Protein, protein, protein. It has been the center of hype since the beginning of the low-carb diet craze. However, for protein, it isn’t all hype. There are actual reasons protein helps you lose weight. Here are our top 5 reasons protein is so helpful when trying to burn fat:
1. Protein Helps You Lose Weight and Less Muscle in a Calorie Deficit
A calorie deficit is eating fewer calories than you burn. Caloric deficit leads to weight loss. However, mostly when people lose weight, they lose both fat and muscle. This is an undesirable effect when losing weight, since muscle looks leaner and burns more calories at rest than fat does.
Instead of having “weight loss” as a goal, make your goal “fat loss.” You want to lose excess fat, but not the lean muscle underneath. Eating enough protein will help you keep lean body mass while you burn fat. The other necessary factor to keep lean body mass is strength training. If you do not want to lift weights, you can do resistance training with bands or your body weight. Any type of strength building plus protein consumption will help you lose fat and look toned.
2. Protein Has a Higher Thermic Effect Than any Other Macronutrient
Photo by Marjan Lazarevski
All food has a thermic effect, which is the amount of energy it takes to break down and use the energy from food. Carbs, fat, and protein each have a different thermic effect.
- Protein: 20-35% of calories burned through processing
- Carbohydrates: 5-15% of calories burned through processing
- Fats: 0-5% of calories burned through processing
Just eating protein you are burning more calories than you’d burn while eating fat or carbs
3. Protein Reduces Appetite
Most of us know this intuitively already. Think about how much you could eat in cookies versus how much you could eat in chicken breast, or even steak. You get full much faster and stay full for longer after eating protein. If you keep eating high-protein meals day after day, you may not even need to track calories. More protein will naturally reduce your appetite.
4. Balance Blood Sugar
Carbohydrates lead to the biggest changes in blood sugar levels, while protein and fat do not affect blood sugar much. They usually associate blood sugar rushes and crashes with gaining weight or troubling losing excess fat. So why does the blood sugar rollercoaster cause excess fat storage?
- Extreme hunger and low blood sugar usually cause you to choose carb-heavy, nutrient-sparse foods
- Your body can go into starvation mode, which causes you to store any calories you consume as fat
- The more sugar you eat, the more you crave it; sugar consumption leads to insulin release, energy crashes, and weight gain
- Blood sugar crashes make you tired, which often leads us to eat more for some quick energy
Tons of us experience blood sugar instability. You may not even realize you’re on the blood sugar rollercoaster, but once you figure it out, you’ll always notice how you feel during blood sugar spikes and crashes. A resource like this quiz can help you determine if you have a blood sugar imbalance (hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, usually only occurs in people with blood sugar imbalances).
5. Changes Levels of Hormones that Affect Weight
Eating more protein can actually change the amount of appetite-controlling hormones released by your brain. “A higher protein intake actually increases levels of the satiety (appetite-reducing) hormones GLP-1, peptide YY and cholecystokinin, while reducing your levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin” (from Authority Nutrition).
High-protein meals also stimulate the release of glucagon, a hormone that controls blood sugar levels. Glucagon makes sure your blood sugar levels don’t drop too low. Low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia, can cause you to feel “hangry,” tired, lightheaded, sleepy, etc. It also usually leads to ravenous consumption of carbs if you go too long without healthy food (containing a good balance of protein, fat, and carbs). Eating protein will ensure that glucagon is released and keeps your blood glucose balanced.
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