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What a High Protein Diet Can and Can't Do


By +Carolyn Richardson on Jan 17, 2012 10:00 AM in Tips & Updates

If you’ve ever googled the word diet, you’ve likely run into the suggestion that changes to your protein intake can help you lose weight. Whether it’s tweaking percentages of macronutrients, increasing grams per meal, or incorporating certain high protein foods, some advice gets quite complicated. But there’s an important stipulation to factor in among all the buzz. New research goes beyond the scale and helps explain what protein can and can’t do. The findings have implications for dieters you may not have expected.

Calories In - Fat On

The study tested the effects of a low, normal, and high-protein diet of 25 participants. Though small, the study is notable in nutrition research because participants lived in a controlled inpatient metabolic unit for up to 3 months where all their meals were observed by dietary staff. Researchers, led by George A. Bray, MD of Pennington Biomedical Research Center, conducted a trial on healthy male and female participants who were fed 40% more calories than their weight maintenance levels. All participants stored the same amount of fat from the excess calories, about 7½ pounds. In a video summary of the study’s findings, Dr. Bray adds, “…there was no evidence that the low, normal, or high protein diet influenced the storage of calories as fat, only the amount of calories that were eaten.”

Lean Body Mass Loss

While participants gained virtually equal amounts of fat, those on the low-protein diet experienced an interesting result. On the low-protein diet (5% of daily calories) participants gained about half as much weight as their normal (15%) and high-protein (25%) counterparts: about 6 pounds vs. 13 pounds respectively. But don't go throwing out your Greek yogurt just yet. The difference was the result of a loss in lean body mass. This finding speaks to the importance of overall body composition, including body fat percentage. Healthy weight loss means losing pounds of fat, not muscle. Here, additional protein intake helped retain and gain lean body mass. In fact, the findings show the high protein group increased lean body mass at a higher rate than the normal protein group. The takeaway is to think fat loss, not weight loss. While a pound of muscle and a pound of fat are both a pound, muscle takes up less volume and helps maintain your strength and overall health. Excess body fat doesn't do that.

Burn Baby Burn

There’s another take away from the study in the way of resting energy expenditure (REE). This number represents between 65% and 75% of total daily calorie expenditure, the rest of which is determined by physical activity level and the calories it takes our body to process food. Those on the normal and high protein diets were found to have increased REE when compared to the low-protein group. Like lean body mass, protein intake mitigated the increase, with the high protein group showing a higher increase than the normal protein group.

Bottom Line

While high-protein diets are said to burn more fat, the more accurate point suggested by this study is when compared to low protein diets, a higher percentage of protein in the diet, increases lean body mass retention and resting energy expenditure. However, when it comes to weight loss, as has been proven time and again, without a caloric deficit, the pounds won't come off. Dr. Bray sums up the study’s findings with this, “The key first message is to reinforce the widely held professional view that calories count…the storage of fat is directly related to the amount of extra calories you have eaten.” He adds, “Weight loss, like weight gain, is a direct function of the amount of calorie excess or surplus that you are exposing your body to.”

Where to Start

If you think you're not getting enough protein in your diet, you may be wrong. According to a separate study by University of Colorado researchers, the average American gets about 17% of their calories from protein each day. So, unless you are below the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation of between 10% to 35% of calories from protein daily, your protein intake may be normal. Increasing your protein intake may help you retain lean body mass and increase your REE, but the only way to lose fat is by keeping your calorie count in check.


Your thoughts…

List the percentage of calories from protein in your favorite foods? To get the number, multiply each gram of protein by 4 and divide that number by the total calorie count of the food.  

27% of the 227 calories in a cup of black beans comes from protein

15.2 grams of protein per serving X 4 calories per gram = 60.8 protein calories 60.8/227 = .267 or 27% of calories from protein.



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Comments


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Nice article.  Throughout my fitness loss journey, I have tried to maintain high quality protein sources - lean meats, nuts, yogurt, beans, etc.  This has really helped me focus on building the lean muscle mass, which is so true to keeping the metabolism up and maintaining the low body fat percentage.  As your article highlights, it is important to focus on body fat percentage reduction vs. total weight loss. 



Although I tend to agree with agree with net calories controlling weight, I'm not so sure the story is all that simple.  I realize the evidence is anecdotal, but this time last year I weighed at least 350.  This morning I weighed 252.  Last night I tried on a suit I bought 10  years ago, it was too big.  I've been on the Atkins diet for the past year.  So, high protein works for me.



