If there’s one nutrient that can help you with weight loss and get back to your better-looking body, it is protein. How come?
A high consumption of quality protein lowers appetite, improves body metabolism, and changes the levels of many weight-controlling hormones. There are many ways protein can help you shed weight and get rid of abdominal fat. Below is a comprehensive review of the impacts of protein on weight loss.
Protein changes the levels of many weight-controlling hormones
The human brain is actively involved in the regulation of body weight, especially a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. It processes different kinds of information to determine when and how much food you should eat.
Hormones are one of the most important brain signals that fluctuate in response to feeding. Consuming a high amount of protein raises your levels of satiety (appetite-lowering) hormones like peptide YY, GLP-1, and cholecystokinin while decreasing the levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin. By swapping carbohydrates and fat for protein, you lower the hunger hormone and increase the levels of satiety hormones. This results in a big reduction in hunger and is the sole reason protein helps you shed weight. It can cause you to take few calories automatically.
Calories are burned when digesting and metabolizing protein
Certain amounts of calories are used to digest and metabolize the food you eat. This is usually referred the thermic effect of food (TEF).
While sources disagree on the exact figures, it’s obvious that protein has a higher thermic effect (20-30%) than carbohydrates (5-10%) and fat (0 to 3%).
Let’s say that the thermic effect of protein is 30%; this implies that just 70 out of 100 calories of protein end up being used.
How Protein Causes You to Burn More Calories
A high protein consumption seems to improve metabolism in the body, thanks to its high thermic effect and many other factors. A study has found that a high protein intake boosts body metabolism and raises the amount of calories burned by around 80-100 calories per day. As a result, you burn more calories throughout the day, even when sleeping.
This calorie-burning effect is more pronounced when you are overeating or taking excess amounts of calories. Research shows that overfeeding with a diet rich in protein raised the amount of calories burned by up to 260 per day.
Hence, protein-rich diets have a“metabolic” edge over diets containing lower amounts of protein, as it enables you to burn more calories.
Protein lowers appetite and makes you consume fewer calories
Protein can lower appetite and hunger through different mechanisms and a lot of studies have indicated that when people raise the amount of protein they take, they begin to consume fewer calories. Another study found that protein at 30% of the total calories made people reduce their calorie consumption by 441 calories every day – which is a big amount.
This automatic reduction of the amount of calories you take winds up taking even fewer calories without needing to count calories or deliberately controlling food portions. Not only does it apply on a meal-to-meal basis but also on a sustained day-to-day reduction in calorie consumption, provided protein intake is held high.
So, aside from having a metabolic advantage, high-protein diets also have an “appetite advantage,” making it easier for you to lower your calorie intake than when taking lower protein diets.
Protein reduces cravings and the desire to snack at night
Cravings are one of the main reasons why people fail on a diet.
Another big issue is nighttime snacking. A lot of people who are genetically more disposed to put on weight have cravings at night, which makes them take snacks. These are additional calories to those consumed during the day.
Fortunately, protein has a positive impact on both cravings and desire for late-night snacking. Below is a graph from a study that compared a protein-rich diet to a normal-protein diet in overweight men.
The blue bar represents the high-protein group, while the red bar stands for the normal-protein group.
According to this study, protein at 25% of the total calories decreased cravings by 60% and lowered the desire to snack at night by 50%!
Breakfast might be the best meal to load up on high-quality protein. A study conducted on teenage girls found that a high-protein breakfast decreased cravings to a large extent.
Protein makes you lose weight, even without consciously reducing calories
Protein reduces the amount of calories you take in and increases the calories you expend. No surprise that protein-rich diets result in weight loss, even without deliberately cutting calories, portions, carbohydrates, or fat.
In a study of 19 subjects with higher body weight, raising protein intake to 30% of the total calories resulted in a significant reduction in calorie consumption. The participants in this study shed an average of 11 lbs within 12 weeks. Remember that they only incorporated protein into their diet and didn’t deliberately reduce anything.
While the results are not always this significant, most studies do suggest that protein-rich diets help with weight loss. Plus, the consumption of a higher amount of protein has been linked to less abdominal fat – the unwanted, jiggly fat that piles up around the organs and causes diseases.
However, the most important thing is not to lose weight. What really matters is keeping off the weight over a long period of time. Anyone can embark on a diet and shed weight, but most people end up regaining the weight.
