Food comes in three major categories: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. These macronutrients make up the sources of our daily calorie intake, and we need all three to maintain healthy bodies. Much of our struggle with weight gain comes from getting our proportions off. Too many carbs (especially highly processed ones) or fats (especially unhealthy trans fats) and we start to gain weight. The key to weight loss is often about resetting those macronutrient ratios in a way that promotes weight loss, and for most people that means eating more protein.
Why a High-Protein Diet Works
Take these results into consideration: dieters getting 25% of their calories from lean protein saw a drop in blood pressure, LDL cholesterol levels, and triglycerides. Another study in which the participants got 30% of their calories from protein ate an average of 450 fewer calories per day and lost 11 pounds in 12 weeks without doing anything else to their diet. What’s the science behind why this works? Here are a few facts:
• Protein takes more work to digest. The “thermogenic effect” refers to the amount of energy your body spends digesting a food. For every 100 calories of protein you eat, your body will spend about 30 of those calories simply digesting the protein. Compare that to 15 calories per 100 calories of carbs, or 5 calories per 100 calories of fat!
• Protein takes longer to leave your stomach. Because it takes more work to digest, protein spends more time in your stomach – thus leaving you full for longer. This explains why simply upping your protein intake automatically reduces your overall calorie intake.
• Protein makes you lose fat, not muscle, when you exercise. Body builders are a dramatic example of this, but don’t worry – simply eating a little more protein won’t turn you into the Hulk. Protein fuels your muscles, rebuilding them after a hard exercise so your body breaks down fat stores for fuel instead of turning to muscle.
• Protein helps you burn stored fat faster. Eating more protein means you’ll be eating fewer carbs. Eating fewer carbs means your body will have to start turning to stored energy in the form of fat to keep you energized.
The Do’s and Don’t’s of a High-Protein Diet
Just like most things in life, there is a proper technique to going on a high-protein diet. Gorging on steak three meals a day might technically be high-protein, but it’s far from healthy! Here are a few guidelines for doing it the right way.
• DO eat more protein. The average American gets 16% of their daily calories from protein. The daily recommendation is 23%-28%. To lose weight, aim for the higher end of that - 25% up to 35%. (Pretty much everyone agrees eating more than 35% protein for any period of time is a potentially risky move to make health-wise).
• DON’T completely cut out carbs. Your body – especially your brain – needs carbohydrates to function right. Ignoring this food group will leave your brain foggy and you feeling tired. Instead of avoiding them, switch out your normal, more processed carbs for complex carbs like veggies or minimally processed whole grains.
• DON’T completely cut out fats. Studies have actually proven fat helps you lose weight by leaving you satiated and enhancing your ability to burn fat. Getting 35% of your calories from healthy, mostly unsaturated fats is a safe range to be in.
Tips for Getting More Protein
If you’re used to getting 15% of your calories from protein, you might feel overwhelmed at the thought of fitting in twice that much. The good news is steak isn’t the only way you can eat protein. Here are a few ideas of how you can pick the best protein for your diet:
• Beef: Choose lean cuts (like a top round steak) more often than fattier cuts.
• Pork: Tenderloin cuts offer lots of protein with little fat.
• Chicken: White meat has much less fat than dark meat. Removing the skin also limits the saturated fat. This applies to all poultry (turkey, duck) and not just chicken.
• Dairy: While it is higher in fat and calories, dairy products do offer good amounts of protein along with other important nutrients like calcium. Greek yogurt is a great choice – plain varieties can have up to 15 grams of protein and less than 100 calories per serving!
• Eggs: A great (cheap!) source of protein, and recent research has debunked the myth eating eggs raises cholesterol.
• Vegetable Sources: There are actually quite a few plant-based sources of protein. Beans, lentils, soy, nuts, and quinoa are a few. It’s important to note, though, that soy is questionable as a healthy food and most plant-based forms of protein aren’t complete proteins. Quinoa is one exception since it contains all 9 essential amino acids.
• Protein Powder: A really easy way get more protein in your diet without even knowing it’s protein is by finding a good meal replacement powder, like our 310 Shake. Delicious fruit shakes are a great way to start the day, and you can even get creative and use the powder when baking to add extra protein. Keeping track of all this can be challenging. One good way to stay on top of your efforts is enlisting the help of a tracking app. Many calorie trackers will also tell you what your macronutrient ratios are. MyFitnessPal is a great one. While it does require recording calories, remember the main point isn’t how many calories you’re eating but where your calories are coming from.