Yeah if you look at for example biggest loser where one of the participants lost over 33lbs in one week, and then turned that into calories theres no way he burnt 99 000 calories.



It's heck of science to lose weight properly :((



I think it also has a lot to do with what kind of protein you're eating. If you're eating bacon at every meal, this probably won't help weight loss if you're choosing it over whole grains. If you're eating chicken breasts with little fat and no carbohydrates, it would make sense that a person would lose weight. My diet consists of mostly low fat, high protein sources and vegetables with a moderate amount of low-fat dairy and low GI fruit. I have plenty of energy and fiber so I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything by skipping the breads, rice and pasta.



I started a high-protein-low-carb diet about a month ago.  So far, I'm pretty happy with the results. But I do more than eat right. I also get vigorous exercise 5-6 times a week.  Will be interesting to see how this new diet will work out.  If it doesn't work, I'll switch it up.



I really like that you stress fat loss and not weight loss. Often people put too much emphasis on the scale and may give up if they don't see any changes.

It's a good idea not only to weigh yourself but also measure yourself with a tape measure (hips, waist, arms, thighs, etc), write down the numbers and check again in 30 days.

When you're eating healthy and exercising, you're remodeling your body. Fat is burned and muscle is built, so sometimes the scale may not change, but your measurements will.

-Mandy Seay, RD, LD

http://nutritionistics.com/



Its really quite simple, you are what u eat!! If all ur calories come from fat you will be fat. You should have a pie chart of calories. Where do the calories come from? They come from either protein, carbs, or fat. So eat foods rich in protein (60%) and fat less then 15% and carbs 25% per day. Use these percentages on a reasonable amount of calories like 1300, if u do the same on 2500 calories u may gain weight. Because whatever is excessive regardless of is form will get stored as fat. The body can only process so much and the rest is store.


This shows what we all should already know,  moderation, healthy food choices, lean protein and whole grains while keeping within your caloric needs per day will do the trick.

 



I tried a high protein diet and though I did start seeing weight loss, I had to stop as the lack of fiber really had bad results (trying to be subtle here).  Some people can get by with low fiber and be fine but if you are one that stuggles with bowel issues, do be careful with a high protein diet and either take supplements or focus what carbs you do eat to the highest level of fiber you can get.  I have to have a minimum of 25g a day if not closer to 30-35g.  Keep track and watch your intake and how you are feeling.

Carbs do get a bad rep but remember, they are the fuel you need to get you through your workouts.  You may be OK with high protein if you are just starting out with activity or have shorter focused workouts but as you get more fit you will need more carbs to get you through longer and tougher activities espeically if you have goals such as a triathlon or a biking or running race.  I race mountain bikes and there is no way I can get through a 7 hour training day on protein.  Lots of carbs with enough protien to level my blood sugar is absolutely needed to sustain my effort.  I try to increase my protein during the week when I am lifting in the gym to help build lean body mass and then increase the carbs during the weekend when I am out training for 4-7 hours.

Every body is different and everyone out there has different goals and activity levels.  If a high protein diets works for you, great!  But, don't worry if you find it doesn't work for you or adjust according to your activity level.    Find your balance and as the article reads, it ultimately comes down to calories in and calories out for weight loss and with time you will start to read your body and what it needs depending on your acitvity.



Good article. What it means basically is that, you can take high protein (cause it increases your metab and lean body mass) but make sure your total cals don't cross the required limit. Simple point but when explained scientifically, becomes a bit blurred. Kudos!



Here is a simple question...what should my daily 'Net Calories' be if I am trying to lose 2 lbs per week.

 

thanks!



I liked this input on the topic to add to the heap.  There is no doubt that there are other factors--appetite supression w/ high protein for example--and kick starting--but it seems for the long life haul, portion control, exercize, balance fall back into the line of life. 

"You can put the cork back in the bottle, but with food, you have to be able to take the tiger out of the cage and feed it 3 times a day--for life--without getiing hurt". 

Darn uh?!



Original Post by: greener333

Although I tend to agree with agree with net calories controlling weight, I'm not so sure the story is all that simple.  I realize the evidence is anecdotal, but this time last year I weighed at least 350.  This morning I weighed 252.  Last night I tried on a suit I bought 10  years ago, it was too big.  I've been on the Atkins diet for the past year.  So, high protein works for me.


