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How protein can help you naturally lose weight

Protein and weight loss

This article provides an in-depth analysis of how a high-protein diet can aid in weight loss by boosting metabolism and reducing appetite.

Weight Management
This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
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How protein can help you naturally lose weight
Last updated on April 24, 2024, and last reviewed by an expert on January 29, 2024.

Boosting your protein intake can assist in weight loss by influencing certain hormones, which helps you stay fuller for longer and offers additional advantages.

How protein can help you naturally lose weight

Protein is a crucial nutrient for losing weight and improving your physique.

Eating more protein can increase your metabolism, curb your appetite, and alter various hormones that regulate weight.

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Protein aids in reducing both overall weight and belly fat through several mechanisms.

This article gives an in-depth analysis of protein’s role in weight loss.

Protein alters several hormones that regulate weight

The brain, especially a part called the hypothalamus, actively controls your weight.

Your brain decides when and how much to eat by interpreting various types of information.

Hormonal changes in response to eating are crucial signals for the brain.

Increasing your protein intake can raise the levels of satiety hormones like GLP-1, peptide YY, and cholecystokinin, while decreasing levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin.

By substituting protein for carbs and fats, you lower the hunger hormone and increase several satiety hormones.

This significantly reduces hunger, which is a primary way protein aids in weight loss. It naturally leads you to consume fewer calories.

Summary: Protein reduces the hunger hormone ghrelin and increases satiety hormones like GLP-1, peptide YY, and cholecystokinin, leading to a natural decrease in calorie consumption.

The body expends calories digesting and metabolizing protein

After eating, some calories are utilized to digest and metabolize the food.

This process is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF).

While there’s some debate over the exact numbers, it’s clear that protein has a much higher thermic effect (20-30%) than carbs (5-10%) or fats (0-3%).

Taking a 30% thermic effect for protein as an example, it means that out of 100 calories of protein consumed, only 70 calories are effectively used.

Summary: Around 20-30% of calories from protein are spent during the digestion and metabolism of the protein.

Protein increases calorie burning

The high thermic effect of protein, along with other factors, typically boosts your metabolism.

This results in higher calorie burning throughout the day, even while you’re asleep.

Studies have shown that a diet rich in protein can increase daily calorie burn by about 80 to 100 calories.

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Suggested read: How protein shakes can help you lose weight

This effect is even more pronounced when you consume more calories than your body needs. For instance, one study found that a high protein diet during a period of overeating led to an extra 260 calories burned each day.

So, diets high in protein not only help you burn more calories but also have a “metabolic advantage” compared to diets lower in protein.

Summary: Consuming more protein can increase your daily calorie burn, ranging from 80-100 extra calories to 260 calories during periods of overeating.

Protein decreases hunger, leading to fewer calories consumed

Protein can significantly diminish hunger and appetite through various mechanisms.

This often results in a natural reduction in calorie intake.

This means that you tend to eat fewer calories without needing to consciously control portions or count calories.

Numerous studies indicate that increasing protein intake leads to consuming fewer calories.

This effect is seen both over a single meal and over sustained periods, as long as the high protein intake is maintained.

For instance, in one study, participants consumed 441 fewer calories per day when protein made up 30% of their diet.

Therefore, diets high in protein not only have a metabolic benefit but also an “appetite advantage,” making it much easier to cut calories compared to diets with lower protein content.

Summary: Diets rich in protein can significantly curb hunger and appetite, making it much easier to consume fewer calories, compared to lower protein diets.

Protein reduces cravings and lessens late-night snacking

Cravings can be a major hurdle for dieters and are often a reason why people struggle with diets.

Suggested read: How to gain weight fast and safely

Late-night snacking is another significant challenge, especially for those prone to weight gain, as these extra calories add to their total daily intake.

However, protein can significantly impact cravings and the urge to snack late at night.

One study comparing high-protein and normal-protein diets in overweight men found that a diet where protein made up 25% of the calories reduced cravings by 60% and decreased the desire for late-night snacking by half.

The first meal of the day might be particularly important for protein intake. A study among teenage girls showed that a high-protein breakfast notably diminished cravings.

Summary: Increasing your protein intake can lead to a significant reduction in cravings and the desire to snack late at night, contributing to a healthier diet adherence.

Protein aids in weight loss without strict dieting

Protein influences both aspects of the “calories in vs calories out” balance. It reduces calorie intake and increases calorie expenditure.

That’s why it’s not surprising that high-protein diets lead to weight loss, even without intentional restrictions on calories, portion sizes, fats, or carbohydrates.

In a study with 19 overweight individuals, increasing protein to 30% of their total calorie intake led to a significant decrease in overall calorie consumption.

Participants in this study lost an average of 11 pounds over 12 weeks, simply by adding more protein to their diet without consciously restricting other nutrients.

While results vary, most research confirms that high-protein diets can result in notable weight loss.

Higher protein intake is also linked to reduced belly fat, the harmful type that accumulates around organs and can lead to health issues.

However, the key is not just losing weight, but maintaining that loss over the long term.

Many people can diet temporarily and lose weight, but often they regain the weight later.

