High protein diets are hotter than ever, and now there’s mounting evidence that more protein may make it easier to peel off pounds.
Protein is considered the “building block of life,” and it may be the major ingredient for fat loss too. But how much protein do you need? What are the best sources of protein? Here’s everything you need to know about protein in your diet.
Protein provides the essential amino acids that are the building blocks of muscles, hormones and much more. Every cell in the human body needs protein and it’s a major component of our muscles, bones, skin, organs and glands.
The main roles of protein in your diet is to:
- Build and repair muscles
- Protect immune function
- Help maintain fluid and electrolyte balance
- Aid in digestion and absorption of food
How Much Do You Need?
The National Academy of Sciences has set the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for protein at 10 to 35 percent of their daily calories from protein or 45 grams per day for women and 52 grams for men. Most experts these days believe that a diet with that amount of protein and having much more carbohydrates may be less effective for losing and maintaining weight loss.
A lot of experts now recommend about twice as much protein as the DRI. However, this does not mean just eating more protein on top of everything else. The idea is to eat more protein and reduce the amount of carbohydrates and fat to achieve an energy intake that is ideal for maintaining weight or weight loss.
As a general rule, I tell women who are trying to lose body fat to strive for 25-30 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner and at least 5 grams protein in their snacks. That will total about 90-100 grams of protein a day or about twice as much as the recommended intake. That is how we have designed the meal plans in our book, The Real Skinny and our Meal Plans for Weight Loss.
For some of my favorite go-to protein-rich recipes, try these:
Ways to use Greek yogurt
How High Protein Diets Work
Low-carb, high protein (e.g. South Beach, Atkins, Paleo) are popular, and they do work for some in the short-term. How they work, however, may have more to do with the protein content than the low-carbs. Protein can aid weight loss because it’s slow to digest, so you stay fuller, longer. In addition, protein blunts the blood sugar response from eating carbohydrate-rich foods, so cravings for carby foods are reduced. (This is why we recommend eating protein with carbs.) In addition, protein is less likely to be stored as body fat compared to carbs or fats, as protein requires more energy to be digested. Protein also helps retain muscle mass when losing weight, so your body loses a higher percentage of body fat. All in all, a higher protein diet may have some advantages for helping you lose weight and keep it off.
|Sedentary||0.8-1.0g per kg (0.36-0.45g per lb)|
|Some light activity most days||0.8-1.0g per kg (0.36-0.45g per lb)|
|Serious resistance athletes||1.5-1.7g per kg (0.68-0.77g per lb)|
|Serious Endurance Athlete or Dieter Cutting Calories to Lose Body fat (Dieters should use lean body weight not total body weight)||1.2-1.6g per kg (0.55-0.73g per lb*)|
High Quality Protein
Protein comes from a variety of sources – primarily from animal-based foods and beverages but also is present in many plant-based foods. High-quality proteins are easily digestible, contain the essential amino acids that your body can’t make for itself and are well absorbed. Dairy foods, whey protein, eggs, meat, fish and poultry are all considered to be of the best quality and provide all 9 essential amino acids. A high-quality vegetarian protein is soy protein. Good sources of protein from plants include whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Best Sources of Protein
The best way to meet your protein needs is to consume a variety of protein-rich foods.
|Food||Serving Size||Protein Content (grams)|
|Greek yogurt||1 cup||24|
|Veggie Burger||1 patty||15|
|Cottage cheese||½ cup||14|
|Regular Yogurt||1 cup||12|
|Egg, medium||1 whole||6|
|Peanut butter||1 T||4|