I'm with you. Last year I counted calories and ate mostely well balanced meals at 15-1800 cal a day.  I lost 14 lbs.  This year (Jan 2012) I'm doing low carb and I've increased my protien intake (staying at 15-1800 cal a day).  I've lost 2 lbs so far (1 lb a week).  The weight is coming off in actual lbs instead of oz.  I did however lose 19 inches overall last year.



Original Post by: blast204

Yeah if you look at for example biggest loser where one of the participants lost over 33lbs in one week, and then turned that into calories theres no way he burnt 99 000 calories.


It's not just burning that many calories, it's burning calories and eating less calories. Take the calories you cut out and the calories you burn and add them together.
I believe a very large person could definitely cut out and burn up to 99,000 calories in one week. It would just take a lot of hard work and will power.



I think a missing element to the conversation is that when people do a "low-carb/high protein" diet, they tend to cut the simple sugars from their menu.  I wonder whether the same result could be achieved simply by switching to complex carbs (whole grains, etc) in moderation.

Also, I believe everyone's metabolism is different and different diets work better for different people.



Original Post by: kmy5

I think a missing element to the conversation is that when people do a "low-carb/high protein" diet, they tend to cut the simple sugars from their menu.  I wonder whether the same result could be achieved simply by switching to complex carbs (whole grains, etc) in moderation.

Also, I believe everyone's metabolism is different and different diets work better for different people.


okay but now you're throwing in other variables. The study was to show whether simply increasing or decreasing protein in the diet would/how affect weight and body composition. Metabolism and genetics are different sure, and we all want to be unique snowflakes but in general you only stray so far from the norm.



Original Post by: blast204

Yeah if you look at for example biggest loser where one of the participants lost over 33lbs in one week, and then turned that into calories theres no way he burnt 99 000 calories.


that guy frontloaded the scale by carb and water loading to win the 1 week loss.



Go to Freedieting.com use their calorie calculator.


The reason why your metabolism is burning more calories is because of the amino acids in the protein. Research (tyrosine) this amino acid supports ur thyroid gland which if im not mistaken ur thyroid controls ur metabolism. Most everything all natural has amino acids, but dairy products and meat contain the highest quality. So my thought is feed the thyroid (proteins), thyroid speeds up ur metabolism. If u can find literature to prove me wrong please do definitly worth a look. Now im a half marathon runner from the research ive done U have gycogen storage when this gets depleted u feed ur body very small portions of protein and or carbs to get by on so that ur body will utilize stored fat as energy and u dont develope stomach problems while on a run,is this correct? So yes on 1 hr+ workouts carbs should be introduced but under 60 mins most people should have the storage capcity to get thru the workout. I think the emphysis should be put more on carbs at some point too many carbs gets stored as fat. Ive yet to eat too much protein and while eating high protein/ low carbs i havent found many things that contain unhealthy sugars. Protein will help to stablize ur blood sugar levels when levels are out of wack i have no self control what so ever with food.


I think the researchers missed the point by giving participants the same number of calories.  Having a high protein diet should cause a person to stay satisfied longer with fewer calories, thus a person on a high protein diet would be eating less without being as hungry.  Also, the protein would support muscle growth, with would raise BMR.



The results may or may not be valid, but 25 participants is still too small a sample number statistically  to make a definitive decision when giving advice to a large population, no matter what the study conditions were. Hawthorne effect, placebo and a myriad other factors have to be accounted for. This study still needs to be replicated in a larger population.



The comments here seem to assume high protein = low carbs, which is NOT the case. I have been increasing my protein, but as a vegetarian, when you increase protein you either increase carbs or fat along with it. Beans have carbs, tofu and cheese have fat. I don't believe in reducing carbs or fat too much. I already eat enough fat in my diet so most of the protein increase comes with carbs. I find protein helps me stay fuller longer, but I want overall health and you need all three elements for overall health. I just want to make the point that high protein does not equal low carbs!



Do I understand this correctly? All participants ate 40% more calories than they needed. The low protein people lost 1.5 lbs. muscle, gained 7.5 lbs fat for a total weight gain of 6 pounds. The high protein people also ate 40% more calories than they needed, gained 5.5 pounds of muscle and gained 7.5 pounds of fat for a total gain of 13 pounds. This sounds like I will gain twice as much weight by feasting on lean meats than by eating the same calories of pasta. While I see that the muscle percentage of the high protein folks is much much better-and the low protien folks lost muscle, this 6 pound gain vs. 13 pounds is depressing. I'd rather be stuck with the 6! Am I not understanding? OK so now we know how protien % affects weight gain. How does it affect weight loss? Any scientific studies out there? Because I for one am not interested in gaining anything.



