Preventing Weight Regain

Is Protein the Key to Preventing Weight Regain?

January 18, 2023

What’s the first buzzword that comes to your mind after surgery? Did you say protein? Let me guess. Before your surgery and especially after, you’re told to consume protein, protein, and more protein! Why is it so important? Because it’s a major player in preventing weight regain.

All of the cells in your body are made up of protein. In fact, did you know that the word “protein” comes from the Greek word “proteios” meaning primary or of prime importance?

Significant alterations are made to your digestive system during surgery. These changes vary depending on the type of surgery but all involve some level of malabsorption or the inability of nutrients to be properly absorbed and then used by the body. 

Protein Wears Many Hats

After bariatric surgery, protein wears many hats. It helps your body heal wounds, form enzymes and hormones, and work to build and maintain muscles. By the way, fat-free mass or muscle mass is the calorie-burning machine in the body which improves body composition, meaning more muscle mass and less body fat mass. Think of it this way: protein helps to keep your metabolism stoked. Your metabolism is the rate at which you burn calories so the more muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolism. Another bonus is that protein keeps you feeling full and satisfied which helps to prevent that dreaded weight regain.

When you have protein food sources at every meal and snack, you’ll start to notice that you’re not as hungry and you will feel comfortably full on less food. To achieve the most success in your bariatric transformation and journey, monitor your body and your protein intake closely.

Protein intake is so important that your body will tell you if you’re not getting enough. Protein is critical for muscle mass so if you’re not getting enough, you’ll notice muscle loss and weakness. You’ll also see that your hair is thinner and nails are weaker and more brittle.

After surgery, you’re eating significantly fewer calories but you need more protein. As you’ve probably found out already, this can be tough. So what’s the smartest strategy as you go through your transformation? Your smartest strategy for success is to make protein THE priority in meals and snacks.

Make Protein THE Priority In Meals And Snacks.

By eating nutrient-dense foods packed with protein and reaching your daily protein goal, you can make sure that your body is getting everything it needs to rock your new lifestyle and help prevent weight regain.

What is a nutrient dense food exactly? Nutrient-dense foods are rich in vitamins and minerals compared to their calories. So something like an apple is nutrient-dense because it provides a wide variety of vitamins and minerals with few calories while something like chips is loaded with calories and provides zero nutrition.

Do you know how many grams of protein you need daily? The recommendation for protein is 60 grams to 90 grams or more every day from now on. Tall order, I know, but so worth it. So, on top of eating enough protein, you also want to eat the right protein. You're probably thinking, really, there’s more to this protein? Yes! Why do you care? Because you had bariatric surgery and your body needs high-quality complete protein. Here’s what’s important to know.

Eat The Right Protein

What is high-quality complete protein anyway? Protein is made up of amino acids. Think of them like lego building blocks. There are nine of these amino acid building blocks that your body needs from the food you eat because the body cannot make them. A ‘complete' protein contains all nine essential amino acids building blocks. It isn’t missing, or low in any one of the nine. What does this mean when you’re grocery shopping? What do you need to buy? Options include meats, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, soy products and quinoa. Protein powders made with whey or casein are also good choices. These food sources provide the amino acids to your body to make and repair muscles along as well as produce hormones, absorb calcium, and help with immune function, your sleep-wake cycle and sexual function.

One question I’m asked often is ‘what about collagen protein powder’? Is this a good protein source? It’s super popular right now and touted as the go-to protein. Remember those nine essential amino acid building blocks that your body needs after surgery? Collagen powder falls short. The reality of collagen powder is that it does not contain one of the nine essential amino acids called tryptophan, plus it’s low in another essential amino acid called methionine. It’s not a great choice after bariatric surgery, regardless of the influencer hype.

Don’t miss this. Did you know that one of the nine essential amino acids plays a big role in helping to maintain muscle mass? It’s called leucine. Guess where you find it? Yes, those same meats, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, and soy products are on your grocery list.

By the way, I recommend getting your protein from food when possible instead of protein drinks because of the fullness factor. Food fills you up and helps you feel satisfied where drinks tend to leave you wanting more to eat.

Some days it can be difficult to get the grams of protein your body needs without a protein drink. Plus they are so convenient and make a good snack or backup meal plan. Occasional use is fine but be aware that although they help meet your protein needs, you may not feel satisfied enough and still be hungry. Pay attention when you drink them and see how you feel.   

Remember, protein is your smartest strategy to help prevent weight regain. Make it THE priority in your meals and snacks. Aim for 60-90 grams or more a day.

Registered dietitian nutritionist Dr. Susan Mitchell is host of the podcast Bariatric Surgery Success.

Preventing Weight Regain
Susan Mitchell


Bariatric dietitian Dr. Susan Mitchell is host of the podcast Bariatric Surgery Success. Selected as one of the Best 35 Dietitian Podcasts, Bariatric Surgery Success was chosen from thousands of podcasts on the web ranked by traffic, social media followers, domain authority & freshness. Dr. Susan helps you conquer cravings, emotional eating and weight regain after bariatric surgery with a focus on your nutrition and health, journey and success. Read more articles by Susan!