Paleo. Vegan. Vegetarian. Ketogenic. Raw food. Low carb. Atkins. Mediterranean. Intermittent fasting. Juice cleanse. Detox . . . Insert sound of brain exploding! These are just a few of the never-ending diets that confuse the hell out of us.
Most diets aren’t sustainable. So we often rebound and gain all our weight back. To lose weight and keep it off, we need to build life-long habits. We need to stop looking for the ‘perfect diet’ and focus on common sense approaches that work. This is where protein comes in wearing a superhero cape to save your grandma and the day.
Eating more protein is one of the most simple but effective changes you can make to lose weight and keep it off. Let’s look at how it helps.
Keeps You Full for Longer
If you’ve ever dieted, you’ll know how hard your body fights against you to eat more food. Your brain interprets dieting as a famine, so there’s a lot of mental energy signalling you to eat high-calorie foods, like pizza. Which means we need to focus on foods that keep us full for longer.
Protein hits the spot and fills you up. This means you end up reducing your overall calories without trying. The reduction can be huge. One study found that an increase in dietary protein (from 15% to 30%) resulted in people decreasing their caloric intake by 441 calories per day!
Stops Muscle Loss
When we set out to lose weight, we’re targeting fat. No one wants to lose muscle. But it’s an unwanted side-effect that a lot of people accept. Set up your diet the right way, and you can avoid this pitfall.
Eating protein stimulates an increase in protein synthesis and prevents muscle loss. Which means you can lose weight without turning into a soft, definition-less version of yourself.
A study compared two diet groups to see how protein helped with muscle loss. One group was put on a 15% protein intake (in relation to overall calories) the other a 30% protein intake. A total of 37.5% of the weight lost by the low protein group consisted of lean mass (including muscle tissue). The high protein group’s weight loss consisted of 17.3% lean mass. So, the high protein group lost approximately 50% less muscle! That’s a pretty good reason to keep your intake high if you’re dieting.
Keeps Metabolism High
You burn a certain number of calories every day for vital functions like breathing, keeping the heart beating, and movement. The number of calories you need to keep the body functioning in a state of rest is known as your resting metabolic rate (RMR).
When you diet, your body reduces your RMR by becoming more fuel efficient. Your metabolic engine goes from a V8 to a four cylinder. But the real kicker is that this can continue after ending your diet. Studies have shown that our caloric needs can drop by up to 15%! This means that if you needed 2,000 calories to maintain your weight before your diet, you may now need 1,700 calories (assuming a 15% drop) after your diet. That’s 300 calories less per day—about a doughnut’s worth—you can eat!
You can counter metabolic slow down by maintaining muscle mass with adequate protein intake and strength training. When you lift weights, you send a signal to your body that tells it to maintain muscle mass. Add protein on top of that, and you’re less likely to break down your guns when dieting.
Burn More Calories Digesting Food
We use energy to break down food after eating—known as the thermic effect of food. And your body uses a lot more energy to break down protein than it does to break down fats and carbs. This is why protein is a staple in many diets. By simply eating more protein-rich foods, you’re fuller for longer and burn more calories. Pretty good deal, if you ask me.
Here are the different thermic rates for macronutrients:
- Carbohydrates: 5–10%
- Fats: 0–3%
- Proteins: 20–30%
What does this mean? Well, if you eat 200 calories of protein, your body could use up to 60 calories (30%) digesting it. Not bad, considering all you had to do was eat some steak. This can really add up over time to keep your metabolism working hard.
Can Help With Food Cravings
Food cravings suck! They can make or break a diet. And as you probably guessed by now, protein can help with cravings too.
A recent study found that eating a healthy high-protein breakfast, keeps us full throughout the day. But what was more interesting was the effect on the brain. Researchers found that eating a protein-rich breakfast reduced brain signals controlling food motivation and reward-driven eating behaviour! Pink Floyd knew this way back in ‘79 when they wrote: “If you don't eat yer meat, you can't have any pudding.”
How Much Protein Do I Need?
If you’re trying to lose weight or gain muscle, the US recommended daily allowance for protein won’t cut it. Actually, I’d scrap pretty much all the US Government’s food advice. Calling it a heaping pile of shit is an understatement!
Aim to eat around 0.7-1 gram per pound of bodyweight (1.5-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight).
You can also calculate protein as a percentage of your caloric intake. Aim for somewhere between 25-35% of total calories. For example, if you eat 2,000 calories a day and are aiming for 30% protein, the calculation is: 2,000 x 0.30 / 4 = 150 grams per day. These numbers will vary. Experiment with different intakes to find what works best for you.
If the numbers are too much for you, just eat lean protein at every meal (or at least your main meals). How much? Men try to get 6-8 palm-sized servings of protein each day. Women try to get 4-6 palm-sized servings of protein each day.
Don’t just consume information. If you’ve read this far, I’m assuming you find this post useful. You’ve now got two choices: 1) close the screen and think ‘that’s nice’ and move on with your day. Or 2) try upping your protein using the above numbers. Start out with just one meal and increase your protein over a few weeks. Make it easy (e.g., add a protein shake or precooked chicken to lunches). And as Nike says, just do it! Decision creates action. Action creates results.
I Need Your Help
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You can also share some love by adding a comment below. Let me know how much protein you currently eat.
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