In today’s world, we hear this all the time… increasing your protein intake can help you lose fat. While this is true in some degrees, it may not be in the way you might think.
Does protein burn fat?
So, does protein burn fat? Let’s dig into the science.
Eating a specific nutrient can’t directly cause your body to just lose fat. You lose weight and burn fat when you eat fewer calories than you need for energy, causing your body to use stored fat, carbohydrate, and muscle tissue to fuel your activities.
So does the consumption of protein-rich foods directly result in burning body fat?
You mean does consuming different sources of protein alone create some magic state of thermogenesis and rapid fat burning capabilities?
NO… but there is study after study that shows higher protein diets can result in great fat loss and remember weight loss isn’t always fat loss.
Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss
Most of us default to the term “weight loss” to describe new years resolutions, toning up, or leaning down, but what we really want is “fat loss.”
So, we want to make sure we prevent as much muscle loss as possible while in a deficit. By keeping more muscle mass you can maintain a higher metabolic rate which will lead to greater fat loss.
Muscle is the most metabolic tissue in the body, and protein feeds the muscle. Meaning that when you consume a serving of protein, roughly 20-25 grams of protein or more in a single sitting, you supply your body amino acids to help preserve lean muscle tissue.
It does this by switching the body into an anabolic state where it is primarily burning carbs and fats fuel. Since your body is not burning very many amino acids for fuel, and you gave it amino acids through eating protein-rich foods, it does not need to break down your muscle tissue to find amino acids it needs to carry out normal operating functions. Hence, you maintain your muscle tissue.
The only other state your body can be in is a catabolic state. This state is undesirable for fat loss as in this state your body is using primarily amino acids as fuel and less of carbs and fats. Which leads to hard earned muscle tissue being broken down into amino acids and used for fuel, and excessive carbs and fats getting stored as fat for later use.
Your body can only be in one of two states, anabolic or catabolic. Having a serving of protein, roughly 20-25 grams of protein or more in a single sitting, is what switches your body from the catabolic into the anabolic state. Which as you can see is much better for fat loss because from a simplistic standpoint, it’s where your body is preserving lean muscle tissue and burning fats and carbs for fuel.
BUT… for fat loss to occur, you can’t forget about the number one rule… you have to be in a calorie deficit. Meaning you have to be burning more calories than you consume for your body to use stored energy (body fat).
How do I add extra protein-rich foods to my diet?
A good way to do that is by replacing carbs and fat calories with different sources of protein calories. This will allow you to feel fuller and be less hungry while being in the deficit.
It’s been shown that a high protein diet actually increases levels of hormones that make you feel full (GLP-1, peptide YY and cholecystokinin) while reducing your levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin. This makes it easier to eat less because you simply won’t have as many cravings or desires for high-carb and high-fat foods that are not on your nutrition plan.
What classifies as a high protein diet?
Well, the current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g/kg (0.36 g/lb).
So a guy who weights 180 pounds would need around 65g of protein per day. It’s important to note though that the RDA protein guidelines were originally created to represent the minimum amount that we need to avoid malnutrition and NOT DIE.
In actuality, we can consume more protein than that, and for people who want to lose fat and build muscle, eating a higher protein diet is actually very beneficial.
Actually, one of the biggest downfalls to most peoples fat loss efforts is under eating the macronutrient, protein. Many studies have been done on people consuming 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass and the favorable influences it has on fat loss results.
If you don’t know what your lean body mass is, no problem, just start with eating 1g of protein per pound of goal weight. That will get you headed in the right direction!
Does protein boost my metabolism?
An additional benefit of consuming protein is that it can increase your metabolism and your calories burned for the day. This will lead to further fat loss when done correctly.
This happens because of the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).
TEF refers to how many calories you burn while digesting your food. Each macronutrient (Protein, Carbohydrate, Fat) is different:
- Fat: roughly 0-5% of calories are used when processing
- Carbs: roughly 5-15% of calories are used when processing
- Protein: roughly 20-35% of calories are used when processing
As you can see, protein takes a lot more energy to process than both carbs and fats. This is a good thing, especially if your goal is fat loss. However, do not try to calculate this into your daily numbers on MyFitnessPal.
The TEF benefits of protein with the combination of the fullness benefits of eating protein can synergistically work together to help you consume fewer calories while burning more calories from the food you’re eating. Setting you up for better fat loss results by decreasing your caloric intake and increasing your caloric burn for the day.
Benefits of eating protein
So, as you can see, there are multiple benefits of consuming a higher protein diet if your goal is weight loss… leaning out… fat loss… getting toned… or however you describe the state of having less body fat but maintaining a healthy and fit look.
- A High-protein Diet Helps Curb Cravings
- A High-protein Diet Helps Maintain Lean Muscle Mass
- A High-protein Diet Helps Repair Your Muscles
- A High-protein Diet Helps You Feel Full
- A High-protein Diet Helps Increase Your Caloric Burn
All of these can help you burn more fat.
If you are interested in fat loss (not just weight loss) conserving as much muscle or possibly even building some while in a deficit… and not starving while dieting… then I would make finding sources of protein a priority in your diet!
If you need help figuring out how to work different protein sources into your diet, please feel free to contact us here at 1st Phorm Head Quarters where one of our NASM Certified Personal Trainers and NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialists can help you out… for FREE! You can email us HERE or give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 Monday thru Friday, 6 am to 10 pm CST.
*This post was written by Will Grumke. He is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist, NASM Certified Weight Loss Specialist, NASM Certified Behavioral Change Specialist, and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer