Picture of sources of protein with chalk sign in the middle

The Ultimate Guide to Protein Intake After Bariatric Surgery

Protein is both King and Queen! Yep, it’s pretty much everything! 

After undergoing bariatric surgery, maintaining a balanced and protein-rich diet is crucial for a successful recovery and long-term health. In this ultimate guide, we will explore the importance of protein intake after bariatric surgery and provide you with practical tips to meet your nutritional needs.  

Following bariatric surgery, your body undergoes significant changes, and your diet must adapt accordingly. Protein plays a vital role in repairing tissues, boosting your metabolism, and promoting satiety, making it an essential nutrient post-surgery. However, finding the right balance can be challenging.  

Our guide will take you through the protein requirements after bariatric surgery, including the recommended daily intake and the different sources of protein that can meet your needs. We will also address common concerns such as protein absorption, food choices, and creative recipes that can help you achieve your protein goals. 

Whether you’re considering bariatric surgery or have already undergone the procedure, this comprehensive guide will empower you to make informed decisions about your post-surgery protein intake. Let’s embark on this journey to better health together. 

Protein is a “MACRO” (aka – macronutrient)

Macronutrients are what provide us with calories and are found in the largest quantities in food. Protein, fat, and carbohydrates are the 3 macronutrients and provide the following amount of calories: 

  • Protein – 1 gram = 4 kcal 
  • Fats – 1 gram = 9 kcal  
  • Carbohydrates – 1 gram = 4 kcal 

Protein is the building block of muscles. There are 20 amino acids, of which nine are considered essential. We must get these essential amino acids from food sources, as they act in hormonal and metabolic pathways.  

Understanding protein intake after bariatric surgery

After undergoing bariatric surgery, it’s crucial to understand how your protein intake needs may change. Bariatric surgery brings about significant changes in your body, including a reduced stomach size and/or rerouting of the digestive system. As a result, your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, including protein, may be altered. Understanding these changes is essential for maintaining a healthy and balanced diet.  

One of the primary reasons protein intake is emphasized after bariatric surgery is because it plays a crucial role in tissue repair. As your body heals from the surgery, protein helps rebuild and regenerate cells, aiding in the recovery process. Additionally, protein is essential for boosting metabolism, which can help with weight management and promote satiety, preventing overeating. 

Importance of protein after bariatric surgery

Protein is a vital nutrient after bariatric surgery for several reasons. First and foremost, it helps maintain and rebuild muscle mass. When your body undergoes significant weight loss, there is a risk of losing muscle along with fat. Consuming adequate protein helps preserve lean muscle tissue, ensuring that your weight loss is primarily from fat rather than muscle loss. 

Another crucial aspect of protein intake after bariatric surgery is its impact on metabolic rate. Protein has a higher thermic effect compared to carbohydrates or fats, meaning that your body burns more calories during the digestion and absorption process. This can be beneficial for weight management and preventing weight regain after surgery. 

Lastly, protein plays a key role in satiety, keeping you feeling fuller for longer periods. This can help prevent overeating and support weight loss efforts. By consuming protein-rich foods, you can keep hunger at bay and avoid the temptation of unhealthy snacks or excessive calorie consumption. 

Recommended protein intake after bariatric surgery

The recommended protein intake after bariatric surgery varies depending on individual factors such as weight, gender, age, and the type of bariatric surgery undergone. However, a general guideline suggests consuming around 70-90 grams of protein per day. This amount ensures that you meet your nutritional needs and supports optimal recovery. 

It’s important to note that protein requirements may be higher during the initial stages of recovery and gradually decrease as your body adjusts to the changes. Working closely with a registered dietitian can help determine the appropriate protein intake for your specific circumstances. 

Best sources of protein for bariatric patients

When it comes to meeting your protein needs after bariatric surgery, choosing the right sources is crucial. While animal-based protein sources like meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are excellent options, it’s essential to consider your dietary preferences and restrictions. Vegetarian or vegan bariatric patients can opt for plant-based protein sources such as legumes, tofu, tempeh, and seitan.  

Additionally, dairy products like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk can provide a good amount of protein. If lactose intolerance is a concern, lactose-free options or dairy alternatives like pea or soy milk can be suitable alternatives. Including a variety of protein sources in your diet ensures that you obtain all essential amino acids and other nutrients necessary for optimal health. Combining different sources can also make your meals more interesting and enjoyable. 

