How to Safely Increase Protein for Weight Loss
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Losing weight is a constant battle for so many people. The concept is simple, but in practice, it’s a major challenge to eat less and expend more energy to shed pounds.
While eating more protein is not a magic cure for weight loss struggles, upping the amount of this particular macronutrient can help. Guide your clients looking to lose weight by suggesting a healthy diet, a regular exercise routine, and healthy, low-calorie sources of protein.
Why Eating More Protein for Weight Loss Works
If you look up diets, books, or blogs on weight loss you might think this is a complicated process. The reality is that losing or maintaining weight is simple in theory:
- Exercise regularly but don’t rely on workouts to overcome a bad diet. You must eat right, and restrict calories, to lose weight.
- Of all the many diets on the market, there is no single one that works for all people. Most important is to balance calories out and in and to find the plan that an individual can stick with over the long-term.
- Adding more protein to the diet helps most people lose weight. It’s just one tool in the weight loss toolbox that makes any diet more likely to be successful.
So how and why does eating more protein aid weight loss?
Higher Protein Intake Keeps You Feeling Fuller Longer
One of the main reasons increasing protein aids weight loss is satiety. Cutting calories makes you hungry, which leads to falling off the wagon. Protein keeps you feeling satisfied and full longer than carbs, so you’ll eat less.
One study found that participants ate over 440 fewer calories per day when they increased protein to 30 percent of calorie intake (1). By eating more protein and increasing satiety, cravings decrease and it’s easier to eat fewer calories overall.
Protein’s Thermic Effect of Food is High
Thermic effect of food, or TEF, is a measurement of the calories required to metabolize food. The more energy required to break down and use food, the fewer calories that turn into fat. The TEF for protein (20% to 30%) is much higher than for carbohydrates (5% to 10%) and fat (up to 3%). (2)
Think of it this way: if you eat 100 calories of protein, only 70 to 80 of them are usable and could end up stored as fat. The same number of calories in the form of carbs gives you 90 to 95 calories, and for fat, up to 97 calories.
Protein for Weight Loss Maintains Muscle Mass
Dieting doesn’t just trigger fat loss. When cutting calories, you also run the risk of losing muscle mass. The key to not losing muscle is to boost protein intake. This is important for weight loss because when you lose muscle, your metabolism slows. By losing fat and maintaining or even increasing muscle mass, metabolism gets a boost, leading to a better calorie burn all day long.
How you work out also affects muscle mass. This guide outlines how to train to lose fat, not muscle.
How Much Protein Should You Eat a Day to Lose Weight?
Your clients looking to add more protein are likely to be confused by all kinds of conflicting information about who much the really need per day. Some diets suggest your day should be almost entirely fat and protein, while the USDA recommends just 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, which is not very much.
To optimize weight loss, aim for something between these two extremes. There is still a lot of debate over how much protein anyone should eat, and amounts that are safe, but recent studies have shown that up to twice the recommended amount (1.6 grams per kilogram) is unquestionably safe. More than that, especially if you are active, is probably also safe (3).
In terms of weight loss, a paper from 2015 analyzed multiple studies and found the optimal amount to be between 1.2 and 1.6 grams per kilogram. This range improved appetite, metabolic risk, and other health factors, and weight management (4). For someone who weighs 180 pounds (82 kg), this amounts to 98.4 to 131.2 grams of protein per day.
If your client is doing heavy, regular weightlifting, they may need more protein than this optimal range. Help them decide the best number for their unique situation, but also be aware of risks. Every client should talk to their doctor about making significant changes to their diets. For instance, if your client has any kind of kidney disease, eating more protein may be dangerous.
Weight loss, and then maintenance, requires lifestyle changes for the long haul. These morning weight loss habits will help your client get into the right mindset and start making those positive changes.
The Best Protein Foods for Weight Loss
There is a risk in simply eating more protein without really thinking about the foods. Many people just eat more meat or dairy. These foods have a place, but for weight loss and good health, supplement with protein sources that contain other nutrients and are not too high in saturated fat or calories.
Pea protein is trending right now, as a powder supplement and in fake meat products. Just one cup of cooked peas provides 8.5 grams of protein and about 120 calories. They also provide a significant amount of vitamin C and plenty of fiber to keep you feeling full longer.
