When it comes to diets and weight loss you generally hear debates about carbohydrates vs fats. While proteins tend to just be associated with athletes looking to pack on muscle. So how does protein fit into a weight loss plan? We’re going to cover what protein does in the body, show you how to calculate a daily protein intake range, and cover some of the science on protein and weight loss.
How Protein Works in the Body
Protein is one of the three macronutrients our bodies need to survive. Proteins are composed of 20 amino acids, which are body can use as building blocks to create muscle tissue, enzymes, and hormones. Protein is an important nutrient that plays a variety of roles in our body including catalyzing chemical reactions, acting as chemical messengers, and providing a structure for our body (in the form of muscle and bones).
How to Calculate Your Protein Intake
The current recommended dietary allowance for protein is 0.8 g/kg/day.
Research in short term, controlled feeding trials have shown higher-protein energy-restricted diets to be more effective than lower protein energy-restricted diets for reducing body weight loss, fat mass loss, and preservation of muscle mass.
The protein intake for the higher protein diets in these studies ranged from 1.2 - 1.6 g/kg/day with meals averaging 25-30 g of protein per serving. Some novel evidence suggests that very high protein intakes >3 g/kg/d can have positive effects on body composition in resistance-trained individuals.
The current recommendations for protein intake among elite athletes undergoing a caloric restriction diet range from 1.6-2.4 g/kg/day. The protein requirements shift depending on factors like the rate of weight loss planned and the type of training they do.
If you wanted to calculate a high daily protein intake range for yourself to use for a diet
Simply divide your bodyweight in pounds by 2.2046 to convert it to kilograms
Multiply your body weight in kilograms amount by 1.2 and 2.4, respectively
Now you have a high daily protein intake range to choose from as you create your macronutrient intake goals each day.
Is Protein Good for Weight Loss?
There are a variety of proposed mechanisms that are thought to contribute to the benefits of a high protein diet.
- Increased Satiety: protein generally increases satiety to a greater extent than carbohydrates or fats and it’s thought that it may contribute to lower overall energy intake during ad libitum conditions.
- Increased Dietary Induced Thermogenesis: higher protein diets are associated with increased levels of thermogenesis, which may increase energy expenditure.
- Weight Maintenance (or increased) Muscle Mass: high protein diets can help spare muscle mass (or stimulate the growth of new muscle in some individuals) which may improve one’s overall metabolic profile to support body weight management.
One meta-analysis compared the effects of energy-restricted high-protein vs energy-restricted standard protein diets from 24 studies. The authors concluded that the high-protein group saw modest benefits in weight loss, body composition, and resting energy expenditure compared to the standard-protein diet group.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis examining data from 111 articles reporting on 74 trials, the authors compared the effects of higher vs lower protein diets on health outcomes. The researchers concluded that the data showed a small to moderate effect size that favored high-protein diets for reducing body weight, waist circumference, and Body Mass Index (BMI).
A separate systematic review and meta-analysis reviewed the effects of dietary protein on bodyweight management in 37 studies. The authors concluded that diets rich in protein ranging from 18-59% of total energy intake may have a beneficial effect on body weight management.
High-Protein Food Sources
When it comes to high protein food sources, in general, choices that are leaner and unprocessed will have a higher protein content per serving. High protein snacks and food can contribute to long-term lean muscle mass, increased metabolic rate, and maintaining an overall healthy metabolism for active people.
The best sources of high-protein food sources to meet your daily protein needs include:
- Beef (red meats)
- Poultry (skinless chicken breast)
- Seafood (including fatty fish like salmon)
- Eggs & Egg Whites
- Dairy (Whey Protein, Cottage Cheese, Greek Yogurt)
- Legumes (Lentils, Peas, Soy, Beans)
- Protein Shakes
Tips and Supplements for Weight Loss
Whether you like to go for a run, lift heavy and often, or play sports, physical activity positively contributes to your total daily expenditure. When it comes to losing weight, you want to create a caloric deficit where you’re burning more calories than you consume, and being physically active can help you build that deficit.
Stick to Your Daily Protein Intake
Establishing a sustained and consistent overall caloric deficit will be the greatest factor in determining the success of your weight loss program. After that, if you were going to look at the next item on your nutrition checklist, sticking to your daily protein intake will take you a long way. By consuming enough protein, you’ll be able to preserve muscle mass as you cut calories and help your muscles recover from tough workouts.
Need help boosting your protein intake? Protein powders can be a convenient and delicious tasting tool to help you stay on track with your weight loss program.
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