Protein has always been promoted by muscle heads as the key to getting it. While the extreme amounts of protein consumed by some bodybuilders is unnecessarily extreme, the research has shown time and time again that more protein is better when it comes to fat loss.
One study found that after 8 weeks, people who ate more protein lost an extra 2.8lbs of fat. Another study found that following a higher protein diet for 12 weeks led to an additional 1.5lbs of fat lost specific to the abdomen. Finally, another study in women found that 12 weeks of eating twice the ‘recommended intake’ of protein led to greater fat loss and greater increases in lean mass (e.g. muscle).
How does eating more protein do this?
Protein & Fat Loss Hormones
Part of the beneficial effects of fat loss have to do with the hormones that it stimulates. When the protein you eat hits your digestive tract, it causes the release of a hormone called CCK. CCK acts very quickly to slow the digestive process, slowing the rate in which foods is released from your stomach. This is step one is making you feel full – helping you eat less. CCK also signals your brain that you should no longer be hungry.
More Protein = Less Calories
The appetite suppressing effects of protein work right away with the meal that you are eating and it also makes you feel more satisfied after the meal is over. This will make you eat less without even trying. One study showed that eating a higher protein diet lead to people eating greater than 400 calories per day less!
Protein Burns More Calories
Protein helps you burn more calories in two different ways. The first is through the calories burned to digest and process food. It takes your body ~2x energy to digest protein compared to carbohydrates.
A majority of the protein that you eat is used to build and rebuild your muscle. Muscle loss while dieting is a big concern, as muscle burns calories. The more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn (even just sitting on the couch). Optimizing your protein intake and exercising with intensity ensures that you won’t lose any muscle, you might gain some!
You get it, protein is key for optimal fat loss. So how do you optimize your protein intake?
Eat More Protein
Chances are that you are eating the recommended amount of protein. This means that you aren’t going to be suffering from protein malnutrition. But it does mean that you could still be anywhere between 20-40g away from an ideal or optimal intake of protein so that you can reap the benefits we have been talking about.
Eat Protein More Evenly
People generally eat a lot of protein at dinner and smaller amounts of protein at breakfast and lunch. Research shows that by just spreading your protein intake out more evenly throughout the day (not necessarily eating more) can lead to a 25% increase in protein synthesis (e.g. muscle building).
Have a Protein Shake After Exercise
Exercise has a profound effect on your body and having a protein shake after you exercise can increase the impact of that effect. A protein shake is a convenient way to quickly get quality amino acids into your body. This will boost the muscle building potential of your workout while also jumpstarting the recovery process so you can train harder the next workout.
Have an Afternoon Protein Snack
An afternoon protein snack like Greek yogurt, a protein shake, or bar might be the key to controlling unwanted snacking at night. Research shows that protein acts on your brain to dampen the craving effects that high fat/calorie/sugar foods have on your brain. This effect lasts several hours.
Protein for Your Heart!
Many of the benefits of protein are often associated with dieting and fat loss but optimizing your protein intake is also good for your heart. The OmniHeart study looked at the role of increased protein in a heart healthy diet compared to a traditional approach, or increasing unsaturated fat.
The researchers found that the high protein diet led to the greatest improvements in blood pressure and 10 year risk of cardiovascular disease.
Protein is not just good for your abs, but your heart too!