Does High Protein Help With Fat Loss?

By Mike Howard

Recently I commented on a study that suggested calories matter most when it comes to weight loss. That may be true, but another new study has shown that a diet moderately high in protein is superior for fat loss and other health markers. Here are some bullet points from the Journal of Nutrition study.

Study Details

  • Researchers followed the weight-loss efforts of 130 persons during 4 months of active weight loss and 8 months of maintenance.
  • group followed a moderate-protein diet (40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, 30% fat) while the other followed a diet based on USDA’s food-guide pyramid (55% carbohydrates, 15% protein, 15% fat).
  • Participants met every week for weigh-ins and nutrition instruction. participants were taught how to follow their diet, how to grocery shop, and how to prepare the meals.
  • They also measured everything they ate three days a week

Results

  • Although the amount of weight lost in both groups was similar, at 4 months participants in the protein group had lost 22 percent more body fat than members of the food-pyramid group. At 12 months, the moderate-protein dieters had lost 38 percent more body fat.
  • Although at 4 months the food-guide pyramid appeared to be more effective in lowering LDL and total cholesterol levels, at 12 months LDL levels came back up until both diets were equally effective
  • The moderate-protein diet had by far the bigger effect on lowering triglycerides, and that lasted as long as individuals remained on the diet, according to lead researcher Dr. Layman.

    “Of the two types of lipid problems, high triglycerides pose a greater risk for heart disease. Approximately twice as many people have high triglycerides, and people with this condition are approximately four times more likely to die from heart disease,” – Donald Layman

  • The protein diet was easier to follow and maintain long-term, with 64 percent of the moderate-protein dieters completing the study compared to 45 percent of dieters using the high-carbohydrate diet, Layman said.
  • Average weight loss for the protein group was 23 percent higher than the food-pyramid group, with 31 percent of “completers” in the protein group losing more of than 10 percent of their initial body weight versus 21 percent of the food-pyramid group.

Commentary

  • This study certainly makes sense and got me thinking about the concept of “required” vs. “optimal”. The USDA guidelines may provide enough protein for the average person but it would appear that these recommendations are not “optimal” for most poeple.
  • One theory as to why people didn’t lose much fat in the previous study comparing different macronutrient ratios was that protein intake was curiously low in all groups.
  • This study parallels previous studies that have shown moderately high protein intake is superior for fat loss. (Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. Dec. 2006)
  • Other studies have also shown that when protein is constant, higher carb intake isn’t overly relevant. (Am J Clin Nutr;82: 41-48 July, 2005). This study also demonstrated the moderately high protein intake group consumed 441 calories less per day than the standard protein group.
  • Last note – try not to get too wrapped up in looking at macronutrients like protein as a percentage of calories but rather according to your body weight. 1g per pound of body weight is the commonly accepted amount for fat loss and performance.

30 Comments

  1. Susan

    Pahood – You eat 13 percent carbs and 30 percent protein.. does that mean 57 percent of your calories come from fat? (Is this healthy fat like nuts and avocado?)

    Also – Mike, your article has a bit of a math issue… you said that the USDA recommends 55 percent carbs, 15 percent protein, and 15 percent fat. I think it should say THIRTY percent fat.

    I use a nutrition tracker on SparkPeople that measures this for me….I try to stay with the recommendations but this is really making me wonder whether I should increase my protein. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  2. julie

    My stomach hurts just from reading this comment.

    Reply
  3. Bulletproof Jackets

    I have found that the best diet for me is all protein. I eat 5 eggs for breakfast, beef sticks for a snack, ground beef for lunch, cheese for another snack, and then steak for supper with a small salad. I work out every day and am rather muscular already. I have found that i can lose alot of weight in a short time if i happen to have some bad days. I am sure your wondering what my cholesterol is but i had it checked and it was excellent or better than normal

    Reply
  4. Scott

    Your second bullet point stated:

    group followed a moderate-protein diet (40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, 30% fat) while the other followed a diet based on USDA’s food-guide pyramid (55% carbohydrates, 15% protein, 15% fat).

    Does the USDA pyramid have 30% fat, not 15%, or is it 30% protein? As it is, 55+15+15=85%.

    Thanks,

    Scott

    Reply
  5. Food Meister

    I’m learning to care more about hormones as I get older, that’s for sure. I watched an interview with Suzanne Somers the other day and she mentioned that her body had stopped producing hormones altogether. I didn’t know something like that could even happen.

