Planning meals around high-quality protein is one of the easiest ways to lose excess body fat and just generally get ripped. This is a scientific fact.
Why, then, is there soooo much argument about high-protein diets for fat loss?
Because many people make common mistakes with high protein diets: They eat mostly processed foods, get little, if any, fiber, and lack fruits and vegetables. The fact that they spend most of their lives sitting and don’t train properly doesn’t help either.
This article will get you on the right path and tell you how to do a high-protein diet the right way for peak health and a lean body composition.
Benefit #1: Reduce Hunger
Protein foods are very satisfying and they naturally reduce the amount of calories people eat every day.
A recent study found that by increasing protein intake from 15 to 30 percent of the diet, participants ate 441 fewer calories daily. By the end of the 12-week study they had lost 3.7 kg of body fat.
Use It: Plan meals around high-quality proteins that contain all the essential amino acids because these foods will provide the greatest nutritional punch for the least number of calories. Eggs, chicken, beef, whey protein, and fish are all excellent protein sources.
#2: Raise Metabolic Rate So You Burn More Calories
Protein is the most costly food for the body to digest and assimilate. For example, from a meal of pure protein, the body burns 25 percent of the calories during digestion. This means that high-protein diets can boost metabolism by up to 100 calories per day.
Use It: Always eat the highest quality, most digestible proteins. You already know that animal proteins are top protein sources and they tend to be well digested if you chew them properly and have a healthy gut.
A simple way to promote gut health and improve satiety is to plan meals around protein and a fibrous green vegetable like kale, collards, or cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts).
#3: Preserve Lean Muscle Mass When Losing Fat
Eating plenty of protein preserves lean muscle mass when you’re trying to lose body fat, which is critical for maintaining metabolism.
The main reason the average person gets fat again after losing weight is that they lost a lot of muscle during the weight loss process. Metabolic rate drops, so their body burns fewer calories daily. Since no one reduces their calories accordingly, they almost always experience rebound weight gain on the typical calorie-restricted diet.
For example, a large analysis found that for overweight people on lower protein diets that provide 15 percent or less protein, 70 percent of the weight loss is typically from body fat and 30 percent is from muscle. By simply doubling the amount of protein to about 30 percent of the diet, nearly all of the weight loss is from fat.
Use It: Shoot for at least 1.6 g/kg/bw of protein because this amount was found to preserve lean mass in a study in which lean, active military subjects were put on a diet to lose fat.
#4: Increase Muscle & Strength Development (Especially When Experienced)
Protein foods are a godsend for athletes and trained individuals who want to reduce body fat without compromising strength and performance because they trigger muscle protein synthesis, promoting adaptations from training.
For instance, a recent analysis showed that although supplemental protein likely has little impact on results in untrained people, experienced individuals tend to gain substantially more muscle and strength from extra protein. Trainees improved leg press strength by an average of 13.5 kg when they got extra protein in their diets.
One example is the first super high-protein study that found that when lean, trained subjects ate 4.4 g/kg of protein a day, of which a large portion was whey protein, they gained 1.9 kg of lean mass and reduced body fat percentage by 0.6 percent.
This study was particularly noteworthy because the high-protein group was supplementing with whey protein to the tune of an extra 800 calories a day compared to a control group that ate their regular high-protein diet.
Use It: No need to go as high as 4.4 g/kg of protein a day—the study mentioned was the first one to test such a high dose and it didn’t measure health markers. You have to be careful with a very high protein intake because there’s evidence that excess protein causes inflammation.
A protein intake between 1.6 and 3.3 g/kg of bodyweight is more reasonable based on the bulk of research. Some ancestral populations ate 30 percent protein daily, corresponding to about 3 g/kg/bw a day, making this amount a more intelligent approach.
#5: Improve Blood Sugar Balance & Insulin Health
When people increase their intake of protein, particularly from whole sources like meat, fish, eggs, and beans, two things should happen:
First, hunger is reduced because protein foods improve gut hormones that tell your brain you’re full. Second, people automatically decrease their intake of carbs.
This combination helps balance blood sugar and leads to lower insulin. When insulin goes down, it is easier for your body to burn fat.
Use It: Try taking whey protein after workouts because it has been found to suppress appetite and improve insulin sensitivity.
#6: Boost Motivation & Perseverance
Protein foods provide a variety of vital building blocks that are involved in wakefulness, energy metabolism in the brain, and motivation. For example, creatine, which is best known for providing quick energy in the body, is also a vital energy source in the brain that can enhance cognition and reaction time.
