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Whey protein is most often used by those who are strength training with the hopes of gaining muscle mass.
But, can you take whey protein if you don’t work out? You can take whey protein if you don’t work out because protein is an essential nutrient for everyone. Whey protein is best used if you struggle to get enough protein intake from whole foods, which many people regardless of whether they work out say is a challenge.
With that said, it’s important to know how to take protein supplements properly if you don’t work out, including the exact amount of protein you should get from protein supplements vs whole foods.
After reading this article, you’ll learn:
- If it’s safe to drink whey protein if you don’t work out
- What the research says about drinking whey protein without working out
- How to know if you should take whey protein or not without working out
- What to look for in a whey protein powder if you don’t work out
Is It Safe To Drink Whey Protein Without Working Out?
Yes, it’s safe to drink whey protein even if you don’t work out.
Without enough protein, you’re at risk of losing the muscle mass that you currently have, which can impair your ability to perform daily tasks like carrying your kids, climbing stairs, getting off the ground, etc.
The average protein recommendation for those who don’t work out is 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. So, if you weigh 150lbs, this means you should eat around 120 grams of protein daily.
This can feel like a lot of protein if you don’t naturally gravitate toward foods that are high in protein. Drinking whey protein is beneficial for helping you reach your protein goals if you can’t get enough by eating whole food sources like chicken, red meat, fish, or Greek yogurt.
However, I recommend sticking to only 1 to 2 scoops of protein per day because most of your protein intake should still come from whole foods.
Getting your protein from whole foods is important to ensure you’re consuming enough micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) your body requires to function optimally. Protein powder doesn’t contain the same nutrients as whole food proteins, so consuming too much of it can lead to nutrient deficiencies.
- Related Article: Drinking Whey Protein Every Day (Are There Drawbacks?)
Drinking Protein Without Working Out: What Happens & What the Research Says
Whey protein is a more convenient way to consume enough protein to maintain your current muscle mass, gain weight, or lose weight, depending on your goals.
Here is what the research says about whey protein supplementation:
Whey Protein Supplementation for Changes in Body Weight
Contrary to popular belief, protein powder won’t make you gain weight or lose weight on its own. Changes in your body weight are related to your total calorie intake and not a protein supplement.
However, whey protein powder can certainly help you pursue these goals, but only if your calorie intake is at the appropriate levels. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about a protein powder causing massive shifts in your body weight if that’s not your goal.
If you do want to lose weight, a benefit to taking protein powder without working out is that it can help you to feel more satiated instead of hungry.
If you stay satiated throughout the day, you’re less likely to snack, which can help you reduce your caloric intake for weight loss purposes.
If you want to gain weight, supplementing with protein powder without working out can help you achieve your protein requirements. But to actually gain weight, you would need to consume enough calories to make this possible because protein powder isn’t high enough in calories to cause weight gain by itself.
- Related Article: Is Whey Protein Good For Women? (What Science Says)
Whey Protein Supplementation for Muscle Mass Retention
Protein supplementation is more important as you age. As you age, it’s natural for your muscle mass and bone mass to decline, which is why it can become a struggle to get out of a chair, jump, or do other movements that you used to do quite easily.
Protein powder is also beneficial for those who don’t eat enough calories to maintain their weight because these individuals are even more at risk of losing muscle than those who do eat enough calories.
Just because you don’t work out doesn’t mean that your muscle mass isn’t essential. It’s important to continue fueling your body with adequate protein consumption to maintain your quality of life.
However, supplementing with protein powder won’t result in significant muscle mass gains unless you also engage in strength training. So if your goal is to gain muscle, then it’s best to combine strength training and protein supplementation.
- Related Aricle: Drinking Whey Protein On An Empty Stomach
Whey Protein Supplementation for Vegetarians
For vegetarians, it can be difficult to get enough protein in because your protein sources are limited to dairy products or plant proteins.
Plant-based proteins are high in carbs in addition to having moderate amounts of protein, so it can be difficult to get enough protein in without over-consuming carbs.
Those who are vegetarian should consider supplementing with protein powder to ensure they’re getting enough protein in to support muscle retention while reducing their carb intake.