Protein supplements for bariatric patients

While it’s ideal to obtain most of your protein from whole food sources, protein supplements can be a convenient option for meeting your daily requirements after bariatric surgery. Protein powders or shakes can provide a concentrated source of protein without adding excessive calories or volume to your diet. 

There are various protein supplement options available, including whey, casein, and plant-based protein sources. It’s important to choose high-quality supplements that are low in added sugars and carbohydrates. Reading labels and consulting with your healthcare provider or dietitian can help you select the most suitable option for your needs. 

Protein intake challenges and how to overcome them

Meeting protein intake goals after bariatric surgery may pose some challenges, especially when faced with dietary restrictions or food intolerances. However, there are several strategies to overcome these challenges and ensure you’re getting adequate protein. 

One common challenge is the limited stomach capacity post-surgery. Prioritizing protein-rich foods and incorporating them into each meal can also help increase your overall protein intake. Some may experience food aversions or difficulties tolerating certain textures or flavors. Experimenting with different cooking methods, spices, and seasonings can make protein-rich foods more appealing. Additionally, exploring creative recipes that incorporate protein sources can add variety to your meals and make them more enjoyable. 

Protein intake and weight loss after bariatric surgery

Protein intake plays a significant role in weight loss after bariatric surgery. As mentioned earlier, protein helps preserve lean muscle mass, which is crucial for maintaining a higher metabolic rate. This, in turn, supports ongoing weight loss efforts and prevents weight regain. 

Additionally, consuming protein-rich foods can help control cravings and reduce the likelihood of snacking on less desirable options. By focusing on protein as a core component of your diet, you’re more likely to make nutritious choices and stay on track with your weight loss goals. 

Protein intake and muscle preservation after bariatric surgery

Preserving muscle mass is essential after bariatric surgery, as losing muscle along with fat can slow down your metabolism and make weight maintenance more challenging. Adequate protein intake, combined with regular exercise, can help preserve and build lean muscle tissue. 

Incorporating resistance training exercises into your routine can further enhance muscle preservation and strength. Working with a certified fitness professional who specializes in post-bariatric exercise can provide guidance on appropriate exercises and techniques. 

How does protein consumption affect weight loss and metabolism? 

Our muscle and fat both give us energy. When someone is losing weight, we want them to shed fat, not muscle. If we don’t get the amino acids from our diet, we will use our lean muscle – this is especially critical after weight loss surgery (WLS).  After WLS, we are in a calorie deficit, and we want our bodies to turn to fat stores rather than muscle. Protein needs acutely go up in the early healing period, but long term, your total protein needs won’t be much more than for someone who hasn’t had surgery.  

However, after WLS, the proportion of protein in the diet goes up, not the total amount. 25-30% of your plate should be protein before surgery. After surgery, around 50% should be protein (in early stages when at highest restriction – nearly 100% of your diet could be from protein).  

Diet Progression After Bariatric Surgery

Every program has a slightly variable diet progression and post-op timeline (follow yours!). At BodyByBariatrics, before surgery, you will be on sugar free Clear Liquids. A clear liquid is any liquid you can see through and includes water, flavored water (examples: Crystal Light, Propel), Gatorade Zero, Powerade Zero, Vitamin Water Zero, broth, sugar-free Jello, sugar-free popsicles, and protein water (examples: Protein2O, Isopure, Premier Clear).  

Immediately after surgery, you will advance to Full Liquids, which includes protein shakes. These can include ready-to-drink shakes or protein powders mixed with milk or a milk alternative.  

Regarding protein shakes, try to aim for high-quality products. Protein isolates are the best- look for the word isolate in the ingredients list. Most animal-based protein comes from whey which is derived from milk. The whey is filtered and isolated from the whole milk product for maximum absorption. Another benefit of this isolation process is that the lactose is removed, so these are typically acceptable for those with lactose intolerance. 

Example Brands: Isopure, Dymatize, Gold Standard, Naked Whey, Unjury, Celebrate, Bariatric Advantage 

Concentrates aren’t harmful, but they may not be as well absorbed. Concentrates may have some low levels of sugars like galactose or lactose attached; therefore, they are not as pure, and the body is not as good at absorbing them. However, many of the ready-to-drink shakes are in this form and are such a convenient choice that the benefit outweighs the downfall! 

