A Gaussian solvent-exclusion model for the solvation free energy is developed. It is based on theoretical considerations and parametrized with experimental data. When combined with the CHARMM 19 polar hydrogen energy function, it provides an effective energy function (EEF1) for proteins in solution. The solvation model assumes that the solvation free energy of a protein molecule is a sum of group contributions, which are determined from values for small model compounds. For charged groups, the self-energy contribution is accounted for primarily by the exclusion model. Ionic side-chains are neutralized, and a distance-dependent dielectric constant is used to approximate the charge-charge interactions in solution. The resulting EEF1 is subjected to a number of tests. Molecular dynamics simulations at room temperature of several proteins in their native conformation are performed, and stable trajectories are obtained. The deviations from the experimental structures are similar to those observed in explicit water simulations. The calculated enthalpy of unfolding of a polyalanine helix is found to be in good agreement with experimental data. Results reported elsewhere show that EEF1 clearly distinguishes correctly from incorrectly folded proteins, both in static energy evaluations and in molecular dynamics simulations and that unfolding pathways obtained by high-temperature molecular dynamics simulations agree with those obtained by explicit water simulations. Thus, this energy function appears to provide a realistic first approximation to the effective energy hypersurface of proteins.