Peas are a legume, a type of plant, and all varieties of legumes are high in protein compared to other plants. In addition to peas, add all types of beans, lentils, and peanuts or peanut butter to your diet. Dried lentils and beans are especially cost-effective, and when combined with whole grains provide a complete protein. They are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Halibut or Cod
Salmon is often the go-to fish for a high-protein meal, but try halibut or cod if weight loss is the goal. Three ounces of halibut is only 77 calories and has 16 grams of protein (cod is 70 calories and 15 grams), as compared to 120 calories and 17 grams for salmon.
Chicken is hard to beat as an inexpensive source of lean protein. A three-ounce chicken breast provides 26 grams of protein for just 142 calories and three grams of fat.
For a whole host of nutrients and a low-cost protein, eat more eggs. For about 85 calories, you get 7 grams of protein, iron, antioxidants, and choline.
When vegetables, beans, and fish just don’t satisfy your craving, choose grass-fed beef. Four ounces contains just 130 calories and 26 grams of protein. Grass-fed beef has significantly less fat and fewer calories than conventional beef.
Whole foods should be the base of a healthy diet, but when trying to eat more protein, powders can be useful. A morning shake made with a healthy powder as well as whole foods like fruits and nut butters helps supplement protein in one easy meal. These are some good options:
- Pea protein. For vegans, pea protein powder is an excellent choice. It provides complete protein (all the essential amino acids found in animal products) and is absorbed slowly, keeping you full longer.
- Whey or casein protein. These two types of protein are milk-based and are complete proteins. Casein is absorbed more slowly. Both promote increased multiple mass.
- Soy protein. Soy is another plant-based protein that is complete, with all the essential amino acids. It also contains beneficial antioxidants known as soy isoflavones.
Are High-Protein Diets Safe and Effective?
High-protein diets are not new, and in fact many are trending right now: the keto diet, the paleo diet, the Atkins diet, and more. These diets promote protein and restrict other foods, mostly carbohydrates.
One of the main reasons these diets work, especially in the short-term, is that carbs cause the body to retain water. When you drastically cut back on carbs, you will immediately lose water weight.5
Unfortunately, keeping up with such a tight restriction on carbs is not reasonable for most people. So, while these diets can be safe and effective in the short-term, they also come with risks and are not for everyone. Talk to your doctor before drastically increasing your protein intake.
Most Americans get enough protein in their diets every day for normal functioning. For weight loss, though, increasing this macronutrient can be a big boost. Just make sure your clients make smart choices about protein amounts and food types so that they can meat that weight loss goal.
The ISSA Nutritionist Certification course can help you learn more about diet, nutrition, and how food impacts health and wellness. Sign up today to help more clients and increase your earnings!
1. Weigle, D.S., Breen, P.A., Matthys, C.C., Callahan, H.S., Meeuws, K.E., Burden, V.R., and Purnell, J.Q. (2005, July). A High-Protein Diet Induces Sustained Reductions in Appetite, ad libitum Calorie Intake, and Body Weight Despite Compensatory Changes in Diurnal Plasma Leptin and Ghrelin Concentrations. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 82(1), 41-8. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16002798/
2. Westerterp, K.R. (2004). Diet Induced Thermogenesis. Nutr. Metab. (Lond.). doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-1-5. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC524030/
3. Pendick, D. (2019, June 25). How Much Protein Do You Need Every Day? Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-much-protein-do-you-need-every-day-201506188096
4. Leidy, H.J., Clifton, P.M., Astrup, A., Wycherley, T.P., Westerterp-Plantenga, M.S., Luscombe-Marsh, N.D., Woods, S.C., and Mattes, R.D. (2015, June). The Role of Protein in Weight Loss and Maintenance. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 101(6), 1320S-1329-S. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25926512/
5. St. Jeor, S.T., Howard, B.V., Prewitt, T.E., Bovee, V., Bazzarre, T., and Eckel, R.H. (2001). Dietary Protein and Weight Reduction. A Statement for Healthcare Professionals from the Nutrition Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism of the American Heart Association. Circulation. 104(15), 1869-74. Retrieved from https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/hc4001.096152
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