Interestingly, increasing protein intake can help prevent this weight regain. One study showed that a slight increase in protein intake (from 15% to 18% of total calories) halved the weight regain after a diet.

Suggested read: Body recomposition: Lose fat and gain muscle at the same time

So, protein doesn’t just help with losing weight; it can also help keep it off in the long term.

Summary: A diet high in protein can lead to weight loss, even without strict calorie counting, portion control, or carb restriction. Slightly increasing protein intake can also help prevent weight regain.

Protein protects muscle mass and prevents metabolic slowdown during weight loss

Losing weight doesn’t always mean losing fat exclusively.

Often, muscle mass decreases during weight loss, too.

But ideally, you want to lose body fat, both the subcutaneous fat (beneath the skin) and visceral fat (around the organs).

Muscle loss is an unwanted side effect of weight loss for many.

Another common issue during weight loss is a reduction in metabolic rate, meaning you burn fewer calories than before losing weight.

This phenomenon is sometimes called “starvation mode,” leading to a significant drop in daily calorie expenditure.

Consuming adequate protein can help minimize muscle loss, maintaining a higher metabolic rate as you lose body fat.

Strength training is also crucial in reducing muscle loss and preventing metabolic slowdown during weight loss.

Hence, a high protein intake combined with rigorous strength training are essential components of an effective fat loss plan.

These strategies not only maintain a robust metabolism but also ensure that the body beneath the fat looks toned and lean. Without sufficient protein and strength training, there’s a risk of appearing “skinny-fat” rather than fit and muscular.

Summary: Consuming enough protein can help prevent muscle loss during weight loss and maintain a higher metabolic rate, especially when coupled with intensive strength training.

Determining the optimal amount of protein

The standard dietary reference intake suggests 46 grams of protein per day for the average woman and 56 grams for the average man. While this may prevent deficiency, it’s not the ideal quantity for those aiming to lose weight or build muscle.

Research linking protein to weight loss typically expresses protein intake as a percentage of total calories. Aiming for protein to constitute 30% of your calorie intake appears highly effective for weight loss.

To calculate protein in grams, multiply your calorie intake by 0.075. For instance, on a 2000 calorie diet, you’d aim for 2000 * 0.075 = 150 grams of protein.

Alternatively, you can target protein intake based on your body weight, with common recommendations suggesting 0.7-1 gram of protein per pound of lean mass (1.5 – 2.2 grams per kilogram).

It’s beneficial to distribute your protein intake throughout the day, incorporating it into every meal.

While precision isn’t crucial, maintaining a range of 25-35% of your total calories from protein should be effective.

For more insights, refer to this article:

Protein intake — How huch protein should you eat per day?
Suggested read: Protein intake — How huch protein should you eat per day?

Summary: For weight loss, aiming for 25-35% of your total calories from protein may be optimal. On a 2000 calorie diet, this equates to about 150 grams of protein.

Boosting your protein intake

To increase your protein consumption, simply incorporate more protein-rich foods into your diet. These include:

A comprehensive list of healthy, high-protein foods is available in this article:

20 delicious high protein foods to eat
Suggested read: 20 delicious high protein foods to eat

If you’re following a low-carb diet, opt for fattier cuts of meat. Otherwise, prioritize lean meats to keep protein levels high without consuming excess calories.

Considering a protein supplement, like whey protein powder, can also be beneficial, especially if you find it challenging to meet your protein targets through food alone. Whey protein has been associated with several benefits, including enhanced weight loss.

Incorporating more protein into your diet may seem straightforward, but making it a consistent part of your nutritional plan can be challenging.

Initially, it’s advisable to use a calorie/nutrition tracker. Measure and record everything you eat to ensure you’re meeting your protein goals.

This tracking isn’t a lifelong commitment, but it’s crucial in the beginning to understand what a high-protein diet entails.

Summary: To boost your protein intake, consume a variety of high-protein foods. Initially, using a nutrition tracker can help ensure you’re meeting your protein goals.

Protein: The straightforward, enjoyable route to weight loss

Protein stands out as the ultimate nutrient for fat loss and enhancing your physique.

Increasing your protein intake doesn’t require cutting out other food groups; it’s about adding beneficial nutrients to your diet.

This approach is particularly enticing because many high-protein foods are not just nutritious but also delicious, making it a satisfying dietary addition.

Adopting a high-protein diet isn’t just a short-term fix for weight loss; it’s a viable long-term strategy for obesity prevention.

By consistently consuming more protein, you support the “calories in vs calories out” balance in your favor.

The impact on your waistline could be significant over months or even years.

However, it’s crucial to remember that overall calorie intake still matters. Protein can help reduce appetite and increase metabolism, but weight loss requires consuming fewer calories than you burn.

It’s possible to overconsume calories, offsetting the benefits of a high-protein diet, particularly if you’re eating a lot of processed foods.

Therefore, it’s advisable to base your diet on whole, single-ingredient foods.

While this article emphasizes weight loss, it’s worth noting that protein offers numerous additional health benefits.

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Suggested read: 10 science-backed reasons to eat more protein
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