The great news is – a higher protein intake can also stop you from regaining weight. A study shows that a little increase in protein consumption (from 15% to 18% of the total calories) decreased weight regain after losing weight by 50%.
Protein helps avoid muscle loss and metabolic slowdown
Weight loss is not always the same as fat loss and muscle loss is an unwanted side effect of losing weight.
Your muscle mass also tends to decrease when you shed weight. But what you really intend to lose is body fat, more specifically visceral fat (surrounding your internal organs) and subcutaneous fat (beneath the skin).
Another negative effect of losing weight is that your metabolism seems to slow down. This means that you end up burning fewer amounts of calories than you did before losing weight. It is usually called “starvation mode” and can make you burn fewer calories per day, meaning more time spent to reach your goal weight.
Consuming a high amount of protein can also prevent muscle loss, helping you maintain a higher metabolism as you get rid of body fat. Combining strength training is another thing that can help prevent muscle loss and metabolic slowdown when shedding weight. Hence, a high protein consumption and strength training are two key elements of an effective weight loss plan.
Aside from helping you keep a high metabolic rate, it also ensures that what is beneath the fat looks great. Without strength training and high protein intake, you may wind up looking “skinny fat” rather than lean and fit.
What is the optimal amount of protein for weight loss?
The dietary reference intake (DRI) for protein is just 58 and 46 grams for the average man and woman, respectfully. While this amount may be enough to avoid protein deficiency, it’s not the optimal amount when trying to shed weight (or add muscle).
A lot of studies on protein and weight loss expressed protein consumption as a percentage of the total calorie intake. These studies showed that aiming for protein at 30% of the total calories may be effective for weight loss.
You can determine the amount of protein in grams to take by multiplying your calorie consumption by 0.075. For instance, if you are on a 2000 calorie diet, you would consume 2000 * 0.0075 = 150 g of protein.
Alternatively, you can aim for a specific number depending on your weight. For example, it’s recommended that you aim for 0.7 to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean muscle mass (1.5 to 2.2 grams). However, these numbers don’t have to be exact – anything between 25 and 35% of calories would do.
Note that it would be best to spread your protein intake throughout the day by consuming protein in every meal.
How to add more protein to your diet
Raising your protein intake is easy. All you have to do is eat more high-protein foods, but also ensure that you are taking high-quality protein.
Some of the high protein foods you can incorporate with your weight loss plan are:
- Lean beef, pork, chicken, turkey, etc
- Sardines, salmon, trout, haddock, etc.
- All kinds of egg
- Dairy products such as cheese, milk, yogurt, etc
- Lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, etc.
If you are consuming a low-carb diet, try to go for fattier cuts of meat. But if you are not eating low-carb, focus on lean meats as much as you can.
It may also be good to take a protein supplement if you are struggling to achieve your protein goals. Studies have shown that whey protein powder offers a lot of benefits, including helping with weight loss.
While it’s easy to increase the amount of protein you take, it may be difficult to integrate this into your nutrition plan and life in general. We advise that you use a calorie or nutrition tracker when starting out. Weigh and measure everything that goes into your mouth to ensure that you achieve your protein targets.
Although you won’t be doing this forever, it is crucial to do so in the beginning, to know what a protein-rich diet looks like.
Protein is the simplest, easiest, and most delicious way to shed weight
Possibly the most intriguing part of adopting a protein-rich diet is that you don’t even have to cut out carbs or fat to benefit from upping your protein intake. All you need to do is add more protein to your diet.
This may be very appealing considering that most protein-rich foods taste great and consuming more of them is simple and rewarding.
Although a protein-rich diet can help prevent obesity, but it’s not something you should follow temporarily to shed weight. When you permanently raise your protein consumption, you shift the “calories in versus calories out” balance to your advantage. With time, you will notice a significant difference in your waistline.
But also remember that calorie regulation is still important. Although protein can help prevent hunger and increase your metabolic rate, you are never going to shed weight if you eat more calories than you burn.
It is also possible to overeat and counterbalance the calorie deficit due to the higher protein intake, especially if you consume too much junk food.
Therefore, it’s important to base your diet majorly on wholesome, single-ingredient foods.
Note that while we focused on protein’s ability to help lose weight in this article, it also other important health benefits and we will be covering them soon.