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Why can Protein help you lose weight?

To understand how you gain and lose weight, you need to think about energy balance, which is the old calories in vs. calories out debate.

Last week we talked about how many things can impact energy balance, in particular the type of calories you consume plays a large role. That’s why all calories aren’t equal.

Your daily metabolic rate is influenced by many things. The three main components are:

  • Basal metabolic rate (BMR): This is the amount of energy your body needs to work.

  • Thermic effect of food (TEF): This is the amount of energy you burn when you eat.

  • Exercise and activity: This is the calories you burn from movement and exercise. You can split this into different categories, such as NEAT (thins like moving around and fidgeting) and your traditional workouts.

What most people don’t realize is that 65 to 80 percent of the calories you burn every day is from your basal metabolic rate. Physical activity and the foods you eat make up the remainder of your metabolism, but that doesn’t mean they’re insignificant.

Protein, carbs, and fat are all metabolized differently. Eating 100 calories of protein is different than eating 100 calories of carbs because protein has a higher thermic effect of food (TEF).

When you eat protein, up to 30 percent of the calories can be burned. In the example above, if you ate 100 calories of protein, roughly 70 calories would hit your body because 30 calories would be burned as a result of the protein’s high TEF.

This is one reason why higher protein diets tend to be associated with weight loss and maintenance. But, it’s only part of the story.

The Domino Effect of Eating More Protein

Protein also has a domino effect on hunger that makes it a great foundation for muscle gain and weight loss.

When you eat protein you increase what’s called satiety. This means a protein-rich meal leaves you feeling fuller and desiring less food (i.e. eating fewer calories).

It’s why high-calorie (some might consider them empty calories) options like fast food or ice cream can leave you feeling hungry just a few short hours later.

It’s not just the calorie count of these foods. It’s that they don’t meet your body’s needs for hunger control, so you desire more food even when your calorie intake is high. These foods are fine to have once in a while, but they make it harder to stay full.

A high-protein meal can boost the release of a hormone (ghrelin), which helps quiet your hunger and plays a role in determining how quickly your hunger returns after a meal.

When you combine all of the benefits, it’s easy to see why eating more calories from dietary protein helps create a caloric deficit. Protein burns more calories (the higher TEF) and reduces the “calorie in” portion of the equation by affecting how much you’ll eat later in the day.

Plus, giving your body the protein it needs to recover from strength training can help you build more muscle mass.

Protein isn’t the only macronutrient that helps control your hunger. Fibre, which is found in carbohydrates, is also incredibly effective at increasing fullness without adding too many calories. Most fibrous foods, such as vegetables, have low energy density, which means you can eat a lot without taking in too many calories.

Learning how to eat the foods that keep you full is a simple way to give you more flexibility. The goal with any diet isn’t too restrict – it’s to provide more freedom.

If you focus on making at least half of your plate from proteins and fibre, you’re more likely to stay full and not overeat.

That way, you still have the ability to eat other foods that aren’t as nutritious. For example, although 100 calories from chicken is different from 100 calories from a candy bar — we’re still talking about 100 calories. If the candy bar doesn’t lead to you eating 10 more candy bars, then worrying about those 100 calories is time and stress your mind and body doesn’t need.

It’s why effective diets, in general, can consist of 80 to 90 percent more nutritious foods (think vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, higher fibre carbs, and protein) and 10 to 20 percent of foods with fewer direct health benefits. That’s the type of balance that will deliver results and prevent burnout.


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