It’s common for vegetarians to over-consume carbs to get their protein in. But if you’re not working out, your carb intake shouldn’t be that high anyway because your body won’t need as much energy from carbs if you’re not physically active.
Steps To Take To Know If You Should Drink Protein Shakes When Not Working Out
Although whey protein isn’t necessary because you can get your protein from whole food sources, it can certainly help you increase your protein intake.
To know whether you should drink whey protein when not working out, you can look for these keys signs that protein intake is insufficient:
- Your current protein intake: I recommend tracking your protein intake to see if you’re consuming 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. If you’re not, you should consider supplementing with whey protein. You can use a calorie tracking app like MacroFactor to see how much protein you’re consuming each day (use good FEASTGOOD for a free two-week trial).
- Changes in your strength levels: If you notice that you’re losing strength and unable to perform physical tasks that you were capable of in the past, you may be losing muscle mass from a lack of protein and should consider supplementing.
- Body weight and body composition changes: If you’re losing weight rapidly or losing muscle tone, that’s another sign that you might not be consuming enough protein and should consider taking whey protein.
- Your hunger levels: If your meals aren’t keeping you full for longer than an hour and you find yourself snacking all day long, you’re likely not getting enough protein in your meals and should consider a protein supplement.
Key Things To Look For in a Whey Protein if You’re Not Working Out
The main thing to look for when buying whey protein if you’re not working out is a product that has been third-party tested, meaning that the protein has been tested by a third party for label accuracy and ingredient purity.
If a supplement has been third-party tested, you can be confident that it doesn’t contain any cheap fillers. This is important because it’s not uncommon for supplement companies to use cheap fillers to cut costs while reducing the quality of their products.
Every protein powder that has been third-party tested will have a checkmark or stamp on the container indicating that it’s been third-party tested or verified.
Another consideration is the type of protein powder you use. A blend of whey and casein protein may be a better option than whey protein alone for those who don’t work out.
Whey protein powder digests more quickly, which is beneficial for those who work out because it helps to repair muscle damage more quickly after a workout.
Casein is absorbed more slowly, which may be better for those who aren’t working out because it supplies a steady stream of amino acids and keeps you satiated for longer.
While there is no harm in taking whey protein if you don’t work out, I would recommend using a blend of whey and casein to get the best of both worlds regarding protein absorption.
My favorite whey and casein protein powder for those who don’t work out is PEScience Select Protein (click to read my review.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Whey Protein Help You Gain Weight Without Working Out?
Whey protein powder cannot help you gain weight without a calorie surplus (eating more calories than your body needs to maintain weight). However, when paired with a caloric surplus, it can help to encourage gains in lean mass in addition to fat mass without working out.
What Happens If You Take Protein Powder Without Working Out?
When you take protein powder without working out, you’re simply boosting your protein intake, the same as you would if you were to consume one additional source of whole food protein (eggs, yogurt, meat). The additional protein can help you to retain your current muscle mass.
Recommendations for How to Consume Protein Powder
If you’re interested in supplementing with whey protein even if you don’t work out, check out the following resources for various ways to take it:
P L Pellet, Protein requirements in humans, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 51, Issue 5, May 1990, Pages 723–737, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/51.5.723
Nancy R Rodriguez, Introduction to Protein Summit 2.0: continued exploration of the impact of high-quality protein on optimal health, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 101, Issue 6, June 2015, Pages 1317S–1319S, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.114.083980
Pesta, D. H., & Samuel, V. T. (2014). A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats. Nutrition & metabolism, 11(1), 53. https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-11-53
W W Campbell and others, Increased protein requirements in elderly people: new data and retrospective reassessments, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 60, Issue 4, October 1994, Pages 501–509, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/60.4.501
Patrícia de Souza Genaro , Lígia Araújo Martini, Effect of protein intake on bone and muscle mass in the elderly, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 68, Issue 10, 1 October 2010, Pages 616–623, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00321.x
About The Author
Amanda Parker is an author, nutrition coach, and Certified Naturopath. She works with bodybuilders, Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters to increase performance through nutrition and lifestyle coaching.
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