Protein has been considered by many experts in the health and fitness field to be one of the most important, if not the most important, nutrient in the diet.
It has been shown in research to be key to muscle growth and strength and, because all hormones and materials in the body are used to form with protein, has a broad range of other health and fitness benefits.
One of these benefits is in promoting weight loss while preserving muscle mass. These perks stem from multiple processes in the body related to hunger and muscle mass development and maintenance.
Below, 7 of these mechanisms will be explained, along with which type of protein promotes these effects the most, before outlining sources of protein that can be included in the diet to help accelerate weight loss while maintaining strength, lean muscle, and overall health.
1. Protein Can Increase Satiety and Reduce Hunger
Many studies show that eating protein-rich foods or increasing overall protein intake can reduce hunger and overall food intake.
Along with this, protein-rich foods such as fish and meats can also fill the stomach, causing stomach distension, which also increases satiety hormones and decreases hunger.
This effect has been seen in multiple types of protein, but most often in milk, animal or egg based proteins.
Regardless of the kind of protein, this hunger quenching effect of protein can help decrease food and calorie intake, allowing for the creation of a deficit and subsequent weight loss.
2. Increasing Protein Intake Can Decrease Fat Mass
In one study looking at high versus typical protein intakes, the group taking in higher protein lost more fat despite being in a caloric deficit and eating more calories than the lower protein group.
This lack of weight gain shows that a high protein diet is both favorable for weight loss and makes it harder to gain weight when eating a greater amount of food.
This decrease in fat can improve both health and physique as well as help to aid overall weight loss while preserving muscle.
3. Protein Is The Most Thermogenic Nutrient
When food is consumed the energy required and used to digest the nutrients in the meal is called the Thermogenic Effect of Food, or TEF, meaning that just digesting food can burn a significant amount of calories.
Each nutrient requires different amounts of digestion, and so, uses more or fewer calories. Of all the primary nutrients of carbohydrates, protein, and fats, it is protein uses the most energy in digestion.
By increasing the amount of calories burned in each meal, this can further help aid weight loss without the need to reduce food intake or increase exercise, making this one of the easiest ways to help accelerate weight loss.
4. Protein Promotes and Preserves Muscle Mass and Metabolism
One of the biggest contributors to metabolism, or the amount of calories required to stay at the same weight, is muscle mass. So, increasing muscle mass can raise the number of calories that you can eat while still promoting weight loss.
The increase in muscle mass can also be achieved by a wide range of protein foods, including vegan sources like soy or pea, allowing plenty of variety when implementing more of this nutrient in the diet.
This increase in metabolism, combined with the larger energy expenditure needed to digest high protein foods, makes increasing protein an ideal addition to any weight loss diet, or an easy and efficient means of promoting weight loss on its own.
5. Increasing Protein Reduces Fat and Carbohydrate Intake
By increasing the number of calories coming from protein, while keeping overall calorie intake the same, this will automatically reduce the amount of carbohydrates and fats taken in with the diet.
This substitution will also promote weight loss as sugar and fat intake together have been shown to promote overeating and weight gain more than protein, while also having a lower Thermic Effect of Food.
So, substituting high fat and carbohydrate meals with more protein-rich foods will help reduce overeating and promote a larger calorie deficit along with boosting metabolism and fat loss.
6. Increasing Protein When Dieting Can Increase Muscle
Until recently, many believed it was impossible to gain muscle when trying to lose weight. However, recent research has shown that, when taking in a high protein diet, it is possible to lose weight while also increasing muscle mass.
As muscle mass is both key to health and fitness, and in promoting metabolism, this makes high protein diets essential for athletes who need to reduce weight, such as boxers or wrestlers repeatedly, or for those looking to maintain a healthy physique when cutting calories.
For more details on increasing protein when dieting, check out this report on comparing different nutrients during cutting.
7. Increasing Protein Intake Around Exercise Improves Recovery and Allows Greater Training
When taking in protein around exercise, especially weight training, this enhances the amount of protein that can be used by the body.
This increase in protein use seems to be caused by whey protein in particular, due to the faster digestion of this type of protein compared to other forms.
It also helps promote recovery from strenuous exercise and thus allows a greater amount of training you can carry out, which then increases the number of calories burned in a day or week, which will further promote weight loss.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Despite the above benefits for weight loss, current research suggests that the daily recommended amount of protein, of 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight, is insufficient to obtain all the benefits of this nutrient.
The research has instead suggested that a protein intake of 1.5 grams up to 2.5 grams per kilogram of body weight is optimal for promoting weight loss while ensuring this weight loss stems from fat and not lean muscle, with the exact number still under debate.
In fact, a higher protein content is one of the main reasons that most conventional diets, such as low-carbohydrate or Paleo diets have is showing to effective. However, a review of research has shown that this may be the only factor that gives these structured diets any advantage.
As such, just increasing protein in any diet will allow for weight loss and a better body composition.
Also, along with the quantity of protein taken in, the quality is another vital consideration, as some protein sources like wheat or vegetable protein don’t contain all of the essential amino acids needed to maximize protein synthesis in the body.
So, taking in high-quality protein like whey protein, or more vegetarian or vegan-friendly soy protein, which are available from distributors like Body Nutrition UK, is key to achieving maximum benefit.
Supplementing the diet with these forms of protein allows for an easy and cost-effective way of accelerating weight loss while maintaining fitness and lean muscle.