Does Eating Excess Protein Make You Gain Weight?

The world of nutrition can be confusing, and it might seem like everyone has an opinion! This often leads to fear mongering of certain foods or food groups… So what is the truth about protein? Does eating too much result in weight gain?

Eating too much protein will definitely make you gain weight. Your body can’t store extra protein to use later, but it can store part of it as fat! The truth is, eating an excess of total calories is what causes weight gain. Those calories can come from any source- carbohydrates, fats, or protein. Does that mean that any of these nutrients are bad? Nope! It just means that your body needs the appropriate amount of each to function at its best!

Read on for more information about how much protein you need, the scoop on protein powder, and how protein is related to weight gain.

How Much Protein Do I Need?

Protein needs vary person-to-person based on body composition, genetics, age, and activity level. Almost everyone will need approximately 10-35% of their total calories coming from protein, but that can be a pretty wide range. There are a few other things to consider when trying to figure out your individual protein needs.

It is recommended that teenagers get at least 0.8 to 1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Since those that are more active will usually need more protein to help build and maintain muscle mass, these are a couple simple calculations that you can do simply based on your activity level:

  • Non-athletes: Body weight (in pounds) x 0.3 to 0.4 = daily protein gram recommendations
  • Athletes:  Body weight (in pounds) x 0.45 to 0.6 = daily protein gram recommendations

It is also important to understand that your body gets the most benefit from protein when it is spaced throughout the day, rather than eating a huge quantity at once. Most adults and teenagers need somewhere between 20-30 grams of protein at meals and 10-30 grams at snacks. If you are eating every 3-5 hours during the day and following this general eating pattern, you will likely meet your body’s protein needs!

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Benefits of Protein

You might wonder why you need protein, especially if you aren’t doing much intense exercise like weight training. BUT, protein is needed for a lot more than just building muscle…

  • Protein helps regulate blood sugars when it is paired with carbohydrate containing foods.
  • Protein helps you feel more satisfied when eating (so you won’t be hungry as soon as normal).
  • Protein supports a healthy immune system.
  • Protein helps repair damaged cells in the body.
  • Protein keeps skin and nails healthy.
  • Protein makes up transporters that take nutrients throughout your entire body.
  • Protein helps maintain a healthy blood pressure.

So yeah… protein is called the “building block” of the body for a reason! Everyone needs the appropriate amount of protein so that their body can function at its prime.

Is Protein Powder Okay for Moderately Active Teenagers?

What’s the scoop on protein powder? Protein powder is a supplement, meaning it should supplement an already healthy diet. If you rely solely on protein powder to meet your protein needs, you probably have some work to do. That being said, protein powder can be a quick and convenient way to bridge gaps in your diet.

It is important for people to understand that the supplement industry is kind of a mess. Since it is highly unregulated, pretty much anyone can put anything on the market and call it protein powder. To avoid consuming contaminated products or supplements that just don’t match what is on the food label, look for a product that has been third-party tested for safety. Labels on supplements from the USP and NSF are two of the best to look for. Basically these labels say that the supplement really is what it says it is.

Many supplements aren’t recommended for anyone under age 18 and most teenagers won’t need a protein supplement. The only time you may need a protein supplement is if you are an athlete, if you have certain food allergies, if you are trying to gain weight, if you are always on the go and it’s hard to eat protein regularly. It is always good to check with your doctor before starting any supplements just to make sure they will be okay for your body.

What are the Signs of Too Much Protein?

Too much protein can manifest itself in different ways. Dangerously high levels of protein (usually from overconsumption of supplements) can cause dehydration, headaches, nausea, diarrhea, gastrointestinal problems, and even kidney problems. 

However, you might still be getting too much protein even if you aren’t having any crazy symptoms. One of the biggest signs that something might be out of balance with your macronutrients is fatigue. Too much protein often results in eating too little carbohydrates which are what provide your body with energy!

We can also start seeing issues with cholesterol levels when someone is eating too much protein. This is because many protein foods also contain fat. Saturated fats from animal sources of protein increase blood cholesterol levels and can have a negative impact on heart health.

What Happens if You Eat Too Much Protein But Low Calories?

Some people try to increase their protein intake while simultaneously eating less calories. While sometimes this can result in weight loss, eating too few calories or too much protein can both cause issues in the body. In fact, it might seem counterintuitive, but not eating the proper amounts can actually hinder weight loss even if you are eating less overall.

Even if you are trying to lose weight, it is important to focus on fueling your body appropriately with adequate calories, carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, etc. 

How Much Protein is Too Much?

What is too much protein for one person might not be too much for another person, but most people- even athletes- DO NOT need more than 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. 

The timing of how often you eat protein is more important than how much you eat in a day.

In fact, eating more than about 30 grams of protein at a time really isn’t going to give much added benefit, and going too high could actually be doing more harm than good. If you are wondering if you are getting enough or too much protein, take a look at how many grams you are consuming at your meals!

Can Protein Supplements Cause Weight Gain?

Remember, weight gain happens because of a surplus of overall calories. Supplements can be a source of extra calories that your body doesn’t need, especially when consumed in excess. It can be easy to load up on supplements like protein powder without even realizing it!

A lot of time I see athletes adding in a protein shake to their post-workout meal because of a misconception that more is always better when it comes to protein. But if that is adding in extra calories that are above your body’s needs, it can lead to weight gain. Plus, supplements can be expensive and in excess, they aren’t doing much good for your body.

Supplements can be an easy and convenient way of meeting protein needs, but they should always be used appropriately with a focus on fueling your body and giving it everything it needs in the right quantities!


It is important to get the right amounts of total calories, carbohydrates, protein, and fat in your diet. If one area is out of balance, that usually affects other aspects of nutrition. 

It is an excess of overall calories that results in weight gain, regardless of where those calories come from. However, rather than focusing too heavily on overall calories, you will feel your best and be the healthiest you can be when you are eating regularly and consuming a variety of foods from all of the food groups!

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Huizen J. How much protein is too much? Published August 21, 2018.

Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

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