It seems that more and more fad diets are finding their way into fitness circles.
Many claim to be the perfect solution to fat loss. However, while a few of these diets do show some effectiveness, most have little to no positive effect on the majority of subjects who try them (mostly due to a lack of sustainability).
This is unfortunate because so many people are truly desperate to lose body fat and will sign up for anything that promises fast fat loss results.
The reasons for fat burning are many and varied: improved health, increased energy and performance, shredding up for physique competitions, or simply to look and feel better are commonly cited goals.
Whatever the reason, fat loss is one goal most of us share.
Whether we are planning to don the posing trunks or simply want to look better in that new pair of jeans, shedding those few extra pounds will make the job a lot easier.
Ditch the fad diets, up your protein!
No single diet is best for everyone interested in decreasing body fat. Anyone who offers a blanket approach to effective fat loss is either misinformed or painfully oversimplifying a very complex subject.
Related: Everything You Need to Know about Post-Workout Nutrition
But there is one “universal truth” about fat loss diets. This undisputed fat burning mandatory has been proven time and again via scientific research and real-world experience. The real secret to fat loss success: protein.
Yes, a higher protein intake is almost always the most vital component of any successful fat-incinerating dietary regimen.
Lets now take a look at the myriad of reasons consuming more protein is so effective at lowering body fat and positively transforming overall body composition.
1. Has The Greatest Thermic Effect
The thermic effect of food, or dietary induced thermogenesis, refers to the amount of energy expended above the resting metabolic rate due to the cost of processing food for use and storage.5, 23 Convincing scientific evidence points to the fact that a higher protein intake increases thermogenesis to a far greater degree than diets of a lower protein composition. 20, 24, 26, 27
Digesting protein increases calorie burn-off by 20-30 percent compared to 10 percent for carbs and just 0.3 percent for fats.15
Put another way, by eating 200 calories worth of protein, the body will use a remarkable 40-70 calories to digest these calories. However, by consuming the same number of calories of pure fat or carbohydrates, only 10 calories (or 2.5%) will be burned through the thermic effect of these foods.
While the total thermic effect of food is believed to be around 10 percent of total caloric intake, this number can be greatly increased by bumping up the protein.23 When it comes to diet-induced thermogenesis, protein is the undisputed king. In fact, it’s been shown that post prandial (meal) thermogenesis increases 100% on a high-protein/low-fat diet versus a high-carbohydrate/low-fat diet in healthy subjects.13
Bodybuilders training for competition will often increase protein intake while reducing carbs and fats. While total caloric intake will have gradually been slashed over the course of a pre-comp period, the increased protein will have ensured the continuation of fat burning thermogenesis at much higher levels.
2. Increases Satiety
Protein provides a feeling of fullness. This is because protein stabilizes blood sugar levels for longer, thus preventing the sharp, transient fluctuations in blood glucose that are associated with food cravings. In fact, the weight of scientific evidence suggests that high protein feedings lead to a reduced energy intake following meals, due in large part to a decrease in hunger.1, 12, 28, 30
Research has shown that different protein sources can affect satiety differently.22 While animal proteins can produce a two percent greater satiating effect compared with plant sources, whey is prized for having the highest satiety value of all proteins.18, 29
This effect is attributable to whey protein’s higher rate of gastric emptying. The more rapid the gastric emptying and postprandial increase in plasma amino acid concentrations after the ingestion of specific proteins, the greater the increase in satiety due to the enhanced stimulatory effects on gastrointestinal hormones.10
Staying on track nutritionally continues to be the most difficult task for otherwise dedicated athletes and regular trainees. Whenever whey protein is introduced, the extreme hunger associated with caloric restriction is significantly reduced.
The digestion of protein also boosts circulating concentrations of the gut hormones peptide tyrosine (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), thus signaling satiety and decreasing appetite.6, 21, 25 Because these hormones play a crucial role in the subsequent reduction in food intake, higher protein feedings make it much easier to continue eating smaller meals and less overall calories every day.
3. Enhances Protein Synthesis
An increased protein intake promotes a greater rate of muscle protein synthesis, which is mostly powered through energy provided by fats and carbohydrates. Thus, by consuming more protein, and exacting a corresponding energy cost, you can force your body to burn more calories at rest to become a more efficient fat-incinerating machine.3, 14
Indeed, the energy costs of protein metabolism are likely to result in disproportionately increased energy demands.14
Provided sufficient protein is consumed to provide the raw materials for the growth of all bodily tissues, this all adds up to an increased metabolic rate, greater caloric expenditure, and enhanced fat burning.
4. Promotes Gluconeogenesis
Gluconeogenesis is a metabolic pathway that results in the generation of glucose from non-carbohydrate carbon substrates.16
When following a high protein, lower carb food plan, gluconeogenesis is induced to a greater extent, which helps to maintain stable blood glucose levels, and results in decreased feelings of hunger (and fewer calories consumed).
