The Role of Protein in Weight Loss

Daily intake of protein plays a very important role when trying to lose weight. When the subject of protein comes up in a conversation about weight loss, people often associate it with the Atkins Diet. However, getting enough protein is important to everyone trying to lose weight, no matter the nutritional plan they’re on. Protein, the building blocks of the body, plays an important role in weight loss in three ways.

Protein acts as an alternative calorie source. If you replace some fatty, high carb foods with a good source of protein such as lean meat you will increase the thermic effect of your meals. As much as 10% of the calories you eat are burned as a part of the digestion process. This assumes a mix of carbs, fats, and protein. However, the thermic effect of protein is as much as 30% of its calories, which means that you will net 20% less calories compared to fat or carbs. A high protein diet that includes 40% calories from protein will result in a net difference of about 100 to 200 calories per day when compared to a typical diet. Eating a high protein diet of 2000 calories has a similar metabolic effect as eating a mixed diet of 1750 calories. Basically you get more bang for your buck with protein.

Nothing can derail a diet like being hungry the entire time can. Protein can help keep hunger under control because it’s much more satiating than fat and carbs. The thermic effect of protein burns more calories because it’s more difficult to breakdown and it takes longer to digest. Since meats and other protein sources take longer to process, they also make you feel full longer. Many studies have been done that show that higher protein diets are more successful because they are more filling.

The amount of muscle mass a person has a direct correlation to the amount of calories they burn. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Men and women of the same height and weight often have different caloric needs and that’s because men have more lean mass. Protein plays an important role in building and maintaining muscle mass which in turn can increase metabolism. While your body needs some fat for proper hormone levels and carbohydrates for energy, a lack of protein while restricting calories can result in the loss of muscle. Loss of muscle can slow your metabolism and also result in becoming “skinny fat”. Skinny fat is a term used to describe losing weight but still looking soft at the end because of the lack of muscle mass. With proper protein intake of about 1g per pound of body weight and a good lifting routine you can maintain or even add more lean mass. The result will be a more fit looking and strong body.

In closing, the thermic effect, filling nature and muscle building properties of protein make it the most important of the three macro nutrients. You don’t have to go as far as cutting out all carbs or all fats or follow the Atkins or zone diets to benefit from protein. The average diet consists of about 20-25% protein, so simply making an effort to eat more protein in a balanced diet can be very beneficial to managing a healthy weight.

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