Can protein help you lose weight?
Short answer: Yes.
Less short answer: Yes, but there’s more to it than simply drinking a protein shake.
In this article we will cover the following points:
- What happens in the body when you take protein powder.
- How does weight loss occur.
- How does protein powder help with weight loss.
What happens in the body when you take protein powder?
Protein powder works in the body very similarly to any other source of protein. Protein can be found in animal meats, lentils, dairy, eggs, nuts and in smaller amounts in lots of other foods.
Protein is an essential part of our diet and is required for many bodily processes such as:
- Growth and maintenance of tissue (skin, hair, nails, bones, tendons, ligaments)
- Enzymes that stimulate chemical reactions
- Hormone production
- And many more
Protein powders are derived from different sources. Whey protein is from milk, soy from soy beans, pea from sprouted peas, rice from brown rice and hemp from the hemp plant.
When we eat some form of protein. It is digested by the body and broken down into amino acids (protein is made up of 22 different amino acids in different quantities) then used by the body for a variety of different things.
How do we lose weight?
Firstly, I just want to clarify, that generally when people say “I want to lose weight”, they really mean that they want to lose body fat. Yes, they want the number on the scales to go down, but if you don’t have an ounce of fat on your body, I can guarantee that you are not going to be worried about the number on the scales.
Anywho, our bodies need a certain amount of energy each day. How much we require depends on our gender, age, weight, activity levels and more. The basic way of looking at weight loss is that if we use more energy than we consume, then we lose weight.
Pretty straight forward, yeah?
This is unfortunately where a lot of people struggle and up starving themselves, because the reality is that the body is not basic.
The less basic, and more accurate way of looking at weight loss/body fat loss is that the energy we consume comes mainly from three sources (protein, carbohydrates and fats).
Carbohydrates sole use is to provide energy. If we eat a lot of carbohydrates and don’t use up the energy it creates(during physical activity), it is then converted into fat in the body. So if we eat too much and don’t exercise/be physically active, carbohydrate is then stored by the body…………...as fat!
Fat we eat on the other hand is required for hundreds of things in the body and without it we would soon die. Some fats are bad, such as trans fats (margerine, seed and vegatable oils) as they go rancid very quickly and can become carcinogenic (potentially cause cancer).
So taking all of this into account, the reality is that the fat we eat is completely different from the fat on our body. In fact, they should have two completely different names.
Humans can also lose weight in one other way. This is by not eating any protein. The problem with adopting this method of weight loss is that the weight that lost has come from a drop muscle mass and not from fat loss. This is a common occurrence for people who convert to eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, and is a big problem because the body will become weak and sick. Our body requires a certain amount of protein each day to maintain itself.
The take away from all of this is that yes a reduction in calories is required for weight loss, but if you really want to see results then reducing the amount of carbohydrate you consume (bread, pasta, rice, soft drinks, sugary foods) is going to dramatically fast track your fat loss efforts.
How does protein powder help with weight loss?
Protein helps with weight loss in the following ways:
1) Increased satiety—protein generally increases satiety to a greater extent than carbohydrate or fat and may facilitate a reduction in energy consumption under ad libitum dietary conditions.
2) Increased thermogenesis—higher-protein diets are associated with increased thermogenesis, which also influences satiety and augments energy expenditure (in the longer term, increased thermogenesis contributes to the relatively low-energy efficiency of protein).
3) Maintenance or accretion(growth) of fat-free mass (muscle)—in some individuals, a moderately higher protein diet may provide a stimulatory effect on muscle protein anabolism, favoring the retention of lean muscle mass while improving metabolic profile. This means it can help with muscle growth and fat loss.
To determine how much protein your body requires each day. You can use the rough equation of 1gm per kg of bodyweight. So if you weigh 70kg, then aim for at least 70 grams of protein each day. You may require more or can get away with less, depending on your physical activity levels.
ReferencesPaddon-Jones, D., Westman, E., Mattes, R. D., WolfeArne, R. W., Astrup, A., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2008). Protein, weight management, and satiety. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 87, Issue 5. (1558S-1561S).