In my experience the high protein diet works, but only if you reduce your carbs by a certain amount based on your weight. The idea is if you don't take in the sugar, your body can't save the fat. I did one called protein power and I did lose weight once I got used to not having my carbs. I didn't suffer lack of energy either.

I've lost weight on the low cal diet too.



I'm vegan and I set my protein target to 20% of net cals. This is for weight maintenance and muscle gain. Generally I get about 100-130g per day (I have a fast metabolism that maintains on about 2000 with exercise)

 

is this a good target? I don't want to *lower* it because then I would have to cut out protein foods and add in bread products (BAD.) But I could easily raise it to maybe 23% if that would be better.



This study shows that the body doesn't act like a bank balance!

Weight on does not equate to excess calories in.

Before I read this, if someone had asked me which group would gain the least weight, I wouldhave picked the high protein group. My reasoning would have neem that carbs take ten percent of their calories for digestion, protien twenty percent. Bingo there's less calories to store with the higher protein intake.

This though in practise hasn't happened, so what's going on?

For the body to be using protein to increase fat, one assumes there has to be an extrta biological function fueled gluco-neo-genesis. So you would still expect the high protein diet to give less weight gain.

Or back to the bank balance, what's happened to the excess calories the low protein group ate? Why isn't the extra poundage more for them?

Ian



Original Post by: sdelano40

I tried a high protein diet and though I did start seeing weight loss, I had to stop as the lack of fiber really had bad results (trying to be subtle here).  Some people can get by with low fiber and be fine but if you are one that stuggles with bowel issues, do be careful with a high protein diet and either take supplements or focus what carbs you do eat to the highest level of fiber you can get.  I have to have a minimum of 25g a day if not closer to 30-35g.  Keep track and watch your intake and how you are feeling.

Carbs do get a bad rep but remember, they are the fuel you need to get you through your workouts.  You may be OK with high protein if you are just starting out with activity or have shorter focused workouts but as you get more fit you will need more carbs to get you through longer and tougher activities espeically if you have goals such as a triathlon or a biking or running race.  I race mountain bikes and there is no way I can get through a 7 hour training day on protein.  Lots of carbs with enough protien to level my blood sugar is absolutely needed to sustain my effort.  I try to increase my protein during the week when I am lifting in the gym to help build lean body mass and then increase the carbs during the weekend when I am out training for 4-7 hours.

Every body is different and everyone out there has different goals and activity levels.  If a high protein diets works for you, great!  But, don't worry if you find it doesn't work for you or adjust according to your activity level.    Find your balance and as the article reads, it ultimately comes down to calories in and calories out for weight loss and with time you will start to read your body and what it needs depending on your acitvity.


it should be pretty easy to find the right balance. i have a high fiber and high protein diet.

for example (a typical week day): i get up at 4 am, eat a banana and steel cut oats (1/4 cup dry) with 1/4 cup fresh blueberries in it (i cook a batch of the oats at the begining of the week and microwave a serving with the blueberries for 1 1/2 minutes in the morning) right away. i wait about 30 minutes, then do p90x. after that i have a protein shake or eggwhite omlet.

a couple hours later i have an apple.

a couple hours later, for lunch, i have a chicken breast and a pear.

a couple hours later i have a snack - different every day - often times, special k cracker/chips and laughing cow cheese (whole snack is less that 150 calories)

then dinner is always lean protein and veggies.

to lose weight, i have to keep to about 1300; to maintain, no more than 1500. 

lots of protein for muscle, lots of fiber because i NEED fiber (following your subtly).

i find that i have no trouble having both high protein and fiber. especially when i incorporate beans. black beans, pinto beans, white beans, kidney beans. tonight, i'm making white bean and chicken chili. i have chicken in my crock pot with seasonings all day. i'll shred it when i get home and add a can of white and black beans and some cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, chicken broth, orengano, corn, diced green chiles, diced tomatoes, diced tomatillos, and let it all simmer. then i'll top it all with some cilantro, lime and avocado.

it will be high in fiber and protein and FLAVOR but low in calories!!! and i can't wait!!!!



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