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Protein: The Real Fat Loss Superfood
Final answer: What’s my number one tip for losing fat, for keeping it off, and for losing fat quickly?
Simple – eat more protein.
Yep. It’s that simple. Believe me, I’ve spent hours reading about the benefits of a high-protein diet. I’ve read individual studies, meta-reviews, textbooks, certification manuals, and position papers. I am armed to the teeth with protein knowledge at this point in my coaching career and education.
Here’s what you’re about to learn:
- Why choosing the “best diet” doesn’t matter as much as people think (and how to do it)
- Why eating a diet that’s higher in protein, no matter what diet you follow, will work better
- How to lose fat without dieting in the first place
- How much protein to eat each day
Pro Tip: eat the steak & eggs first to lose more fat
Rule #1: I don’t care what diet you choose to follow. As long as you eat enough protein.
My job as a nutrition coach is to help you to look your best, feel your best, and perform at your best. And a diet that’s higher in protein will consistently help you achieve all three.
So, you can choose any diet that calls out to you. Whether that’s Keto, Atkins, Intermittent Fasting, Zone, Whole30, Paleo, Mediterranean, or Dash is up to you.
Whatever diet you choose, if you choose a diet at all, I’ll support you and help you make it a success.
Know that there is nothing magical about any one particular diet.
Each diet is best-suited for a specific purpose, health condition, or a type of person. It’s really all about finding the diet that fits your personal eating preferences and your unique needs (like food allergies, for example).
Some diets, like Intermittent Fasting, help you lose fat by having you eat only during a 8-hour window – therefore helping you to eat less overall during the day (reducing total calories).
Intermittent Fasting worked well for me when I tried it in the fall of 2017. I don’t mind not eating for long periods of time. It fit into my coaching schedule, where I often coach clients from 5:15AM until 11:30AM without a break.
Only eating from 1PM to 9PM wasn’t really a problem for me. For you, it might be cruel & unusual punishment. You may find yourself as the star of your own Snickers commercial!
Other diets, like Whole30, are suited for people who suspect that they have food allergies. If you’ve noticed that you always feel lousy after eating dairy, then Whole30 might be your ticket.
In the end, the diet you choose doesn’t really matter.
Diets are just systems – they’re a packaged example of recipes, restrictions, and new habits.
Ideally, the right diet is something that you’re comfortable following long-term, as part of your new & improved healthy lifestyle. If you can stick with it and stay happy, then it’s a good diet for you.
What does matter is the makeup of your food choices on that diet.
- How many calories you eat over the course of each day and/or each week.
- What macronutrient split (macro split) you follow while you’re on that diet. This is the ratio of Protein to Carbs to Fat you consume during each day
- The nutritional quality of the food you eat on that diet. (1200 calories of ramen is not the same as 1200 calories of lean protein, fruits, whole grains, and vegetables)
Why getting enough protein matters more than what diet you choose to follow
I called protein a “Fat Loss Superfood”. I meant it.
1 – Protein is the most “metabolically expensive” food type, when compared to fats and carbohydrates.
Protein takes the most energy to digest. It’s a “thermic” food. This increases your natural metabolism, making you burn more calories. Put simply – you burn more calories eating a chicken breast than you do eating a bowl of pasta.
2 – Protein makes you eat less overall because it’s satiating
As my client, I’d teach you to practice “mindful eating”. Eat only when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re no longer hungry. This means stopping before you feel stuffed.
Protein makes you feel full faster. In comparison, processed carbs (like pizza and pasta) make you hungrier. (We’ve all been there, right? This is why it’s easy to eat a whole pizza by yourself).
Case in point – eggs. Eggs are a high-protein food, and notoriously filling. Eating your eggs first is a great way to eat less overall at breakfast.
3 – Protein preserves your hard-won lean muscle mass while on a diet
One of the common fatal flaws of bad diets is that they cause you to lose muscle mass. As a rule of thumb, people on very low calorie diets can expect that ⅓ of all weight lost will be lean mass.
As you lose lean mass, you also slow down your metabolism. After a few poorly-chosen diets, you can actually weigh less but still be fatter than when you started. And, with a lower metabolism, you can’t eat as much food as you used to be able to. This partially explains why it’s so easy to regain the weight – and then some!
The best diets keep protein high while you restrict total calories. This preserves as much muscle mass as possible – keeping your metabolism high. It also creates that toned look you’re going for.
(This is why I hate Juice Fasts – there’s no protein!)
