Protein is known as the most important for muscle building, but what about weight loss?
A higher-protein diet can assist in both weight loss & maintenance, boosts metabolism, and aids in reducing appetite. (Leidy 2015), If you are wondering how can this be? Don’t worry, we are going to go over this. High protein diets are not just for bodybuilders.
For the remainder of this article, a high protein diet will be referred to as 1g of protein per pound of body weight. Of course, there are valuable where if someone is overweight or obese, the amount of protein needed might be different than 1g per body weight in pounds. For the outliners like this, always talk to a doctor and/or nutritionist for your individual needs. For most people, 1g per body weight in pounds is a good goal to have (Bosse 2012).
What is Protein and How Does Protein Help Me?
Within your body, protein performs the following:
Repair: Protein is the main component of your muscles, bones, skin, and hair. After a workout, tissues are continuously repaired and replaced with new protein while you sleep.
Hormones: Protein is used as a chemical messenger to allow cells and oranges within the body to communicate.
Enzymes: Most enzymes are proteins and with all the chemical reactions taking place in the body, protein helps drive them.
Transportation and storage: There are proteins that help deliver important molecules where needed.
To break down protein, it is made up of smaller units known as amino acids. 22 amino acids to be exact. 9 are considered “essential,” meaning they must be consumed in food because your body can’t make them. And even more important, some foods provide better proteins than others when looking at their amino acid profile. Normally, animal products are considered “complete protein” because they contain all the essential amino acids and vegetable proteins don’t provide adequate amounts of every essential amino. This does not mean vegan diets are “bad” though. As you can combine different vegetable proteins to make a complete protein.
Digesting Food Costs Energy
A calorie isn’t a calorie. Have you ever heard of the thermal effect of food (TEF)? This is the amount of energy it takes to digest the food you eat. That means when you eat 100 calories of food, not all 100 the body gets to use as fuel. It costs energy to even eat. Protein is around 20–30% of the energy is needed for digestion. Compare that to fat, which is around 0–3%, and carbohydrates around 5–10% (Ravn 2013). This is one of the big reasons people will say, eat high protein diets. As TEF is part of the weight loss journey. However, this does not mean only eating protein. Protein is just one of the fuels your body needs to stay healthy and functioning. A balanced diet is still important.
Protein Reduces Appetite and Help You Feel Full
Have you ever eaten a bag of potato chips and still wanted to snack more? How about eating a big steak? Do you feel the same after? comparing the two at 100g each, the lays would be over 600 calories and a beef steak would be around 260 calories. Of course, not all carbs are the same but in this comparison, the carbs would digest much faster than the protein, even with the difference in calories.
So how much protein should you have per meal? This is a hard question, as it changes per person and your individual preference. Remember the 1g of protein per pound of fat? With that, we know how much protein per day. Now to see how much per meal we look at the protein per pound per meal. Minimum 0.18g/lb/meal to a maximum of 0.25g/lb/meal (Schoenfeld 2018). This can also change based on who you talk to. Because there is a maximum about of protein that can be absorbed at any given time. This is why protein powders are normally around 25-30g of protein per scoop. That has been the standard for a long now. There are studies that show 40g of protein per meal (Loenneke 2016) and some studies, like Schoenfeld 2018 from the above show that show even more (depending on the person).
Let’s break down four meals, two snacks, and a post-workout protein for a guy weighing 200 pounds for an example:
Breakfast – 36g
Meal 1 – 36g
Snack 1 – 20g
Meal 2 – 36g
Post Workout – 25g (a scoop of protein)
Snack 2 – 11g
Dinner – 36g
(*This is a very basic example for the article)
With this example, we are 200g of protein. Notice how many meals and snacks need to be at the ‘minimum protein per meal in order to get to 200g. When you work on eating your protein requirements for muscle growth, you might need to eat often. This alone can help with reduced appetite by greater evening and late-night fullness (Leidy 2011)
Protein Helps Prevent Muscle Loss and Metabolic Slowdown
We know protein is the building block for our muscles and with bigger muscles, there is a higher tone (the amount of energy the muscles use at rest). Even at a hypocaloric diet (very low calories), adequate (but not excessive) protein intake should be promoted to maintain muscle mass, improve muscle strength, physical function in people, even with obesity (Cava 2017). Losing muscle can be a side effect of weight loss that most people don’t want. Or if they do want, it is because they don’t understand how weight loss works at first with a hypocaloric diet. Eating protein helps with gaining muscle, losing fat and helps to keep a healthy metabolism.
Body composition is a hot topic in fitness. Looking at the scale says one thing but a woman with 35% body fat looks much different than a woman with 20% when the leggings are not shaping the body. The same can be said with a man at 30% body fat versus 15%. Even if both males and females are at the same weight, the different lean body mass (everything that is not fat) to fat mass will show in how the body looks. This is why not surprisingly, protein’s ability to suppress appetite, promote fullness and increase metabolism can help you lose weight and keep a good body composition. If you have ever heard of the term “skinny-fat”, this is where it comes from. Protein and strength training helps keep your metabolism high and also make sure that what is underneath the fat actually looks good
The Bottom Line
Protein can be called the most important nutrient, with good reason. A higher protein intake is linked to beneficial effects on appetite, weight, body composition, and overall health. Remember to spread your protein intake throughout the day, choose high-quality sources (real food and supplement, not only supplements) with healthy carbs and fats. Doing so with a strength training program will help lead you on the way towards your fitness goals. Keep to the basics and work smart in the gym and on your plate.
Bosse, J. D., & Dixon, B. M. (2012). Dietary protein to maximize resistance training: a review and examination of protein spread and change theories. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 42. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-9-42
Cava E, Yeat NC, Mittendorfer B. Preserving Healthy Muscle during Weight Loss. Adv Nutr. 2017 May 15;8(3):511-519. doi: 10.3945/an.116.014506. PMID: 28507015; PMCID: PMC5421125.
Leidy HJ, Clifton PM, Astrup A, Wycherley TP, Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Luscombe-Marsh ND, Woods SC, Mattes RD. The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Jun;101(6):1320S-1329S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.084038. Epub 2015 Apr 29. PMID: 25926512.
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Loenneke JP, Loprinzi PD, Murphy CH, Phillips SM. Per meal dose and frequency of protein consumption is associated with lean mass and muscle performance. Clin Nutr. 2016 Dec;35(6):1506-1511. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2016.04.002. Epub 2016 Apr 7. PMID: 27086196.
Ravn, A. M., Gregersen, N. T., Christensen, R., Rasmussen, L. G., Hels, O., Belza, A., Raben, A., Larsen, T. M., Toubro, S., & Astrup, A. (2013). Thermic effect of a meal and appetite in adults: an individual participant data meta-analysis of meal-test trials. Food & nutrition research, 57, 10.3402/fnr.v57i0.19676. https://doi.org/10.3402/fnr.v57i0.19676
Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA. How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018 Feb 27;15:10. doi: 10.1186/s12970-018-0215-1. PMID: 29497353; PMCID: PMC5828430.