Will a high protein diet reduce body fat? That was the question a colleague of mine pondered. Obviously, he was considering using a high protein diet to burn his belly fat but he was unsure as to whether it was a good idea.
When he asked me the question, I answered in the affirmative. Yes, it will. You can use a high protein diet to reduce body fat but you also have to be aware of the caveats, the possible dangers of high protein diets.
If you are not considering using a high protein diet for the longer-term, then you should be fine. If you are, then you should seriously consider the risks I have talked about on that page.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 46 gm for females and 56 gm for males. Failing that you are also allowed up to 0.8 g/kg of lean body mass.
This amount of protein usually constitutes about 20-35% of your daily energy needs.
> A diet is thought to be high protein when these aforementioned recommended daily limits are exceeded.
If you want to exceed these recommended daily protein allowance for the purpose of fat loss, then a follow up question will be; why bother at all? After all, there are other alternatives out there for fat loss.
Will a high protein diet reduce body fat for me?
The reason to bother at all is because a high protein diet does work to reduce body fat. How does a high protein diet reduce body fat anyway?
There are several mechanisms at play on how high protein diets contribute to weight loss and fat loss but we will talk about two here.
> One proven way a high protein diet works to reduce body fat is through the mechanism of satiety. High protein diets have been shown to consistently increase our feeling of satiety in several studies.
Compared to carbohydrates and fats, protein is the macronutrient that stimulates the feeling of being satisfied for longer. Hence you eat less often because you don’t feel hungry.
This study compared all 3 macronutrients on their effectiveness to induce satiety on 12 lean women substituting one macronutrient for the other in these women. The high protein meal in these women had the most profound effect on short-term hunger compared to carbs and fat.
Another study compared high proteinmeal with a high fat meal evaluating the effect of both meals on food intake. In that study a feeling of fullness was achieved more with the high protein meal than with the high fat meal.
You were more likely to feel satisfied earlier during the meal and after the meal when you ate a high protein meal compared to a high fat.
What these studies are demonstrating is that a high protein meal is more likely to make you eat less quantity, eat less frequently too. All of which contribute to overall less calorie consumption throughout the day.
Another mechanism high protein diets make you burn or reduce body fat is by what we call the thermic effect of food.
Essentially the process of digesting the food, absorbing the nutrients from the food in your gut and subsequent metabolism of the nutrients to enable you access the energy that the food actually provides, also uses up energy.
Yes, what I am saying is; it takes energy to make energy.
The energy that is used up to make energy from the food you eat is called thermic effect of food. This thermic effect provides you with an energy deficit which is a good thing.
In the case of protein, the thermic effect is 25%. It is the highest amongst all the macronutrients.
Why is this thermic effect of protein relevant to your fat loss?
Well, we are talking 25%, aren’t we?
So, if for instance, in the extreme circumstance you consume a high protein diet worth 2000 calories in a day, you end up using up 500 calories as thermic effect. That leaves you with 1500 calories.
That 500-calorie deficit is potential fat you have dispensed with without any effort from you. 500 calories less for your body to worry about. Even though you consumed 2000 calories. That’s an indirect fat burning effect by the high protein meal plan.
Next time you settle down to a high protein meal, you can be rest assured that a quarter of the calories in that meal are going to be burnt up by your body just processing the meal.
What about the direct effect of high protein diet on fat loss?
Scientists recruited 65 overweight and obese subjects aged between 18 and 55 years of age and randomized them into high carb diet and high protein diet along with another control group.
Both high protein and high carb diets were low fat.
The subjects were followed up for 6 months.
What did the scientists find?
The high carb group lost 5.1 kg (11 lbs) average in 6 months and the high protein group lost 8.9 kg (20 lbs) average in overall weight loss. What about actual fat loss? Well, the high carb group lost 4.3 kg (9 lbs) of fat and the high protein group lost 7.6 kg (17 lbs) of fat. No weight loss was achieved in the control group.
The figures above are the average losses in both weight and fat. Individually there were more losses exceeding more than 10 kg in the high protein group than in the high carb group. 35% of individuals in the high protein group lost more than 10 kg compared to only 9% in the high carb group.
Something noteworthy here is that the high protein diet was only made up of 25% of total daily calorie needs which would be hovering around about 104 gm of protein daily. Now imagine what would happen if the subjects consumed a higher protein diet.
The scientists carried on with the study on the same subjects to see how much of them will sustain their weight loss. The high protein group had the highest weight loss sustainability.
In the longer follow up study (24 months), measurements for internal fat showed the high protein group had a sustained reduction in intra-abdominal fat. This reduction of internal fat was still higher in the high protein group even after adjusting for weight loss.
Intra-abdominal fat (internal fat) is the fat that does your body a lot of damage via what we now refer to as metabolic syndrome.
The 24-month study seems to suggest that high protein diet can reduce body fat not only in the short term but also have the potential for weight maintenance with a positive impact on intra-abdominal fat.
The fact that free fatty acids levels were also found to be significantly decreased after 6 months suggests an increase in fat burning by high protein diet.
> So, yes, it is true that science supports the view that a high protein diet can reduce body fat, but whether this type of dieting is advisable in the longer term is debatable. This is because of the inherent risks associated with its long-term use.
Some foods that reduce body fat may come to you as a surprise. My friend, Mike, talks about such foods and also talks about how some common foods encouraged by “experts” are making your body fat situation worse than it ought to be. It’s just a fascinating read. See Full Story Here.