    Reply
  6. Heather

    I don’t think people should demonize carbs though. All the macronutritents have their role in good health! There is not a “bad guy” — assuming you’re taking out refined carbs etc from the equation!

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  7. Heather

    Now, this makes sense to me. Now that I started logging my clean eating diet, what I’m actually eating, I can see that my carb intake is down (not as low as in low carb diets, but still quite low) and my protein intake is very high, and my fat intake is higher than it was when I used to Calorie count to no success— despite the fact I’m eating more Calories… and, of course, I’ve lost quite a bit of weight and body fat this year despite not being very overweight to begin with.

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  8. Spectra

    Excellent post! I think a lot of people cut protein from their diets when they want to lose weight because they associate it with high-calorie foods like bacon, steak, etc. Truth is, there are a lot of protein options out there that very lean and healthy. I actually don’t eat a lot of meat, but I get my daily protein from eggs, nuts, beans, lentils, and edamame.

    Protein is absolutely important when you’re trying to lose weight because it a)takes quite a bit of effort for your body to break down, so your body has to expend quite a bit of energy to get it down to its basic components and b)the amino acids in protein go towards building up your muscle mass so you keep your muscles while you shed fat.

    Reply
  9. Heather

    118 lb at 5’4 and 20% body fat?
    We’re about the same size! You’re a tad leaner than me though — I have 117 lb lbm and am currently 21% body fat via hydrostatic weighing… though aiming to go down!

    Most the women I know at 5’4 have much less lean body mass, just thought it was cool

    Reply
  10. T. Kallmyer

    I know anya, they are impossible….we just banned that one’s IP .

    Reply
  11. Jody - Fit at 51

    So true on weight training! I preach this to any women that will listen to me. I learned from experience that the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn & you can eat more. I eat more now than I did when I was younger even with my crazed hormones!

    Reply
  12. Jody - Fit at 51

    Hi from Fit at 51. I wanted to make a comment to you because I know all about this aging metabolism!!! I not only get PMS but also all the problems of perimenopause (I KNOW, TMI!). I have had to pay attention to my changing body for many years now & even more so in the past few years. In just the past couple years, I have had to really revamp my food program due to changing hormones & I do eat a few less carbs than previously & less starchy carbs. In fact, I eat quite differently now than I did 2 years ago as the hormone changes get worse. I am not limiting any food group but I really have to pay attention to how my body reacts to certain foods & I make adjustments based on that. And yes, I still have to work out hard even with all that. I make changes to my workout to keep my body guessing & I challenge it even at my age. Hormones stink! HA!

    Reply
  13. Jody - Fit at 51

    Thank you! As I always say, my insecurities from my “fat youth” stick with me still so I appreciate hearing that I am doing a good job!

    As for the word “diet”, I hate it too & did a whole post on that word & that I use it generally to drive traffic to my site when people word search but I don’t believe that people should “diet”. I explained to my readers why I will use that word but that my philosophy is to find what works for them for life, not for anyone else. I am a “life style” person like you!

    PS: I am jealous of your abs!

    Reply
  14. Jody - Fit at 51

    I eat EXTRA lean ground turkey & chicken (made a few different ways with various spices), chicken breasts, non-fat Greek yogurt (add spices, fruit & other things to change it up along with substituting it in recipes for milk (can’t digest it), two kinds of protein powder (see my older post on protein) for not only smoothies but I add to oatmeal, my homemade protein bars, and anything else I can add it too if I want extra protein, power peanut butter (a PB that has extra protein in it), eggs (but more egg whites – I am not a fan of yolks although I know they have good properties in them too), certain protein bars I found that work for me & make-up is acceptable to my food program. These are many of the things I use as part of my food program. I know there are good lean red meats out there but I am just not a fan of red meat. Thx for asking! Oh, I do have a post on my homemade protein bars (an older post & was from Clean Eating magazine).

    Reply
  15. FJ

    Very true. That’s why I really hate the word “diet”… its so short term. Eating LIFE STYLE or HABIT is where it’s at!

    Btw I just had to say, can’t believe you’re 51, you look amazing. Keep kicking butt, you’re an inspiration.

