Why I advocate a higher protein intake for fat loss
Why I advocate a higher protein intake for fat loss
Protein for a long time has seen to be a bulking tool for weightlifters and bodybuilders to increase muscle mass. But the more I and other professionals study about this macronutrient, the clearer it becomes that protein’s benefits extend far beyond sports nutrition. In fact, research indicates that it can promote satiety (helping you feel full for longer periods of time) and, as a result, aid in weight loss.
So when it comes to fat loss and generally looking better, protein is the macronutrient I shout out about. It is all about adding more of this macronutrient to your nutrition regime and understanding what foods to consume. I have found with a majority that increasing their protein intake, reducing carbohydrates slightly and keeping their fat intake to around 25% of their daily intake assists with their fat loss goals and is an effective obesity prevention strategy, not something that you just use temporarily to lose fat.
Now Protein has a higher thermic effect. The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the amount of energy expenditure above the resting metabolic rate due to the cost of processing food for use and storage. Therefore About 20-30% of protein calories are burned while the body is digesting and metabolising the protein whereas the other macronutrients carbohydrates and fat have a lower thermic effect around 10% and 3% retrospectively but this varies depending on how many calories you take in.
Thermic effect and satiety
The thermic effect of protein on a higher calorie diet of 3000 kcal and above is more effective than that of a lower calorie diet however lets say a female on 1800 cal a day but is on a higher protein diet, she will still get the satiety effect leaving her feeling fuller for longer reducing her hunger and appetite which is a good thing to deter snacking on unnecessary foods throughout the day or late at night. Numerous studies have shown that when people increase their protein intake, they start eating fewer calories. Therefore Eating a high-protein diet can cause weight loss, even without calorie counting, portion control or carb restriction. A modest increase in protein intake can also help prevent weight regain.
But protein isn’t effectively digested
Your body cannot absorb protein as it is because it’s too complex. Protein needs to be broken down into a simpler form so it is absorbed easily by your body. To digest protein, your body needs two things:
Hydrochloric acid (HCl) a.k.a. stomach acid
You should understand that it is the enzymes, and not your stomach acid, which breaks the food down. The stomach acid is needed to activate the enzymes. Without the hydrochloric acid, the enzymes will remain inactive. As we grow old, our body starts to produce less enzymes.
This is why you might see older people having more difficulty digesting proteins than younger people. Moreover, enzymes also need a certain pH level, which is the balance of alkalinity and acidity in an environment. The enzymes need your stomach to be highly acidic.
Here’s what you can do to fix your protein digestion problems:
Add enzyme-rich food to your diet
When you eat enzyme-rich foods, your digestive system is under less stress. This is because your body doesn’t have to dig in to your pancreatic enzymes reserve. Increasing the amount of vegetables and raw fruits you consume is the best way to get these enzymes.
Since cooking food destroys living enzymes, avoid over-cooking and prefer recipes where more raw ingredients make it to the plate.
Combine foods sensibly
If you eat protein and starchy foods together, it requires your stomach acid to work harder. A typical example of such a meal is meat with potatoes. The reason your stomach has to put in more effort is that carbohydrates and proteins are digested in different ways. If you’re having high protein items such as eggs, cheese or meat, try to have them on their own or with smaller vegetable portions.
You can also have lower acid forming proteins such as beans, whole grains and lentils instead of high acid forming proteins like red meat or fish. Combine this protein type with alkaline forming foods such as vegetables and you will make it much easier for your body to digest protein.
Chew your food properly
This might seem like a small thing, but it is crucial. This simple act of chewing your food properly can improve your digestion and help your body process the proteins you’re having. The more your food is broken down as it enters the stomach, the fewer enzymes are needed to absorb its nutrients.
Proper chewing doesn’t only put less stress on your pancreas. It also sends a message to your brain that the eating and digesting process has begun. And since there is more chewing and less swallowing, you will not overeat as you will feel full much more quickly.
I spread my protein intake across the whole day and do not take in anymore than about 25-30g at any one sitting. I do however eat 5-6 small meals a day and take a shake after my workout. Carbohydrate added to a protein meal promotes increased intestinal amino acid retention, gut glutamine uptake and alanine release. This may mean that the anabolic quality of the meal is enhanced when CHO is added.
Protein assists with maintaining muscle on lower calorie plans?
Weight loss doesn’t always equal fat loss. When you lose weight, muscle mass tends to be reduced as well.
