Updated: Oct 6, 2020
Are you considering a high protein diet to manage your weight?
Looking for some practical advice on how to increase your daily dietary protein?
Welcome to my latest blog post on protein and weight management! I'm Daniel, a Registered Dietitian, and I'm here to provide you with some evidence based nutrition knowledge.
This post will...
Explain what protein is.
Why it’s important for health, and in weight management.
How to get it from food, and how much you need.
Give sample meal plan for a low calorie and average calorie day.
So let's get started!
High Protein Diets and Carbs
High protein diets have gained a lot of attention lately, such as Keto, Paleo, or Atkins.
While this post does not specifically address specific high protein, low-carb diets - It will give you useful knowledge on protein and weight management.
Also, my philosophy is having a healthy relationship with food, no matter what strategy they choose to support their health and nutrition related goals.
This info on protein can be applied to any form of diet strategy, or just support your general knowledge and awareness!
Let’s get to the meat of the story on protein.
What is dietary protein and what is a "complete protein"?
Dietary protein is one of three calorie containing nutrients (aka macro-nutrients) found in food, the other two being carbohydrates and fat.
It is a source of energy and is used by the body to support many functions, including muscle tissue repair and maintenance, production of hormones, enzymes, and storage and transport of molecules in your body. For example, hemoglobin is a protein in your blood that transports oxygen to all the tissues in your body!
Zooming in to a single protein, we see that it is built from smaller components called amino acids, of which there are 20. Some are ‘non-essential’, meaning your body can make them. Some are ‘essential’, meaning you need to get them from diet.
A complete dietary protein, such as those found in animal products, has all the essential amino acids in addition to the non-essential.
Why is complete protein important?
You need all the amino acids to make all the proteins in your body.
Take one protein example, like hemoglobin, and imagine this protein like a puzzle. Now imagine the puzzle pieces are amino acids.
If you're missing one or more puzzle pieces, you will not be able to complete the puzzle. Just as you need all puzzle pieces to complete a puzzle, you need all amino acids to make the proteins in your body.
What foods have complete protein?
Just as we are animals, the proteins that make up other animals have a similar make up of amino acids.
What foods are lacking in essential amino acids?
But have no fear, different plant-based proteins when combined, can create complete protein. For example, if you're vegan or vegetarian, it's important to pair different types of plant-based foods together. For example, the amino acids that are limited in beans are present in rice. So, pair these foods together like in a hearty bowl of chili and boom! Complete protein!
A balanced, varied diet can ensure you meet your protein requirements.
Health Benefits of plant-based protein
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that diets rich in plant-based protein have health benefits such as in weight management, lowering cholesterol, and in reducing your risk of chronic disease. There is plenty of research from diets around the world, where culturally their diet is higher in plant-based than animal-based protein, when compared to the typical Western diet.
One other advantage from a weight management perspective, is that plant-based protein foods (typically) come with less calories from fat. Examples include: beans, peas, lentils, and tofu.
Protein and Weight Management - the Research
Research suggests that a high protein intake can have positive effects towards your decreasing appetite, increasing metabolism, promote weight and fat loss, and improve your body composition. It does this by controlling the production of some hormones that keep you full and reducing levels of other hormones that make you hungry.
Also, protein digestion (vs carbs or fat) may boost your metabolic rate. Increasing your metabolism can increase calories burned. This is particularly important when dieting, because often your metabolism slows down.
There is also growing evidence to suggest that for overweight and obese individuals - eating moderate amounts of high-quality protein at each meal favours both the maintenance of muscle mass and function, while at the same time promoting successful weight management.
And to nobody's surprise, we know the above benefits can be increased when combined with adequate physical activity.
There are always many variables to keep in mind when looking at research studies, such as the test group being studied, diet composition, and other lifestyle interventions. But the results from the more recent systematic reviews and meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (the gold standard for research) look pretty good for high protein diets in weight management!
How much protein do you need?
Current dietary recommendations for protein sit at about 0.8 grams protein per kilogram body weight.
However, many experts are endorsing a higher numbers, in the range of 1.2-1.6 grams protein per kilogram body weight per day.
If choosing the latter for example, a 70kg person should aim for between 84 grams to 112 grams protein per day.
Great food sources of protein?
Lean meats (Ex. Chicken breast, beef, pork, fish)
Dairy products (Ex. low-fat Greek yogurt, low-fat yogurt, skim milk)
Legumes and pulses (Ex. Lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, peas)
Bottom Line on Protein
Getting enough high quality dietary protein from varied plant and/or animal sources may assist with weight management.
A high protein diet should aim for about 1.2-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram body weight.
Combining other sustainable lifestyle modification strategies (Ex. sleep, exercise), is needed for optimal health outcomes.
High protein diet benefits are clear, but they are not a magic bullet – it is just one dietary tool as part of a balanced and varied diet, in addition to sustainable lifestyle modifications like proper sleep and exercise.
Other practical tips for weight loss on a high protein diet.
Eat high-fibre, nutrient-dense foods (Ex. vegetables) to help curb appetite.
Incorporate an exercise plan to promote metabolism and calorie burning.
Plan ahead with meal prep days, scheduled exercise, and good sleep hygiene.
Meal patterning – Don’t skip meals, have small balanced ones throughout the day.
An example high protein meal plan
(1400 calories vs 2200 calories)
High protein, 1400 calorie sample day
1 cup Low-fat Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup blueberries, 1 Tbsp ground flax seed, 1/2 Tbsp bran flakes
1/2 cup hummus, 1 cup baby carrots, 1 cup chopped celery.
Miso soup with tofu (75g total), and 4-6 pieces Sashimi salmon, and a seaweed salad
2 hardboiled eggs with banana
8oz baked white fish with 1 cup asparagus and a half sweet potato
8oz BBQ steak (Sirloin, fat trimmed) with two cups steamed broccoli and cauliflower
High protein, 2200 calorie sample day
Take the same diet plan above, and simply add the following to each meal
(or try one of the two suggested lunch substitutions)
Add 1 cup rolled oats and a glass of milk
Change Sashimi to Maki rolls or nigiri (Ex. adding one or two cups rice).
Or instead of sushi, have minestrone soup with a grilled cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread.
Or instead have two cups chili with beans and ground turkey with garlic toast on whole wheat bread.
Add one or two cups quinoa, brown rice, or wild rice to your meal.
28g cashews with orange
Working with a dietitian
Optimizing a meal plan and choosing the right weight loss strategies tips can be challenging. A dietitian can help by helping to create personalized strategies and tips.
The abundance of misinformation on the web is a very big problem. A dietitian can also answer (or find the answer) to your questions, giving you evidence-based knowledge to help you succeed and make informed decisions.
Are you interested in trying a high protein diet for weight loss?
Have you considered working with a dietitian?
Disclaimer on nutrient analysis
Nutrient analysis was performed using the USDA food database. To account for variations in products, portion sizes, and recipes – numbers are approximations.