Example Brands: Fairlife, Premier Protein, Pure Protein, Ensure Max Protein 

Are you finding that shakes are too sweet after surgery, or you are just plain tired of them? You can mix unflavored protein powder into soup (or other savory foods). Just be sure to not mix it into anything that is over 140 degrees- that will cause the protein to curdle! 

Our Dietitian Hannah’s Favorite Recommendation: Greek Yogurt! Thin it, mix it, flavor it, or choose a low sugar flavored option. Sugar-free, plain yogurt can be substituted for sour cream or mixed with defrosted frozen berries – makes it pink and tasty! 

Ideally, you will get most of your protein from food! There is a food matrix where all foods interact with each other. Chewing sends signals to our brains to expect satiety. Other macros and micros, like vitamins and minerals, are found in food, too. Supplements are used on an as-needed basis as just that – a supplement to our diet.  

Animal Based Protein Sources 

Animal-based proteins from food are the best source of protein!  

Examples:  

  • Chicken 
    • The thigh meat may be better tolerated, especially early on post-op, as it has slightly higher fat content with a different mouth feel. Chicken breast can be too dry for our Weight Loss Warriors. 
  • Beef  
    • Choose a leaner cut to reduce saturated fat – example: 93% lean, 7% fat 
  • Turkey 
  • Pork products 
  • Fish and Seafood  
  • Eggs – white AND yolk – yolk is important.  
    • The yolk contains choline, healthy fats that help us absorb minerals, and vitamin D.  
    • Egg white has the most protein. 

How do I know how many grams of protein are in the foods I’m eating?  

Follow the Rule of 7s (for those of you who don’t carry scales and want to estimate how many grams you’re eating per meal.)  

  • Example:  
    • -1 egg = 7 grams of protein 
    • -1 ounce of animal protein = 7 grams of protein 

Plant Based Protein Sources

So, are you a vegetarian or vegan, and you’re worried about getting in your protein after surgery? Maybe you’re thinking about following a Plant-Based Diet and feel intimidated by it. Where do you begin? Why should you consider plant-based protein options?  

Plant-based diets allow you to meet all of your protein needs, though it may take some more planning. They offer a variety of other micronutrients and can also help with constipation because they typically have a higher fiber content than animal-based diets.  There is so much more than just tofu. Let’s get creative and have fun!  

Some examples of plant-based proteins include:  

  • Tempeh 
  • Seitan – made from vital wheat gluten 
  • Edamame  
  • Soy Milk  
  • Tofu 
  • Frozen products made from soy  
  • Beans 
  • Lentils 
  • Nuts 
  • Seeds 
  • Green peas 
  • Pea milk 
  • Spirulina  
  • Grains  

We do caution you that plant-based diets/vegetarians/vegans may consume a higher amount of carbs. You will also need to add more supplements for these diets.  

Here are some great plant-based supplement brands to experiment with: Vega, OWYN, Orgain, Garden of Life, Evolve, Naked Shake 

Final tips for optimizing protein intake after bariatric surgery
Optimizing protein intake is crucial for a successful recovery and long-term health after bariatric surgery. By understanding the importance of protein, choosing the right sources, and following the recommended intake guidelines, you can ensure that your nutritional needs are met. 

Remember our team at BodyByBariatrics is here for you! We provide personalized recommendations based on your specific circumstances. Have no fear, we can guide you through the protein intake challenges you may face and provide ongoing support to help you achieve your health and weight loss goals. 

With the right knowledge, planning, and commitment, you can make protein intake a priority on your post-bariatric surgery journey, supporting optimal recovery and long-term success. Start incorporating protein-rich foods into your diet today and reap the benefits of a balanced and nutritious eating plan. 

Share the love! What’s YOUR favorite protein? 

Got a protein tip? A fabulous animal or plant-based protein recipe? A go-to protein brand or product? Share it with us! Shoot us a text at 407-543-0971 or email us at Support@BodyByBariatrics.com. Follow @BodyByBariatrics on Instagram and tag us!  

Listen to our full DoctorXDietitian Podcast Episode 3: Protein for all the deets.  

XOXO, 
BodyByBariatrics 

*Any information on this blog or website does not replace medical advice.  Seek the help of your health care professional if you have questions related to your condition.  We strive for patients to achieve healthier, happier, longer lives through weight loss surgery. 

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