Weight loss is difficult, no one is going to deny that.
It can be going well, everything is on track, then out of the blue you can’t lose another pound no matter how hard you try.
You’ve hit a weight loss plateau.
From here, there are two ways you can go. You can give up and regain all the weight you’ve worked so hard to get rid of in the first place.
Or, you can make some adjustments and keep moving towards your goal.
In this article, I want to talk about how protein is your secret weapon for busting through plateaus. We’ll spend some time talking about why it works for this purpose, then go into protein timing, and wrap up with the types of protein you use – cause that’s incredibly important also.
Why protein is effective for weight loss
Protein makes you feel fuller for longer
The only thing that matters when you’re trying to lose weight is a negative calorie balance.
A negative calorie balance means you’re burning more calories than you’re taking in. It is a simple idea in theory, but it can be quite difficult because of your body’s reaction to suddenly consuming less food.
Eating less often can make you feel like you’re constantly hungry. And what’s worse, you feel unsatisfied when you finally do eat because you just don’t feel full with the portions of food you have.
Transforming your diet so that a greater proportion of your food comes from protein can help counteract this nasty side-effect of maintaining a negative calorie balance.
This works because protein increases feelings of fullness – otherwise known as satiety. More satiety means that 100 calories of protein is going to make you feel fuller for longer than 100 calories of carbohydrates would.
This property of protein is best exemplified scientifically in a 2016 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The meta-analysis, led by Jaapna Dhillon, screened thousands of scientific studies to determine the evidence supporting or refuting the idea that protein increases satiety. Of the many paper they considered, 5 passed their stringent inclusion criteria and were used for further analysis.
The 5 studies all had a similar experimental design: the participants would fast for a predetermined period, they would come into the lab and be given food with various amounts of protein in it, then they were monitored for how full they felt over time.
Based on the primary analysis of these 5 papers and a secondary analysis of 28 papers, which were also included in the publication, the authors were able to conclude that diets higher in protein led to greater feelings of fullness (i.e. protein is associated with greater satiety).
Protein takes more energy to break down than other macronutrients
Protein can help you maintain a calorie deficit because of increased satiety. If you’re not as hungry you’re going to eat less. If you eat less, you consume fewer calories. Fewer calories in relation to the energy you’re burning = weight loss.
Another reason protein is the macronutrient of choice for calorie deficits is because it takes more energy to digest it than fats or carbohydrates.
The energy used to break down ingested molecules is called the thermic effect of food. For protein, 20-35% of calories are burned during digestion. That’s a pretty substantial portion compared to the 5-15% of calories burned used when digesting carbohydrates and the 0-5% of calories burned when digesting fat.
The thermic effect of food is one component of metabolism. It, alongside resting metabolic rate (the calories required to keep you going in a completely rested state) and the exercise component (the calories you expend performing various activities throughout the day) determine your overall caloric expenditure. Increase any one of these factors and you increase the number of calories burned in a day and increase your chances of creating or maintaining a deficit.
The increased thermic effect of protein is beneficial for weight loss for 2 reasons: 1) More calories required for digestion adds to your daily caloric expenditure, tipping the scales in the direction of expenditure and increasing the deficit. 2) Subtracting the calories required to digest protein ingested decreases the total calories ingested, again tipping the scales in the favor of an increased deficit.
The thermic effect of protein is the property of protein which contributes to it boosting your metabolism.
How to incorporate more protein into your diet and what kind you should use
Protein timing for weight loss
The typical American or Canadian tends to consume most of our daily intake of protein later on in the day. Most people have a little bit at breakfast, a little bit at lunch, and then, proportionally, the most at dinner.
This eating strategy is a gross under utilization of the most important macronutrient for weight loss.
The increased satiety and the boost in metabolism experienced with increased protein intake are most effective when they are used as often as possible, and evenly, throughout the day.
That means if you’re trying to lose weight, spread your protein intake out evenly throughout the day. Timing your protein intake in this way will help you eat fewer calories and maintain that essential negative calorie balance.
The type of protein matters
There are many different options out there when it comes to protein supplements. Not only do you have to choose from a plethora of brands, you also have to pick what type protein you want.
I’m going to make things as simple as possible for you. Pick whey protein.
Whey protein is the best because:
- It is loaded with essential amino acids
Essential amino acids are amino acids that must be ingested in the diet. The body cannot create them on its own.
- It is high in branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), particularly leucine
BCAAs are essential amino acids. They make up 3 of the 9. “Branched chain” refers to the chemical structure of the amino acid itself.
BCAAs have proven abilities to promote muscle growth, decrease muscle soreness, reduce exercise fatigue, prevent muscle wasting, and benefit people with liver disease. The more of these bad boys you can pack into your diet, the better.
Leucine, in particular, is especially proficient in promoting muscle synthesis.
- Whey protein has an incredibly high biological value
The biological value is a measure of the absorbed protein from a food that becomes incorporated into the proteins of the body.
Basically, if one protein is ingested and 90% of the amino acids making up that protein become part of protein in your body, it’s going to have a higher biological value than a protein where only 80% of the amino acids making it up are ingested.
Whey protein has the best biological value of proteins available out there in supplements. The whey protein you ingest is all going to be incorporated in your growing muscles.
Protein is an incredibly effective way to help keep things on track in terms of your weight loss goals. It increases satiety and boosts metabolism, which are two factors that will help you maintain a negative calorie deficit that will result in weight loss.
If you find yourself stuck at a plateau (where you don’t see any movement on the scale for at least 2-3 weeks) try upping the amount of protein you consume in the day. It has worked for many people before and could be the answer to all of your weight loss problems.
Let me know in the comments below if you’ve used protein to break through a weight loss plateau, I’d love to hear about it!