The amount of quality protein in your diet is the single most important source of calories that influences your metabolic rate. Quality protein also helps you sustain muscle during weight loss, improve muscle fitness, immunity, and increases antioxidant function. It also helps build HDL cholesterol, and enhance insulin and leptin function – all contributing to optimal weight management efforts in the long run.
How Much Protein Do You Need for Weight Loss?
Research shows that we actually require protein levels much higher than our government’s suggested levels to achieve optimal weight loss, as long as you simultaneously decrease carbohydrate intake. A minimal target amount is three-quarters of your ideal body weight in grams of protein per day, ranging up to three-quarters of your actual weight in grams of protein per day.
Here’s an example: if you should weigh 160 pounds but you currently weigh 200 pounds, then your goal for protein intake is in the range of 120 to 150 grams of protein per day. Since each gram of protein is four calories, this means 480 to 600 calories per day from protein. This is around 30 percent of your calories from protein (based on a 2,000 calorie diet).
A good recommendation for weight loss is to consume 30 percent protein (600 calories), 30 percent carbohydrates (600 calories), and 40 percent fat (800 calories). Do not snack and do not eat after dinner at night. Eat either two or three meals a day.
When you reach an ideal weight you can gradually increase carbohydrates to 40 percent – even 50 percent if you are very active. If you are quite active then leave protein at 30 percent, and cut back on fat, if desired. If you are not highly active, yet are at an ideal weight, then eat 25 percent protein, 40 percent carbohydrates, and 35 percent fat.
On any diet, eat half your fat grams in saturated fat or you will not feel satisfied and you will have trouble sustaining energy between meals, which will cause you to be tired and eat more carbohydrates. Get two to six grams of omega-3 essential fatty acids per day (higher amounts for weight loss and cardio health), and try to consume most of the rest of your fat as omega-9 monounsaturated fat (like olive oil).
These are the calorie basics for weight loss and weight maintenance.
High Quality Protein for Weight Loss
Protein is made up of various amino acids. In terms of weight loss, scientists are finding that the most important amino acids are the branch chain amino acids, especially leucine. If you get your protein intake high enough, especially in proteins that are rich in leucine, a number of very interesting things happen that can activate a sluggish metabolism and result in weight loss.
One easy way to get a lot of leucine, without any fat, is to use high quality whey protein. Casein, a common dairy protein allergen, is not part of whey protein. The finest whey proteins use advanced filtration technology to leave all the protein molecules intact. In this process saturated fat, cholesterol, and lactose are removed, yielding a very useful leucine rich food for metabolic enhancement.
The highest sources of leucine containing foods are animal and dairy. Cottage cheese and red meat top the list; other sources include milk, cheese, eggs, pork, fish, chicken, legumes, peanuts, nuts, and seeds. If you avoid red meat and dairy products, it is harder to get leucine containing foods in higher amounts. Using whey protein makes it easy.
Eating two eggs for breakfast has been shown to boost weight loss by 65 percent, compared to the same amount of calories from carbohydrates, like a bagel.
How Protein Increases Metabolism
Another great reason to eat a high protein breakfast is that it wakes up your liver and gives it something to do. Your liver is the metabolic factory of your body. A high protein breakfast can increase your metabolic rate by 30 percent for as long as 12 hours, the calorie burning equivalent of a three to five mile jog. Fats and carbohydrates are easy for your liver to use, increasing liver metabolism by only four percent, whereas protein must be taken apart and reassembled for use elsewhere in your body. This dynamic effect of protein has recently been shown to be the key in supporting your natural ability to burn fat at a faster rate when consuming a diet higher in protein.
A higher protein diet also has a natural diuretic effect. Individuals with extra weight are often sluggish, and hold extra water. This not only makes their blood pressure go up, as their heart tries to push harder to move the stagnation, but the extra water in connective tissues also gets directly in the way of fat burning. When you eat a higher protein diet an important blood protein called albumin increases. As albumin increases, it draws water back out of your connective tissues, helping you get rid of fluid retention.
A major problem of lower protein diets is just the opposite – the more carbohydrates overweight people eat, the more fluids they retain. Higher carbohydrate meals also stimulate too much leptin production, which can lead to leptin resistance and a desire for more carbohydrates. Too many carbohydrates cause your willpower to be in a constant wrestling match with an out-of-balance leptin supply. It is rather obvious from the amount of yo-yo dieting in our society that the leptin usually wins. The best way to win the wrestling match is to avoid it in the first place, by eating fewer carbohydrates.
When weight is lost on a higher carbohydrate diet it is much more likely that people will hit a plateau after a while, long before goal weight is reached. Successful ongoing weight loss is much easier, and much less prone to stubborn plateaus, when your basic diet is higher in quality protein.