This is why bodybuilders preparing for a contest, whom need to lose weight while preserving their hard-won muscles, will drastically reduce their intake of fat and carbs – but only reduce protein as a last resort!
4 – In studies, people on high-protein diets lose the most fat – even when they follow the same workouts or don’t workout at all
The gold standard:
People who eat high-protein diets AND strength train AND do cardio lose the most weight, lose the most fat, and retain the most muscle. Some even build muscle (thus becoming toned).
Even in studies where people don’t workout, the high-protein group loses the most fat while losing the least amount of lean muscle mass.
5 – In studies comparing diets, like Keto versus High Carb, the results were virtually the same IF protein was kept equal
This is the money-maker, this nugget right here. This is why there is no “magic diet”. And why no “keto magic” exists for fat loss, either.
They have performed studies with equal calories and equal high-protein intakes that pitted Keto diets versus High Carb diets.
Amazingly, both diets worked! Both diets performed the same in terms of weight loss and fat loss.
The leading interpretation is that it was the increased protein intake, not the specifics of either Keto or High Carb dieting, that led to the fat loss. (Combined, of course, with the reduced caloric intake).
Remember – protein makes you feel satisfied, helps you to eat less, and boosts your metabolism.
(Not to mention, most diets work because they get you to stop eating so much processed junk!)
6 – Even the elderly need twice as much protein as what’s recommended
In a number of recent studies on the elderly, researchers found that double the recommended daily amount of protein had the best results on preventing age-related muscle loss. It was also beneficial for retaining bone strength and density.
How Much Protein to Eat Every Day
The daily recommended intake for protein in the USA is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight, or 0.36 grams per pound bodyweight. For a 150lb person, that’s 54 grams per day.
Double or triple that amount. For a 150lb person, that’s 108-162 grams per day. Most studies have been performed with double the amount, so 1.6 grams per kilograms of bodyweight or 0.72 grams per pound bodyweight.
Studies with triple the amount, or 2.4 grams per kilograms of bodyweight or 1.08 grams per pound bodyweight (the old bodybuilding rule of thumb is 1 gram per pound), have shown promise as well.
Here’s an easy way to do it:
If you’re a woman eating 3-4 times per day, consume a palm of lean protein with every meal (20-30g). That’s 4oz of chicken. Or, eat 3-4 palms of protein a day.
If you’re a man eating 3-4 times per day, consume two palms of lean protein with every meal (40-60g). That’s 8oz of chicken. Or, eat 6-8 palms of protein a day.
Another way to think of it is as keeping your daily percentage of protein at 30-40%, if you’re using a food tracker like My Fitness Pal or ChronoMeter.
Wrapping Up Our Protein Talk – What’s Next
Your Action Steps:
- When you plan your meals, ask yourself, “Where’s the protein?”
- Eat 1-2 palms of protein at every meal and snack
- Eat your protein first
- Consider tracking your calories for 7 days to see how much protein you really eat everyday
How to Get Help
I had hoped this would be a quick, short article. It was not!
Unfortunately, nutrition can be confusing. That’s why it helps to work with a coach who’s read the research, attained the certifications, and has ten years of experience helping people transform their bodies.
If you need help sorting through nutrition fact from fiction, schedule a free coaching call with me, Coach Devin.
It’s a free, 15-minute call to talk about your goals and what’s stopping you from achieving them. We’ll talk about your nutrition and come up with a simple action plan – that very first step to get you to start seeing results.
Use the form below to book your free coaching call
Meet the Author: Devin Gray
Founder, Head Coach
NSCA-CSCS, FMSC, Pn1 Certified
B.S. in Exercise Science - Texas A&M University
Devin is the owner & head coach of Optimize Fitness & Performance. He helps people become stronger and perform their best. Devin is especially focused on helping people with injuries learn to workout safely after they finish physical therapy.
You can book a free 15 minute coaching call with Devin by clicking here.
- International Society of Sports Nutrition – Position Stand: Protein and Exercise – https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8#Sec7
- International Society of Sports Nutrition – Position Stand: Diets and Body Composition – https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s12970-017-0174-y
- Protein intake and exercise for optimal muscle function with aging: recommendations from the ESPEN Expert Group – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24814383
- Protein Requirements and Recommendations for Older People: A Review. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26287239
- Dietary Protein and Exercise Have Additive Effects on Body Composition during Weight Loss in Adult Women – https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/135/8/1903/4663944