Years of research and study have revealed several key pieces of information about weight gain and what helps people successfully lose weight. We know that exercise and diet are critical to controlling your weight and staying healthy. We also know that while our eating habits have a significant impact on your weight, no single diet is the best for promoting weight loss.
Many diets can help you lose weight, but studies have found a connection between the amount of protein in a person's diet and their ability to lose weight. If you are like many people who are concerned about their weight, you may have heard of a high-protein diet and wondered, "how much protein should I eat to lose weight?"
Protein is an essential dietary macronutrient that plays a crucial role in almost all bodily functions and processes. Proteins are large, intricate molecules that make up your hair, nails, bones, muscles, and other body tissues and are also responsible for regulating the function of organs.
Protein is an essential part of a wholesome diet and healthy living, formed by a combination of hundreds or thousands of smaller organic compounds called amino acids. Amino acids are formed mainly from the elements nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. According to the National Institute of Health¹, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and "proteins are the building blocks of life."
For years, a high-protein diet has been recognized as an essential tool in a successful strategy to prevent or treat obesity and improve body weight management. Protein provides many health benefits and directly impacts weight loss in four main ways:
Protein helps you feel full longer
Feeling hungry is typically one of the most challenging parts of sticking with a diet or nutrition plan. Protein is the most filling of all the macronutrients, so higher protein diets tend to leave you feeling full longer.
One study found that eating high-protein snacks allowed people to go longer between meals² and to consume less at their next meal, while another found that adding protein to water³ decreased hunger more than water alone.
Protein is difficult to store as body fat
Generally, during a weight loss program, there are periods where you consume more energy than you expend. During these periods, it's important to minimize excess calories to prevent them from being stored as fat. The body processes macronutrients in different ways and the body's biochemical processes make it harder for it to store protein as fat.
It is often assumed that all excess calories increase fat mass, but research shows that there is a vast difference in the way the body processes protein and other macronutrients.
Research⁴ suggests that despite increasing caloric intake, a high-protein diet may not cause an increase in body weight or fat mass. So, when trying to lose weight, increasing the protein in your diet results in much less body fat being stored.
Protein helps preserve lean body mass
In addition, protein also preserves lean body mass during periods of dieting. For example, a study⁵ comparing the effect of low protein and high protein diets on lean body mass over a short-term caloric deficit found that the low protein group lost about 3.5 pounds of muscle mass, and the high protein group only about 0.66 pounds. Another study⁶ found that higher intakes of protein spared more lean body mass.
Protein increases the thermic effect of food
Food's thermic effect is defined as the increase in metabolism that occurs after eating a meal. The body's digestive process uses energy to break food down into usable nutrients.
Protein has the highest thermic effect of all the macronutrients and, in one study, researchers found that the thermic effect of a high-protein diet can burn an additional 50 to 75 calories per day⁷.
While the role of the thermic effect on weight loss is not entirely understood, it is important to consider the added energy used to digest protein.
Protein, along with the other macronutrients, is necessary to maintain overall health. According to the National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements⁸ for macronutrients, an inactive adult requires about 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. That means that the average sedentary man who weighs around 200 pounds should consume about 72 grams of protein, and the average woman weighing approximately 170 pounds needs about 61 grams each day. Typically, protein should account for between 10 and 35% of your caloric intake.
If vigorous exercise is a part of your weight loss program, your protein requirements will be higher than that of a less active person. Research suggests that athletes and heavy exercisers⁹ who work out more than ten hours a week consume from 0.6 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Maintaining a healthy body weight is crucial to your overall health. Controlling your weight can help lower your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and prevent several severe medical conditions including, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and some types of cancer.
A high-protein diet has gained attention as a promising tool for weight loss because it reduces hunger and decreases fat mass. Dietary guidelines recommend that the average adult consume between 46 to 56 grams of protein daily¹⁰ and consider anything greater to be a high-protein diet. Diets with higher protein intake can help to decrease excess weight and prevent weight regain.
Protein in diet | Medline Plus
Nutrient recommendations: Dietary reference intakes (DRI) | National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements
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