You can only imagine how many times a day I hear people say “it’s healthy, it has protein in it”. So, how exactly do our bodies process protein and what role does it play in weight loss?
As with carbohydrates, protein provides four calories per one gram you consume. Wouldn’t that make it pretty much equal to carbs in the weight loss world? The answer is both yes and no.
If you remember back in the late 80’s and early 90’s everyone went “fat free” and we thought “if we eat less fat then we will be less fat”.
Unfortunately, we forgot that calories matter and that still applies today.
Calorie management is the most crucial nutrition change for promoting weight loss; however, protein can help you stay satisfied on smaller amounts of calories.
This is one of the biggest barriers to weight loss – if we are not satisfied with our foods then we tend to over eat.
We have learned that protein offers other benefits to weight loss besides satiety or feeling full after eating. It also helps keep muscle mass during weight loss.
- Research supports eating 72 grams per day can help retain muscle mass during a weight loss diet. We also know that carbohydrates digest quickly which can lead to early hunger and over eating.
The Benefits of High-Protein Foods
High-protein foods take more work to digest, metabolize, and use, which means you burn more calories processing them.
In a study published in Nutrition Metabolism, dieters who increased their protein intake to 30 percent of their diet ate nearly 450 fewer calories a day and lost about 11 pounds over the 12-week study without employing any other dietary measures.
As with most dieters, you probably like burning calories as well as eating calories.
Your body uses the amino acids in protein to build lean muscle, which not only makes you stronger and more toned but also helps you to burn calories even when you’re not active.
This helps keep your metabolic rate revving high even while you are at rest! This is unlike fat which is an inactive tissue that does not burn calories at rest.
How Much Protein Should I Consume?
The USDA set the recommended daily allowance for protein at 0.8 grams per kg of body weight. For a 140 lb. person that is 50 grams per day. However, the RDA does not account for any physical activity.
This will only provide the minimum for essential amino acids for the body.
- As a Dietitian I advise consuming between 0.5-0.75 grams of protein per pound of your body weight. That’s 70 to 105 grams a day for a 140-pound person. Shoot for the high end if you’re very active.
- According to Dr. Layman, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus of Nutrition at the University of Illinois, breaking this up into 30 gram feedings of protein is the way to go. His recent research reveals that if you consume high quality protein in 30 gram increments during the day you will activate Muscle Protein Synthesis by the amount of Leucine in the food.
What is Leucine?
- Leucine is an essential amino acid found in high quality protein and it provides a dietary signal to the muscle. The threshold is around 2.5 grams of Leucine per feeding. Muscle Protein Synthesis is beneficial for athletes for recovery but also for the lay person trying to lose weight without losing muscle mass.
Now you are probably wondering what the answer is. Is protein important for weight loss?
Protein vs. Weight Loss
Yes, protein is important for weight loss but more importantly is how and what you are consuming. It is not just cramming 60-80 grams of protein in a protein shake at the end of your day to meet your total protein needs per day.
There does not seem to be added benefit for eating larger than 30 gram doses per feeding.
Jessica Wegener RD, CSSD, LMNT – Positive Nutrition of Omaha
Nutrition Consultant for Athletes’ Training Center Sports Performance & Physical Therapy