As you can see from the map above, depending on your ethnicity your lactose tolerance varies. Here in Europe we are on the safer side but if you are from the Asia, the chances of you having lactose intolerance is much higher.

Where to start ?

  1. I would recommend that you avoid protein powders containing artificial sweeteners
  2. There is just too many risks. Calculate your max. protein intake per day
  3. Start writing down how much protein you are actually consuming (you will be surprised)

There are many alternative proteins without artificial sweeteners. Here is a good list that was put together by Workoutdigest.com you can start with.

If you are sensitive to lactose, focus on alternatives such as hemp protein. Sweeten it with raw honey, stevia or erythritol.

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