Table of Contents
Not to Be Confused with Fad Protein-Based Diets
Keto and the Paleo diet are both very popular presently. However, fad diets that tend to oversimplify and overemphasize the role of protein are potentially dangerous to your health. Ideally, you want protein to account for roughly 30% of your total caloric intake. Any more than that and you risk nutrition deficiencies that could lead to health problems. Research concludes that protein is very beneficial to weight loss but avoid fad diets that overemphasize its consumption.
Let’s now look at 5 ways that protein helps you lose weight and keep it off when it accounts for about 30% of total calories each day.
1. Natural Appetite Suppressant
Studies consistently reveal that consuming protein makes you feel full faster or with less food intake. One of the mechanisms responsible for the lower food intake when eating protein is ghrelin. Protein reduces levels of this hunger hormone thus naturally curbing appetite.
Consuming protein also increases levels of peptide YY, another hormone that makes you feel satiated and stop eating faster. Combined, these two effects can have a dramatic impact on weight loss.
In one study, consuming a diet where protein accounted for 30% of total calories helped participants eat 440 fewer calories. Even more amazing, participants had no other restrictions and did not have to exercise to get the calorie reduction.
Simply reducing portion sizes of carbs and fats and substituting them for increased protein portions can have a dramatic impact on weight loss efforts. You don’t need to starve yourself or suffer so you can eat until satiated and still lose weight.
2. Helps Build Lean Muscle Mass
The surest way to shed belly fat and lose weight is to consume fewer calories while simultaneously burning more. In addition to being a natural appetite suppressant, protein helps build lean muscle mass. And muscle cells burn more calories at rest than fat cells. So the more muscle mass you have, the higher your rate of caloric burn at rest.
To kick fat burning into high gear, you really want to do some weight lifting. Even simple exercises with dumbbells can quickly add muscle so long as your protein intake is adequate. Even modest increases in muscle mass can have a significant impact on caloric burn rate when at rest. Every improvement counts and helps burn fat faster.
3. Consuming Protein Curbs Cravings
Don’t confuse regular hunger pangs with cravings. A craving has no relationship to your body’s energy needs or nutrient deficiencies. Instead, your brain is simply looking for a “fix” or you have leptin resistance.
Leptin is a metabolic hormone. After eating, leptin levels are high and signal your brain to stop eating. When you haven’t eaten anything for a while, leptin levels are low and signal your brain to seek food (hunger pangs). Leptin resistance is a condition where the brain no longer detects leptin and thus thinks you are starving and have no fat stores. So, cravings are typically caused by leptin resistance or other imbalances in your metabolic hormones. They are very hard to control or resist.
For cravings, protein is again the solution. In one study of overweight men, increasing protein to 25% of total calories led to a 60% reduction in reported cravings. The increased protein intake also reduced late-night cravings by 50%. Other studies have reported similar results.
Even consuming a high-protein breakfast can significantly reduce late-night cravings. Researchers believe that protein helps improve dopamine function in the brain and naturally reduces cravings. Regardless of the specific mechanism, consuming more protein helps fight cravings and ultimately reduces caloric intake.
4. Helps Body Naturally Burn More Fat
Eating anything will temporarily boost your metabolism. This occurs because your body needs energy to digest food and absorb nutrients. This temporary boost in metabolism is known as the thermic effect of food, or TEF.
Fortunately, not all foods provide the same level of boost in metabolism. Protein produces a TEF of 20-30% while fats and carbs only produce a 5-15% increase in metabolism. Therefore, higher protein intake provides a significant boost to metabolism. In total, you can literally burn 80-100 more calories per day than consuming the same amount of carbs or fats.
Some studies showed an even bigger increase in caloric burn. High-protein subjects burned 260 more calories per day than low-protein subjects with no differences in activity levels. That equals about what you would burn in one hour of moderate exercise—doing nothing more than eating foods high in protein!
5. Protein Helps Maintain Weight Loss
Doing nothing more than switching to a high-protein diet will help you burn fat and lose weight very quickly. With a higher metabolism rate and a natural curbing of appetite and cravings, you are simply burning more calories while ingesting fewer at the same time. The results are an inevitable benefit.
With absolutely no diet restrictions or exercise requirements, one study found subjects lost 11 pounds in 12 weeks by consuming 30% of calories from protein. In another study where caloric intake was restricted, participants lost 53% more body fat than a group eating normal protein levels and consuming the same level of calories.
But as many of us know, losing weight is not the same as keeping it off. However, protein can help you maintain your weight loss even at lower levels of consumption. One study showed that even getting 18% of your calories from protein can reduce the risk of weight regain by 50%.
Concluding Thoughts on Protein and Weight Loss
Protein is your friend when it comes to burning fat and losing weight. Protein naturally curbs appetite and lower caloric intake. Protein also boosts your metabolism so you naturally burn fat and calories. Plus, protein helps you build lean muscle mass so you also burn more calories at rest. Again, you don’t need to go overboard. Even getting 30% of your total caloric intake from protein is sufficient to help you lose weight naturally without risking health problems or nutrient deficiencies.