Successfully losing weight means that you’re going to need to cut back on calories. But, in doing so, the challenge is to keep hunger pangs at bay.
This is where protein comes in handy. Why? Adding high quality protein sources to your diet improves your appetite, body composition and weight, and reduces your cardiometabolic risk factors.
“The natural properties of protein make it an ideal macronutrient for weight loss,” says Yvette La-Garde, director of education at VitaMedica. She continues, “This was a key consideration when we formulated LeanMeal RS. The meal replacement drink provides 18 grams of high-quality whey protein plus 8 grams of prebiotic fiber, to keep dieters feeling full and satisfied between meals.”
1. Greater Weight Loss & Fat Mass Loss
Numerous studies show that increasing protein as a percentage of total calories in the diet can enhance weight loss. And that low-carbohydrate, protein-rich diets lead to more weight loss than conventional weight-loss diets.
In studies, a lower protein diet is often based on the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For a 150 pound woman, this totals 55 grams of protein or about 220 calories a day. On 1,500 calories a day, that is 18% of energy intake.
Bumping your daily protein intake to 1.2 to 1.6 times the RDA supports greater weight loss. For the same 150 pound woman, this totals 82 grams and 110 grams, respectively. On 1,500 calories a day, this represents 22% and 30% of energy intake.
At this total daily protein target, this equates to 27-37 grams of protein per meal. As it turns out, 25 -30 grams of protein per meal is ideal to improve body weight management.
2. Preservation of Lean Muscle Mass
You’ve seen the ads – lose 10 or even 20 pounds in just two weeks. Not only is this unrealistic but if you lose weight this quickly, it’s likely to be from water weight or even lean tissue, since it’s hard to burn that many fat calories in such a short period.
Let’s face it – what you really want to do is lose fat mass and maintain lean muscle mass. You can accomplish this by getting more protein in your diet.
Studies show that when dieters cut back on calories but increase their protein intake, overall weight loss and maintenance of lean body mass is increased. The bottom line is that in the short-term when you’re cutting back on calories, protein helps to protect lean body mass.
3. Increased Thermogenesis
When you eat different foods, it takes a certain amount of energy or calories to breakdown and process the food for use and storage. The amount of energy used is called the thermal effect of food.
The most common estimate for the total thermic effect of food is around 10 percent of your total caloric intake, but as your protein intake increases so does this number.
The thermal effect of protein is higher than that of carbohydrates or fat. Put another way, it takes more energy or calories for your body to breakdown and digest a calorie of protein (20-30%) versus a calorie of fat (0-3%) or carbohydrate (5-10%).
Armed with this information, you can use the thermogenic effect of foods by switching some of your fats and carbs with protein.
4. Decreased Appetite and Increased Satiety
It is well established that in comparison to carbohydrates or fats, protein has a greater satiety effect and elevates satiety hormones. This increases your perception of feeling full and can help you to eat less.
In a small study, researchers found that a high protein breakfast decreased concentrations of the hunger hormone ghrelin (stimulates appetite, increases food intake and promotes fat storage) more strongly over time than did a high carbohydrate breakfast. In another study, a high protein diet (30% protein, 40% carbs, 30% fat) increased satiety and thermogenesis when compared with a lower protein diet (10% protein, 60% carbs, 30% fat).
In another study, scientists found that doubling protein intake from 15% to 30% of calories, while keeping carbs constant at 50%, helped subjects reduce their caloric intake on their own by about 440 calories a day. This effect may be due as a result of central nervous system sensitivity to leptin, the satiety hormone.
The satiety effects of protein can also help during another critical phase – weight maintenance. Studies have shown that higher protein diets during the weight maintenance phase help dieters to be less likely to gain weight back, and the weight gain was from lean muscle mass, not fat mass.
5. Reduced Abdominal Fat & Improvement in Metabolic Risk Factors
Your reason to lose a bulging middle section may be motivated more by vanity than by health. But, there’s a good reason why losing abdominal weight is so important. Known as metabolic syndrome, a larger waist circumference along with several other factors (high triglycerides, low HDL or “good” cholesterol, high blood pressure, high fasting blood sugar), raises your risk for developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
The good news is that higher protein diets can help reduce your risk. In study subjects with metabolic syndrome, two-thirds of those on a higher protein diet for a year no longer met three or more of the criteria for having metabolic syndrome. By comparison, in participants that consumed half the amount of protein, only one third met this criterion.
Higher protein diets also appear to address abdominal weight better than lower protein diets. In a study that followed dieters for 12 months after weight loss, participants in the high protein group (25% protein) were more likely to have lost more than 22 pounds and had a 10% greater reduction in abdominal fat than those in the medium protein group (12% protein).
Putting Protein Into Action
How do you put this information into action? The first thing is to determine a calorie target, keeping in mind a calorie deficit of 500 calories a day to lose about 1 to 2 pounds a week.
Our online calculator can quickly determine your daily caloric requirement. For example, a somewhat active 50 year old woman that weighs 150 pounds requires 1,850 calories to maintain her weight. To lose weight, she will require about 1,350 calories a day.
Armed with this information, next you’ll need to estimate the amount of protein to consume on a daily basis. Start by using 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (weight divided by 2.2 = kilograms x 1.5 = total grams of protein).
Using the example above, she should aim to get 102 grams of protein a day (68 kilograms body weight x 1.5) or about 410 calories (102 x 4 calories per gram). This is about 34 grams per meal.
Check out this online resource to quickly determine great protein sources from fish, poultry, beans, nuts and seeds, and low-fat dairy.
If you’re not a numbers person, here’s a great macronutrient calculator that will help you figure out what proportion of calories along with grams for protein, carbs and fat.
Yvette offers this advice, “At first, it can be difficult to figure out how to get more protein in your diet. That’s why I like protein drinks.” She continues, “In the morning I drink a LeanMeal shake, using 1 ½ scoops, providing 27 grams of whey protein. Then I’ll add an egg, or a piece of low-salt turkey or some Greek yogurt. That boosts my protein intake by another 6-10 grams, giving me well over 30 grams for breakfast.”
The bottom line, within a calorie restricted diet, doubling your protein intake will help you to lose weight!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.