Why is protein key for weight loss?

You often hear about carbs and fats in relation to weight loss but more and more people are starting to talk about the effects of your protein intake and your weight loss efforts. 

 

This is because the evidence is now quite clear, that having a good level of protein intake is key for helping you to lose weight and keep it off.

 

But why is this? And how much protein exactly do you need?

 

We’ll be answering these questions and much more in this article.

 

 

Why do you need protein?

 

Everything in our body is made up of proteins which is why they are often referred to as the building blocks of life. 

 

They play a key role in your body movement, structural support, storage, communication between cells, digestion and the transport of substances around the body. 

 

So if we don’t eat enough protein, our body can’t grow, repair itself properly or function at its best.

 

Not getting enough protein reduces the amount of muscle we have, which can cause accelerated muscle loss (sarcopenia) and overall poorer quality of life (1).

 

 

sarcopenia graph

 

So protein is kind of a big deal if you want to look, feel and perform at your best.

 

In fact, protein is the only pragmatically essential macronutrient! This is because your body is able to create its own needs of carbohydrates and can survive on low fat stores for a much longer time than protein, even during periods of starvation.

 

It’s also really easy to undereat protein even with a very high calorie diet. This is because getting carbs and fats into your diet is as easy as this…

 

This is especially easy when you are tired and hungry, which unfortunately, for many people is a lot of the time.

 

This is why “where is my protein?” is the second question on our Health by Science plate.

health by science plate

 

 

You also need a good amount of protein if you want to lose body fat…

 

How does protein help with weight loss?

 

Protein plays a big role in helping you lose weight and keep it off in two ways:

 

– Makes you feel full sooner, helping you to eat fewer calories (2).
– Preserves your muscle mass and increases your fat loss (3).

 

Protein is the most satiating (making you feel full) macronutrient, especially for women (4). This is because of something called the thermic effect of food which means that more energy is needed to digest, absorb and metabolize protein compared with fats and carbs.

 

Protein also helps you to feel full sooner through its direct effect on the brain, activating the hormones which increase satiety.

 

If you are able to lower your calorie intake causing you to lose weight you’ll likely feel like this…

But what if you then found out that a large proportion of that hard earned weight loss wasn’t actually fat loss but muscle loss!

I know! It would be devastating.

 

Unfortunately however, this is what happens to a lot of people who don’t know how much protein they need.

low protein diet

Now when we mention weight loss, what we really mean is fat loss because we want to lose body fat whilst preserving muscle mass. As mentioned above your muscle mass is like gold dust if you want to live a long and healthy life and minimise the risk of sarcopenia.

 

graph low protein diet

 

Preserving your muscle mass also helps you keep a nice healthy, toned body shape.

 

So if you want to maxmise your fat loss whilst preserving your health boosting, toned body it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet.

 

The big question is then, how much is “enough”?

 

How much protein do you need for weight loss?

 

How much protein you need exactly depends on your current weight, goal and level of physical activity.

 

This can range from 1.2 grams per kg (g/kg) of bodyweight if you’re sedentary, all the way up to 3.3 g/kg of bodyweight if trying to minimise fat gain whilst trying to put on muscle (5-7).

 

To simplify the process for you we’ve provided you with our protein calculator below. You’re welcome!

 

What does that look like in real life?

 

The most accurate way to keep track of your protein intake is to use My Fitness Pal which syncs directly with our app.

 

If My Fitness Pal isn’t for you then, fortunately, there’s another way…

hand portion of protein

 

Your hand can function as a good portion size guide and for protein we use the palm. Although not quite as accurate as My Fitness Pal, it’s easy to use, it’s relative to you (the bigger the hand the bigger the portion) and you always have it with you!

chicken portion
veg protein portion
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What are the best sources of protein?

 

Now that you know the quantity of protein that you need, it’s important to understand where the best quality sources come from.

 

Processing food isn’t inherently bad but in general, the less processing a food has been through the more chance it has of sustaining its nutrient density.

 

It’s also important to remember that foods are not inherently “good” or “bad”, there are just better quality foods which we should aim to eat more of and “poorer” quality foods which we should aim to eat less of when trying to lose weight.

 

protein sources

 

Understanding your nutrition requirements based on your goals and individual barriers is a key part of achieving sustainable weight loss, just like our clients below. 

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“I’ve been working with Jamie since Feb 2019 and moved to Health by Science with him. I love working out at their gym, everyone’s super friendly.”

Beth

Over a 12 month period, David managed to lose over 10kg and record his lowest and healthiest weight in the last 25 years.

David

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Lucy used to think that people like her weren’t meant to exercise. Lucy has now achieved results she never thought were possible.

Lucy

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References: 

1) Paddon-Jones, D., & Rasmussen, B. B. (2009, January). Dietary protein recommendations and the prevention of sarcopenia. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2760315/#:~:text=To prevent or slow sarcopenic,high quality protein per meal.

 

2) Johnstone, A. (2014, March 27). Protein and satiety. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780857095435500074

 

3) Cava, E., Yeat, N. C., & Mittendorfer, B. (2017, May 15). Preserving Healthy Muscle during Weight Loss. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5421125/

 

4) Johnstone, A. (2014, March 27). Protein and satiety. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780857095435500074

 

5) LM;, T. D. (n.d.). American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26891166/

 

6) Rafii M;Chapman K;Elango R;Campbell WW;Ball RO;Pencharz PB;Courtney-Martin G;. (n.d.). Dietary Protein Requirement of Men 65 Years Old Determined by the Indicator Amino Acid Oxidation Technique Is Higher than the Current Estimated Average Requirement. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26962173/

 

7) Rafii M;Chapman K;Owens J;Elango R;Campbell WW;Ball RO;Pencharz PB;Courtney-Martin G;. (n.d.). Dietary protein requirement of female adults 65 years determined by the indicator amino acid oxidation technique is higher than current recommendations. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25320185/