Inner-mitochondrial membrane antiporters (integral membrane proteins involved in secondary active transport of two or more different molecules or ions across a phospholipid membrane) are needed for gluconeogenesis to occur. These inner-mitochondrial powerhouses are crucial for the production of energy and optimize the fat burning response.
Without sufficient dietary protein, glucose may be formulated, via gluconeogenesis, from existing protein stores (muscle tissue). Thus, to keep this process from occurring and muscle gains on the increase in the absence of an abundance of blood glucose (for example, when on a calorie-restricted diet), it is imperative that ample dietary protein be consumed.
Gluconeogenesis is a demand, rather than supply, driven process. The body thus draws on the amino acids circulating in the bloodstream to engage muscle protein synthesis (for muscle growth and repair) or to balance blood sugar levels (via gluconeogenesis) depending on our day-to-day specific energy requirements (which also may change from hour to hour).
We must therefore ensure that both energy production runs efficiently and muscle protein stores remain full by keeping dietary protein levels high.
5. Lowers Insulin Levels
The consumption of protein is not associated with deleteriously high insulin levels. In fact, by keeping protein high and carbohydrates on the lower side, insulin release is kept in check, blood sugar levels are better stabilized and fat storage is less likely to occur.7, 17
A storage hormone that shuttles nutrients from the bloodstream and into various cells of the body, insulin is considered to be highly anabolic and of great importance to muscle building.9 However, large amounts of insulin in the bloodstream are associated with the synthesis and retention of body fat due in large part to the higher concentration of circulating blood sugars that prompt its release.
Helping to control the release of insulin therefore can be an important way to promote fat loss.17
Related: Optimizing Insulin Sensitivity for Muscle Gain and Fat Loss
Aside from its role in storing nutrients, insulin also can inhibit the breakdown of fat cells and encourage the creation of more bodyfat. Though there is much more to the fat burning/blood glucose picture than simply lowering insulin levels via a decrease of total carbohydrates and a corresponding increase in protein, it’s accepted that protein does not have the same insulinogenic effects as carbs.
Excessive and chronically high blood glucose levels are associated with fat storage, obesity, and reduced energy levels.
While protein can be converted to carbs via gluconeogenesis and while excessive levels of protein can potentially contribute to glucose production, the protein contained in a typical bodybuilding diet only requires small amounts of insulin and only minimally increases blood glucose levels.8
Thus, a diet rich in quality proteins and lower in carbohydrates can help to stabilize blood glucose levels to help prevent fat storage.
6. Increases Feelings of Well Being
Research has shown that those following a higher protein fat-loss diet routinely report greater feelings of relaxation (without sleepiness), satisfaction, and are calmer. In addition, high protein consumers tend to have more energy and mental clarity than those who consume fewer proteins in favor of more carbohydrates.
The more relaxed and calm and the less stressed we are, the less likely it is that we will binge on high calorie/fat/sugar foods. Whenever we become stressed the body releases a hormone called cortisol. Among other functions, cortisol increases appetite along with the motivation to eat more.
Along with cortisol release, the emotionally stressed person tends to have a preference for fat and sugar filled foods, which in turn have a feedback effect that shuts down parts of the brain that produce stress.11
While these foods may temporarily manage stress, such comfort eating is a sure path to dietary disaster.
Diets higher in protein can produce an emotionally balanced state and promote clearer thinking.4, 19 With more protein-rich foods we can better manage stress levels and avoid stress-related overeating.
7. Protein Repairs and Builds Muscle
Greater protein intake is associated with increases in fat-free mass, in the form of muscle. More muscle results in higher overall energy expenditure and calories burned all day long.
A metabolically active tissue, muscle has gained a deserved reputation as one metabolic-booster that delivers consistent fat-burning results. In fact, the more muscle we have, the more calories we may burn at rest and the leaner we may ultimately become.
Trying to become lean without an emphasis on muscular development is an extremely difficult task.
Cardio and strict dieting can actually lower the metabolic rate due to a biological imperative to retain bodyfat in the interests of survival. By adding more muscle, and the energy required to maintain it, you can kick start the fat burning process.
Without sufficient dietary proteins, there can be no muscle protein synthesis. No protein synthesis means zero lean mass gains and a very slow metabolic rate.
8. Improvement in Fat Oxidation
Because of several factors, such as lower levels of fat mobilizing hormones like epinephrine and norepinephrine, overweight people generally suffer from impaired fat oxidation following meals.
However, studies reveal that increased protein can greatly mitigate this issue, allowing them to lose body fat more readily.2
Building Muscle and Stripping Fat
If you want to get lean, fast, there is one thing you should do without delay if you haven’t already done so: increase your protein intake. Fat burning and muscle building both depend on an adequate amount of quality dietary protein.
Without a solid portion of protein at each meal you may experience few muscle gains, a sluggish metabolism, poor concentration, low motivation, and the overconsumption of nutritionally-inert junk foods.
Anyone interested in improving body composition should increase their protein intake by incorporating quality foods and supplements such as whey protein, lean meats (including chicken, beef, pork and fish), low-fat cottage cheese (which also supplies a hefty dose of bone-building calcium), and eggs (the best of the whole food proteins).
