In today’s world, we hear this all the time … increasing your protein intake can help you lose fat. While this is true to some degree, it may not be in the way you might think.
Does protein burn fat?
So, does protein burn fat? Or what is with all this talk about protein for weight loss? Let’s dig into this...
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, this is referred to as a "calorie deficit", causing your body to use stored fats, carbohydrates, and muscle tissue to fuel your activities.
So, does the consumption of protein-rich foods directly result in burning body fat?
Meaning, does consuming different sources of protein alone create some magic state of thermogenesis and rapid fat burning capabilities?
NO … but there are studies that show higher protein diets can result in greater fat loss when in a calorie deficit (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 year's resolutions, toning up, or leaning down ... but what the majority of us really want is “fat loss".
Which means we actually want to make sure we prevent as much muscle loss as possible while in a calorie deficit.
By keeping more muscle mass, you can maintain a higher metabolic rate, which will lead to greater fat loss in the long run, as well as help you maintain the results you worked so hard for.
Side note: Along our health & fitness journeys, the progress we see on the outside will largely be determined by the percentage of weight loss that is actually fat. If we're looking for that lean, toned, athletic look ... then our goal likely needs to be fat loss, and not solely weight loss.
Muscle is the most metabolically active tissue in the body. Protein is what feeds the muscle. Meaning that when you consume a serving of a complete protein source, roughly 20-30 grams of protein or more in a single sitting, you supply your body with amino acids, which make up protein, to help preserve lean muscle tissue.
If you are wondering what a complete protein source is ... it's more than simply finishing your plate. Complete proteins are protein sources with an amino acid profile that contains all 9 of the essential amino acids. These amino acids are termed "essential" because the human body can't make them on its own. Therefore, we must consume them through our diet to properly build and maintain our bodily tissues.
Not every protein source is going to contain all of the essential amino acids you need, so it is important to make sure to pay attention to where your protein sources are coming from. Most complete proteins are found in animal sources like meat, fish, eggs, and some dairy products.
If you get plenty of your protein from these sources, you can sleep easy knowing you're getting all of the essential amino acids your body needs. If you typically stay away from these animal sources though, you may want to look into supplementing your protein with something like Vegan Power Pro to ensure you're getting the essential amino acids your body needs.
Consuming the right amount of a complete protein source in one sitting can help induce muscle protein synthesis. This basically allows your muscles to be in a state of building and repair, in which your body then uses fats and carbs as a primary fuel source.
This is sometimes referred to as your muscle being in an anabolic state (building) vs catabolic state (breaking down).
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 the amino acids it needs to carry out normal operating functions, so it helps you maintain your muscle tissue. This is the anabolic state.
The other state your muscles can be in is a catabolic state.
The catabolic state is undesirable for fat loss, because your body is using more amino acids as fuel, which it may get from breaking down your muscle tissue, and using less carbs and fats.
Remember, a good rule of thumb is consuming 20-30 grams of a complete protein source in one sitting to avoid your hard-earned muscle tissue from being broken down into amino acids and used for fuel, while excessive carbs and fats get stored as fat for later use.
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 some of your carb and fat calories with protein calories. This will allow you to feel fuller and 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 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 weighs 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.
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 very beneficial.
Actually, one of the biggest downfalls to most people's 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 ... you could just start with eating somewhere around 1g of protein per pound of goal weight.
That should get you headed in the right direction!
Does protein boost my metabolism?
An additional benefit of consuming protein is that it can increase your overall 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.
The TEF benefits of protein with the combination of some of the other 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 from 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 Can Help Curb Cravings
- A High-protein Diet Can Help Maintain Lean Muscle Mass
- A High-protein Diet Can Help Repair Your Muscles
- A High-protein Diet Can Help You Feel Full
All of these can help you reach your goals more quickly!
If you are interested in fat loss (not just weight loss) and conserving as much muscle while in a deficit … and not starving while dieting … then I would make finding sources of protein a priority in your nutrition plan!
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 Headquarters, where one of our NASM Certified Personal Trainers and NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialists can help you out … for FREE!
You can contact us HERE or give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 Monday thru Friday, 6 am to 10 pm CDT.