Double Your Protein, Lose More Fat?

Recent headlines encouraging folks to double their protein intake may be misleading. Find out whether increasing your protein intake is a good idea.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
Episode #253

The group that ate 20% of their calories from protein (which translates to about 100 grams or approximately 3/4 of a gram per pound of body weight) lost less muscle and more fat than the group eating half that much. That's great news!

First, it means that more of that hard won weight loss was actually due to fat loss. Secondly, it means that more muscle tissue is left behind to burn up calories, making that weight loss easier to maintain. Interestingly, the group that was eating the most protein (30% of calories) didn't do any better than the folks in the middle group.

So, what's wrong with the headline I quoted at the beginning of the show: "Doubling protein prevents muscle loss"? It would appear to be completely accurate. Except for one thing. 

According to the most recent figures available, most of us are already consuming between 80g and 90g of protein per day. According to this study, doubling our protein intake wouldn't help us hang on to more muscle, because the vast majority of us are already pretty close to the ideal muscle-preserving range. I didn't see that fact mentioned in any of the media coverage of this story.

See also: How the Media Sensationalizes Science


And here's another thing that didn't get mentioned in any of the stories I saw: When they weren't actively losing weight, the subjects at the lowest protein intake preserved their muscle just as well as those at the highest intake.  In other words, this study only applies to dieters...and only to those whose protein intake is on the low side to begin with. 

Tip for Dieters Who Want to Lose Fat, Not Muscle

If you are cutting calories in order to lose weight, don't cut back on protein foods.  Instead, start by cutting out empty calories such as sweets and sweetened beverages. Next, cut way back on fried foods. If you're still looking for calories to cut, scale down your portions of bread, pasta, cereals, and other grain-based foods.  

See also: Do Low Carb Diets Work?

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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