In addition, the amino acids provided in protein foods have been found to stimulate the orexin network of neurotransmitters, which increase metabolism, energy use, and cognition. Glucose, which is provided from carbohydrates, has the opposite effect, reducing cognition and energy.
High-quality protein may be most important in cases when cognition is compromised for some reason, such as when we are sleep deprived, stressed from trying to dieting order to lose fat, or under pressure to perform.
Use It: Animal proteins are super bang for your buck brain foods because they are the only sources of nutrients like creatine, carnosine, vitamin b12, and the omega-3 fat DHA—all of which enhance cognition and aren’t available in plant foods.
If you’re dragging and need a pre-workout lift, try pairing 5 grams of creatine with caffeine—it’s been found to improve strength and reaction time in sleep-deprived athletes.
#7: Get Better Sleep.
Everyone knows that it’s nearly impossible to lose fat if you’re not getting decent sleep. Protein can help.
For example, high-protein diets have been found to allow people to sleep better and wake up less frequently during the night compared to high-carb diets. Scientists believe this is because of how protein balances activity on the orexin network, making us wakeful and energized during the day, but sleepy and restful at night.
Use It: One pitfall to avoid is that if your high-protein diet completely lacks carbohydrates, you may have trouble winding down and going to sleep at night.
Carbohydrate foods are very beneficial for helping to lower cortisol and improve levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is calming and improves mood. Try including carbs in your evening meal or before bed so you can go to sleep more easily.
#8: Stronger Bones & Less Fracture Risk
Have you heard the crazy rumor that high protein diets are bad for your bones?
It’s not true—don’t worry! This myth comes from a misunderstanding of bone metabolism. Here’s the (incorrect) theory: Protein foods can increase acid in the body. The acid is neutralized when the body releases bicarbonate ions from the bone matrix, which is accompanied by a loss of sodium, calcium, and potassium.
Although this may appear problematic, large-scale studies show that people who eat more protein have stronger skeletons because the amino acids in protein are used to build bone.
Plus, protein improves muscle mass, which significantly increases bone strength. Finally, a higher protein intake improves the action of the hormone IGF-1, which is a major regulator of bone metabolism.
Use It: Three simple things can counter the acid load from protein:
Eat plenty of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables
Add lemon or lime to your water
Include plant protein sources like beans, lentils, and seeds in your diet as condiments—add them to salad and veggie dishes
#9: Fewer Carb Cravings
Pretty much everyone loves carbohydrate foods because, after all, they’re just different forms of sugar. But that doesn’t mean you want to exhaust your will power trying to outlast carb cravings—protein can help.
Protein foods provide a number of nutrients that are key to avoiding hormonal and metabolic imbalances that make us crave carbs:
- Protein provides glutamine, which is a superior nutrient that the brain can use as an energy source and will help you eliminate obsessive thoughts about food.
Protein contains carnitine, which is an amino acid that is responsible for the transport of fats into the cells to be used for energy in the body. Getting enough of it will improve fat burning and help keep energy levels steady so that you don’t have a drop in blood sugar and experience a rebound carb craving.
Use It: Pre-plan meals around a whole protein source and then add a fat and a vegetable or fruit. For example, if you pick eggs or salmon, your fat is already taken care of and all you need is some sautéed greens or a salad. If you’re eating non-fat Greek yogurt, you could add some walnuts and berries, or opt for whole-fat yogurt instead.
#10: Less Stress & Better Cortisol Balance
Constant hunger and food cravings, especially for junk foods, are two indicators that your cortisol is out of balance. Eating protein can reset your entire hormonal cascade and improves the body’s biological circadian rhythm.
After you eat a protein-rich meal, cortisol is reduced, as is the hunger-causing hormone ghrelin. A hormone cascade follows a few hours later, and you get a decrease in insulin and an increase in leptin, blunting hunger.
Not only does protein help you avoid inhaling a bag of cookies or half a pizza when you’re stressed, it can be part of an overall stress management plan to keep you calm and steady when the going gets rough.
Use It: Eat at least every 3 to 4 hours and make sure every meal has protein, healthy fat, and a vegetable. Save higher carb foods for your evening meal. Most important—avoid the typical high–carb foods at breakfast because these will spike insulin and set you up for a stressful, carb-craving filled day.