Fat loss can be greatly enhanced by increasing thermogenesis, feelings of fullness following meals, the energy cost of caloric consumption, lean muscle, mental wellbeing, adherence to proper eating, and insulin secretion. Protein does all of this, and more. So forget the fad diets and extreme fat loss approaches.
To drastically lower your bodyfat, simply increase your consumption of quality proteins!
- Astrup, A. The satiating power of protein—a key to obesity prevention? Am J Clin Nutr 2005;82:1–2.
- Batterham, M. Et al. High-Protein Meals May Benefit Fat Oxidation and Energy Expenditure in Individuals With Higher Body Fat. Nutrition & Dietetics. 2008-12; 65(4):246-252.
- Bier, D. The Energy Costs of Protein Metabolism: Lean and Mean on Uncle Sam's Team. [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224633/ - retrieved on 27.7.17
- Brody, J. HOW DIET CAN AFFECT MOOD AND BEHAVIOR. New York Times. [Online] http://www.nytimes.com/1982/11/17/garden/how-diet-can-affect-mood-and-be... – retrieved on 27.7.17
- de Jonge, L. et al. The thermic effect of food and obesity: a critical review. Obes Res. 1997;5:622–31.
- De Silva, A. et al. Gut Hormones and Appetite Control: A Focus on PYY and GLP-1 as Therapeutic Targets in Obesity. Gut Liver. 2012 Jan; 6(1): 10–20.
- Franz, M., J. Protein: metabolism and effect on blood glucose levels. Diabetes Educ. 1997 Nov-Dec;23(6):643-6, 648, 650-1
- Gannon, M. et al. An increase in dietary protein improves the blood glucose response in persons with type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. October 2003 vol. 78 no. 4 734-741
- Giorgino, F. et al. Regional differences of insulin action in adipose tissue: insights from in vivo and in vitro studies. Acta Physiol Scand. 2005;183:13–30.
- Gustafson D., R. et al. Appetite is not influenced by a unique milk peptide: caseinomacropeptide (CMP). Appetite. 2001;36:157–63.
- Harvard Health Publications. Why stress causes people to overeat . [Online] http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/why-stress-causes-peopl... - retrieved on 27.7.17
- Halton, T., L. et al. The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Oct;23(5):373-85.
- Johnston C., S. et al. Postprandial thermogenesis is increased 100% on a high-protein, low-fat diet versus a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet in healthy, young women. J Am Coll Nutr. 2002, 21 (1): 55-61.
- Kafri, M. The Cost of Protein Production. Cell Rep. 2016 Jan 5; 14(1): 22–31.
- Kollias, H. A Calorie Isn’t a Calorie. [Online] http://www.precisionnutrition.com/digesting-whole-vs-processed-foods - retrieved on 27.7.17
- Larry R. Engelking, in Textbook of Veterinary Physiological Chemistry (Third Edition), 2015. Academic Press.
- Margolis, L. et al. Calorie Restricted High Protein Diets Downregulate Lipogenesis and Lower Intrahepatic Triglyceride Concentrations in Male Rats. Nutrients. 2016 Sep; 8(9): 571.
- Millward, W., L. et al. Casein and whey exert different effects on plasma amino acid profiles, gastrointestinal hormone secretion and appetite. Br J Nutr. 2003;89:239–48. (whey satiety)
- Majumder, B. Role of Protein Vibration in Emotion, Attention, Learning and Memory. International Journal of Biophysics. 2015; 5(1): 1-11
- Parker, B,. Effect of a high-protein, high-monounsaturated fat weight loss diet on glycemic control and lipid levels in type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 2002;25:425–30
- Pesta, D., H. et al. A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2014; 11: 53.
- Paddon-Jones, D. et al. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr. May 2008 vol. 87 no. 5
- Reed G. W., Hill, J., O. Measuring the thermic effect of food. Am J Clin Nutr. 1996, 63 (2): 164-9.
- Raben A., et al. Meals with similar energy densities but rich in protein, fat, carbohydrate, or alcohol have different effects on energy expenditure and substrate metabolism but not on appetite and energy intake. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77:91–100.
- Van der Klaauw, A., A. et al. High protein intake stimulates postprandial GLP1 and PYY release. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Aug;21(8):1602-7.
- Westerterp, K., R. Diet induced thermogenesis. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2004; 1: 5.
- Westerterp-Plantenga M., S, et al. Satiety related to 24 h diet-induced thermogenesis during high protein/carbohydrate vs high fat diets measured in a respiration chamber. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1999; 53:495–502.
- Westman E.,C. Effect of 6-month adherence to a very low carbohydrate diet program. Am J Med. 2002;113:30–6.
- Wren A., M. et al. Ghrelin enhances appetite and increases food intake in humans. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001;86:5992–5.
- Yancy W., S. et al. A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet to treat obesity and hyperlipidemia: a randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med 2004;140:769–77.