However, what you really want to lose is body fat, both subcutaneous fat (under the skin) and visceral fat (around organs). Losing muscle is a side effect of weight loss that most people don’t want. Another side effect of losing weight is that the metabolic rate tends to decrease. In other words, you end up burning fewer calories than you did before you lost the weight. Eating plenty of protein can reduce muscle loss, which should help keep your metabolic rate higher as you lose body fat. Strength training is another major factor that can reduce muscle loss and metabolic slowdown when losing weight.
For this reason, I advocate a high protein intake and heavy strength training the two are effective on a weight/fat loss plan.
Not only do they help keep your metabolism high, they also make sure that what is underneath the fat actually looks good. Without protein and strength training, you may end up looking “skinny-fat” instead of fit and lean.
In order to lose weight, aiming for 25-35% of calories as protein may be optimal. 30% of calories amounts to 150 grams of protein on a 2000 calorie diet so as you can see if you elevate the calories you will be on more protein.
Strive to include protein with every meal you eat. And to ensure you’re getting sufficient amounts, also consider supplementing with whey protein powder. Remember protein and supplements isn’t about bulking it’s about assisting with many functions in the body and helping with fat loss. Whether you mix it with water, add it to a smoothie or shake, or sprinkle it on top of yogurt, chicken, a salad or some other food, adding whey is an effortless way to make sure you’re consuming plenty of protein intake and enhancing satiety. You can find many quality whey products at health food stores and vitamin/supplement retailers.
The European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism recommend 1 to 1.2g/kg for healthy older adults to maintain muscle strength and function however if you are as active in both running and strength training as I am then it will be higher depending on your goals. I consume around 175g – daily spread over 5-6 servings.
Top 11 Protein Foods to Include in Your Diet
- Grass-Fed Beef:3 ounces: 22 grams
Grass-fed beef is one of the best high-protein foods that you can find. Not only does it supply almost 50 percent of your recommended daily value of protein, but it’s also a rich source of vitamins A and E and powerful antioxidants. Grass-fed beef nutrition has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and improve blood sugar levels due to its protein and healthy fat content.
- Organic Chicken: 3 ounces: 21 grams
One chicken breast supplies over 30 percent of your recommended daily value for protein, making it an excellent high-protein food option that can easily be added to healthy lunch and dinner recipes. Chicken is also a source of B vitamins, like niacin and vitamin B6, which are important for lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease, treating diabetes, supporting the health of your brain and lowering LDL cholesterol levels. Choose organic chicken to ensure that the chicken was fed organic food grown with no pesticides, received no antibiotics and was given access to the outdoors.
- Bone Broth: 1 serving (¼ cup): 20 grams
Protein powder made from bone broth is packed with protein and powerful amino acids that support gut integrity and detoxification. It also contains beneficial minerals, including potassium, calcium, selenium and magnesium. With just one serving of this protein powder, you ingest the healing benefits of bone broth like improving joint health, reducing cellulite, boosting your immune system and treating leaky gut.
- Lentils: 1 cup: 18 grams
Eating lentils is a great way for vegetarians and vegans to get enough protein in their diets. A cup of lentils checks a lot of boxes off the nutrient list, including protein, fiber, folate, manganese, iron, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins, just to name a few. The protein in lentils helps boost cardiovascular health, aid digestion, regulate blood sugar levels, and alkalize the body and balance its pH level.
- Wild-Caught Salmon(and other wild fish): 3 ounces: 17 grams
Wild-caught salmon is one of the healthiest foods around because it’s high in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and a slew a vitamins and minerals — including vitamin B12 (with well over 100 percent of your daily value from a 3 ounce piece); vitamin D; selenium; vitamins B3, B6 and B5; and potassium. The benefits of salmon nutrition promote the health of your entire body, including your brain, bones, heart, eyes, skin and cells.
- Black Beans(and other beans): 1 cup: 15 grams
Black beans are another high-protein food that can be consumed by people following a vegetarian or vegan diet. Black beans are an excellent source of both protein and fiber, which can help to make you feel full and satisfied after eating, while also controlling your blood sugar levels so you don’t experience blood sugar highs and lows. The protein and fiber duo found in black beans also helps the body absorb nutrients and release acids into the bloodstream, which makes you feel energized and helps to cleanse your digestive tract.
- Natto: ½ cup: 15 grams
Natto is a fermented food that’s made by soaking whole soybeans, steaming them and adding healthy bacteria into the mixture. Natto offers an array of health benefits due to its protein, manganese, iron, copper, magnesium, vitamin K and vitamin C (just to name a few) content. The smell and texture of natto take some getting used to, but I suggest that you give it a try in order to take advantage of this nutrient-dense, probiotic, high-protein food.
