Forgive me if I sound like a broken record. I’ve said it before (more than once), and if you’re the gambling type, you can double-down that I’ll say it again. When it comes to weight management, while diets often come and go, there’s one mainstay: High protein diets.
Why is Protein Important for Weight Loss
High-protein diets offer several distinct metabolic advantages that make them particularly effective when it comes to quality weight loss, which refers to shedding unwanted body fat (especially abdominal fat) while preserving (or even increasing) calorie-burning lean muscle. Some of the high protein diet benefits include:
- Boost metabolic rate and increase caloric expenditure
- Increase satiety and reduce caloric intake
- Protect and build calorie-burning lean muscle
How High Protein Diet Benefits Your Metabolism
All foods we eat require a certain percentage of their usable calories to be burned for metabolism and/or storage. This is the thermic effect of feeding (TEF), or dietary-induced thermogenesis (DIT). Regardless of what it’s called, this is one more highly touted high protein diet benefits.
You see, the metabolism-boosting action of protein is anywhere from TWO to TEN TIMES that of carbs or fat.1 In other words, you burn more calories each day when you consume a higher-protein diet. And it also means that protein-rich foods provide less metabolizable energy (than carbs or fats)—meaning your body is less likely to store calories from protein as fat.2
It’s no wonder that simply swapping carbs or fat for protein—without consciously manipulating calories—leads to better body composition. As sexy (and true) as this metabolism-boosting effect of protein is, it can be highly variable. At best, it probably has a modest effect on weight loss. In other words, higher-protein diets are no one-trick pony.
How Do Higher-Protein Diets Reduce Appetite?
Another major high protein diet benefits is increased satiety and improved appetite control. That is, they can help reduce caloric intake, decrease cravings, and improve diet quality. Similar to its thermogenic burn effect, high-protein meals/foods have a much more pronounced effect on satiety and appetite control compared to carbs or fats.3,4
In other words, protein-rich foods are much more likely to make you feel full and satisfied.1 On one hand, higher-protein diets seem to have a profound impact on hunger hormones, increasing satiety hormones (CCK, GIP, GLP-1, PYY) that suppress appetite while decreasing the notorious hunger hormone ghrelin.
Another interesting explanation is the protein leverage hypothesis, which essentially says we have a protein-specific appetite, and we’re wired to “seek” protein.5 Believe it or not, studies that have tested this theory have found that lower protein intakes are associated with consuming more snacks between meals and more total calories compared to higher-protein diets.6,7
The Silver Bullet of Quality Weight Loss
Losing precious, calorie-burning muscle is a common, often expected side effect of typical reduced-calorie diets. This is a HUGE problem because it can lead to:
- Reduced metabolic rate
- Increased appetite
- Greater likelihood of weight re-gain
- A host of potential negative health consequences.
This leads us to perhaps the most important high protein diet benefits. Research consistently shows that higher-protein diets are essential for preserving calorie-burning lean muscle when dieting.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
Forget the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (or, about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight). If you’re interested in reaping the metabolic advantages of higher-protein diets, research indicates you may need up to TWICE the RDA (or even more).
Along those lines, a better target is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.6 g/kg/day (roughly 0.73 g/lb/day), although more seems to be perfectly fine. Note that if you have a fair amount of weight to lose (say more than 20 pounds), you might consider setting your daily protein goal based on your target weight. Practically speaking, that means making sure that individual meals contain at least 25 – 30 grams of protein.