    Reply
  16. FJ

    Oh, you’re a diet consultant? How crazy. Hey guess what? NO ONE GIVES A SH*T Mr.Messerwesserruther.

    Why don’t you provide some nutritional value with your expertise instead you fruit basket. Then when someone does care, they may be bothered to check you out.

    Anyways, good post. Were these subjects told to do any weight training? Because coupling that with high protein = muscle mass. And muscles = calorie burning furnace.

    Reply
  17. Pahood

    I’m currently operating at 13% carbs, and feel great. In fact, I find if I increase my carb ratio, I tend to gain weight. My weight training is showing great improvement week to week. My protein is currently at 30%, with overall calories at about 2100. I tend not to worry about fat, and what kind I eat, and I’ve found that my cholesterol and triglyceride numbers are excellent. I also find that if I keep the same ratio I can drop my calories down to 1500 much easier than if I was on a higher carb diet. I have more energy eating this way, and find I get sluggish when increase the carbs. Not sure what all this means, but it works for me.

    Reply
  18. Kami Gray, Author of The Denim Diet

    Your commentary on what is “required” vs. “optimal” makes an excellent point and I agree that eating over half of your diet in carbs (even the healthiest of carbs) seems counter-productive to weight loss, maintenance, and overall good heath. Interesting!

    Reply
  19. Barry

    The leaner you are, and the larger your caloric deficit when you diet, the more protein you need. This is even more true when you are training with weights. Of course, anyone trying to lose fat without weight training is an idiot.

    Reply
  20. Food Meister

    I’m glad you posted this. It’s reminded me of how leaner I was when I ate more protein (90-110 grams a day). And I was eating more total calories. Maybe I need to eat less now because of my aging metabolism? I don’t know. But I will give eating more protein a try.

    Reply
  21. Mike Howard

    That’s a valid point! I think for those who are very heavy, going by lean weight is a better idea. Also, a range could work too; 1-2 g/kg depending on body weight/fat and activity level.

    Reply
  22. Bonnie Minsky MA, MPH, LDN, CNS

    Proper consumption of lean protein is even more crucial for long-term, sustained weight-loss. Years ago, I created the Circle of Health Food Chart, which is my version of the USDA Food Pyramid. It mirrors what an ideal food plate should look like: 50% carbohydrates (1/3 fruit, 1/3 veggies, 1/3 grains), 30% lean protein, 20% healthy fat. It has worked wonders for my clients in creating gradual, sustained weight loss.

    Reply
  23. Yum Yucky

    Jody – what foods do you typically eat for protein?

    Reply
  24. Jennifer

    Shouldn’t that be 1g per pound of lean body weight?

    For someone who is trying to loose weight, at 300 lbs (for instance), eating 300 g of protein may be a bit extreme.

    It’s MY understanding that, that we need to eat for our realistic weight. So, as a female 5’4 in height, I have 118lbs of lean body weight (plus 20% of body fat), I should be eating about 118 g at a minimum of protein. Even though, I weigh considerably more.

    Reply
  25. Jody - Fit at 51

    Although I always say different things work for different people & a person needs to follow a plan that they will be able to stick with for life, the 40-30-30 has worked best for me. I am not exactly that ratio every day but around that. I lift weights pretty seriously so protein is important for me. I eat more protein than the average woman. There are many different types of protein that one can add into their daily diet so I am never at a loss for that. I do stay leaner & more satisfied on my 40-30-30 program. I wonder what types of carbs the people in the higher carb diet were eating. Of course, there are always the exceptions of people that do better with more carbs but I think % wise, more people have trouble losing weight if they are on a higher carb food plan. The types of carbs does make a big difference as well.

    Reply
  26. Anya

    Get them OFF this site is what I meant… see I’m so crabby with it I forgot how to speak english for a moment!!!!

    Reply
  27. Anya

    I wish there were some way to get spammers like this one spruiking their spurious wares on this site … grrr…

    Reply
  28. Anya

    Interesting, and it seems to work for me to. I always feel much better with less carbs than the pyramid suggests and more protein. Now I have something to back it up!!

    🙂

    Reply
  29. Barbara Ling

    Protein is good! I never understand folks who try to go bananas limiting it.

    Reply
  30. Yum Yucky

    Oh great, now I need more protein. It’s 6 am. I think I’ll have a side of chicken with my bacon.

    (good post, seriously)

    Reply