- Eggs:1 large free-range egg: 7 grams
Did you know that eggs have a complete amino acid profile? That means eggs contain all nine of the essential amino acids that we need to get from our food. Add eggs to your diet to boost your heart health, aid in weight loss, prevent metabolic syndrome and boost skin health. Not to mention, eggs are rich in biotin, which helps improve protein absorption. Vitamin B6 also plays an important role in protein absorption as it helps enzymes break down the protein and carries the disassembled amino acids to the blood.
But keep in mind, to get the full health benefits of eggs, stick to organic, free-range eggs, which guarantee the hens are allowed to roam, wander, perch and have a good quality of life. Plus, free-range eggs, when compared to eggs from caged hens, contain more vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids and less cholesterol.
- Yogurt or Kefir: 6 ounces: 6–9 grams
Yogurt and kefir (a cultured dairy product) are balanced sources of protein, fats, carbs, vitamins and minerals, and they’re full of beneficial probiotics that help to improve the microflora in your gut, thereby supporting your digestion and the absorption of nutrients. Adding this high-protein food to your diet can boost your immune system, support weight loss and regulate your mood. This is why probiotic yogurt is considered a superfood. While Greek yogurt is a common go-to, I personally recommend yogurt made from goat or sheep milk.
- Goat Cheese (and other raw cheeses): 1 ounce: 7 grams
Goat cheese comes from beneficial goat milk, which contains A2 casein protein (instead of A1 casein that’s found in cow’s milk) and is therefore easier to digest. Cheeses like goat cheese and feta cheese provide a good amount of protein per serving, and they help promote nutrient absorption and supply medium-chain fatty acids that boost energy levels and help lower cholesterol. (
- Almonds(and other nuts): ¼ cup/23 almonds: 5 grams
Almonds are a healthy snack that contains protein, antioxidants, unsaturated fatty acids and fiber. Almonds nutrition, including vitamins like riboflavin and minerals like magnesium, help protect your heart from cardiovascular disease, reduce inflammation, support cognitive function, improve the health of your skin and control blood sugar levels. If you don’t want to reach for a handful of almonds or other nuts, nut spreads can be another high-protein option. I recommend having almond or cashew butter and skipping the popular peanut butter.
Foods High in Protein for Vegetarians/Vegans
You don’t have to eat meat or animal products to follow a high-protein diet. There are actually plenty of foods that contain plant protein. For those of you on a vegetarian or vegan diet, eat plenty of these foods to increase your protein consumption:
- beans (black beans, lima beans, pinto beans, chickpeas)
- nuts (almonds, peanuts, pistachios, cashews)
- nut butter (almond butter, cashew butter, sunflower seed butter)
- brown rice
- seeds (chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds)
- leafy greens (spinach, kale)
- Brussels sprouts
Hemp protein powder is another great option for vegetarians and vegans. It’s one of the best plant protein powders because it contains 20 amino acids, including all nine essential amino acids that your body can’t produce on its own. The powder is made from hemp seeds, which have barely or even no measurable levels of THC, so it’s completely healthy, safe and legal. Plus, it contains omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, iron, potassium and calcium.
Although some research studies show conflicting results regarding high-protein diets versus low-protein diets for maintaining an ideal weight or losing weight fast, there’s plenty evidence that protein helps make you feel full and can prevent overeating. While dietary or lifestyle change must be personalised for weight loss to be effective, studies show that controlled calorie intake in association with a moderately high protein intake can be an effective and practical weight-loss strategy.
Also remember because your body cannot store protein, eating it throughout the day is the surest way to balance your blood sugar levels, ward off hunger and support your metabolism. This is especially important around the time of exercise when protein-rich pre-workout snacks can go a long way.
- The protein found in foods is used by every part of the body to develop, grow and function properly.
- Proteins are long chains of amino acids, which are essential molecules for all metabolic processes.
- When you don’t eat a range of foods high in protein, you become at risk of deficiencies in certain amino acids, which can result in many health issues, including low energy, mood swings, difficulty losing weight, poor sleep, low immunity and unstable blood sugar levels.
- Some of the top foods high in protein include grass-fed beef, organic chicken, lentils, wild-caught salmon, black beans, natto, eggs, yogurt, goat cheese, almonds and protein powder made from bone broth.
- For people who don’t eat animal products, there are plenty of plant-based protein options, including nuts, seeds, beans, leafy greens and grains like quinoa.
- To follow a high-protein diet, eat 50 percent of your body weight in grams of protein per day. If you’re looking to burn fat, consume about 70 percent of your body weight in grams of protein.
Health & Fitness Coach
Consultant in applied nutrition and supplementation
Further reading. The importance of strength training