Does A High Protein Diet Help You Lose Weight?

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If you think a high protein diet is only useful for bodybuilders or marathoners, it might be time to rethink: not only can high protein diets build muscle and optimize body composition, they can also curb hunger, enhance satiety, and promote weight loss.

I think we’d all say that choosing an egg is better for you than a waffle. What you might be wondering is just how much better is it, and why is it so effective? Whether you want to lose weight, keep weight off, or maintain, research shows that a high protein diet is most effective for all three goals. Is a high protein diet right for you?

High Protein Diet – The Research

In the longest term weight loss study, those who consistently followed a high protein diet lost more weight than those following a medium protein diet1 Over the course of the study, total caloric intake dropped only ~12%, and we’re not talking outrageous levels of protein here: 21.2% of calories, or just over 100 grams/day.

After 6 months of dieting, the proportion of people who maintained big-time weight loss (over 20 pounds) was greater in the high protein group. And at 12 and 24 months, only those in the high protein group were able to keep off 20 or more pounds. So, as we can see from the following chart, keeping those protein levels high is actually a big plus not only for the weight loss phase, but also for maintenance. Not bad on the protein score.

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This is not an isolated finding. Another group jacked up protein to 133 grams and the results were even more profound2 The group with the high protein diet definitely drops far more significantly than the carb group (approx. 10kg vs. 6kg). Obviously, our own personal diets aren’t marked by a certain time frame, but if you’re planning on dieting and moving into a maintenance phase, these findings could be a good way to plan a diet that can help you lose the weight and keep it off.

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If You Start Your Day With Eggs…You’ll Be Less Hungry Later On

In one study, researchers gave a group of volunteers a breakfast consisting of either eggs, cereal, or croissants…and all had the same calories. They then recorded how much these volunteers ate at lunch and dinner.3 The difference they found was astounding:

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Those who had eggs were hungry for 300-400 fewer calories later in the day! similar observations have been made before: high protein is better than low protein4, eggs are better than bagels5, etc., etc. If you fuel your body the right way, you will be far less likely to consume too much later on.

End Your Day With High Protein & and Build New Muscle

In a seminal “overfeeding” study6 7 researchers showed that when excess calories consumed were from protein, they were invested into building new muscle, whereas when they were fat, well, they were stored as fat7 If you’re going to be storing anything in your body, wouldn’t you prefer it to be anything other than fat?

High Protein Diets Are The Way To Go To Lose Weight

Whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, high protein diets have the longest-term clinically documented success record. In other words, they are safe and effective, and can hopefully help you lose or keep off the weight that you don’t want!

References

  1. Due A, Toubro S, Skov AR, Astrup A. Effect of normal-fat diets, either medium or high in protein, on body weight in overweight subjects: a randomised 1-year trial Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord.Oct 2004;28(10):1283-1290.
  2. Skov AR, Toubro S, Ronn B, Holm L, Astrup A. Randomized trial on protein vs carbohydrate in ad libitum fat reduced diet for the treatment of obesity Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. May 1999;23(5):528-536.
  3. Fallaize R, Wilson L, Gray J, Morgan LM, Griffin BA. Variation in the effects of three different breakfast meals on subjective satiety and subsequent intake of energy at lunch and evening meal. Eur J Nutr. Sep 5 2012.
  4. Douglas SM, Ortinau LC, Hoertel HA, Leidy HJ. Low, moderate, or high protein yogurt snacks on appetite control and subsequent eating in healthy women. Appetite. Jan 2013;60(1):117-122.
  5. Ratliff J, Leite JO, de Ogburn R, Puglisi MJ, VanHeest J, Fernandez ML. Consuming eggs for breakfast influences plasma glucose and ghrelin, while reducing energy intake during the next 24 hours in adult men. Nutr Res. Feb 2010;30(2):96-103.
  6. Bray GA, Smith SR, de Jonge L, et al. Effect of dietary protein content on weight gain, energy expenditure, and body composition during overeating: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. Jan 4 2012;307(1):47-55.
  7. Lagakos WS. Holiday feasts, the freshman 15, and damage control. calories proper 2012; http://caloriesproper.com/?p=699. Accessed 12/3/2012, 2012.
  8. Lagakos WS. Holiday feasts, the freshman 15, and damage control. calories proper 2012; http://caloriesproper.com/?p=699. Accessed 12/3/2012, 2012.
Medically reviewed by Dapo Babatunde, M.D.
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20 Comments on “Does A High Protein Diet Help You Lose Weight?

  1. Sdk42
    February 4, 2013 #

    Hi,

    I think your article miss a few datas, How many % of protein exactly did the High Level protein group took ? 21 % ?
    I’m currently on a 20% fat / 35% protein / 45 % carbs (roughly) per day since 2 months, i’m currently hitting a plateau, And i’m wondering if I should lower the carbs like you said in your previous article, however it seems that i’m really high in protein right now (180g a day, i’m 85 kg with 22% bf) and i don’t really know what i could change.
    Is really 21% protein a High level ?

  2. Ahmad Ghani
    February 4, 2013 #

    Hello William,
    Thank you for sharing this valuable information. Can you please help me to split out my 6 daily meals in which high protein food is involved?
    I am used to having highly complete protein in breakfast like whole eggs, breast chicken in lunch and dinner. What about in between meals any idea??
    Looking forward to your cooperation

    Ahmad,

  3. Kush
    February 6, 2013 #

    hi…dis ia a great article…i jst had one question though…
    How many whole eggs can i eat in a day(is 4 alright??)…i have modified my diet recently and am consuming 4 hard boiled eggs a day…am i overdoin it?? I am 18 yrs old and do HIIT and STRENGTH TRAINING workouts on alternate days!!! Ur help wud be really appericiated!!
    THANKS In advance!!

    1. February 8, 2013 #

      Hi Kush,
      4 eggs is fine, you’re not overdoing it, especially at your age.
      -Bill
      http://www.builtlean.com/author/william-lagakos/

  4. Dirk
    February 6, 2013 #

    So how many calories and protein should we be eating in a day? I have currently dropped my weight from 215lbs to 178. Since I am currently on a plateau, I have cut my meals (lesser calories all together and lesser carbs towards the end of my day) and changed my workouts to include more HIT. Mon-Wed-Fri HIT lifting and Tue-Thu HIT running cardio.

    1. February 8, 2013 #

      Hi Dirk, that’s a hard question. It sounds like you’ve made great progress so far, but I wouldn’t cut calories across the board – you should try to keep eating the same amount of protein [or more] as calories go lower. But it sounds like you have a good plan in place, so keep doing what you’re doing!
      -Bill
      http://www.builtlean.com/author/william-lagakos/

  5. Gren
    February 7, 2013 #

    Love this article.
    Hate to point this out, but the first chart, that talks about medium to high protein, the legend looks the same – both are black dots. Shouldn’t one be black, and the other, striped?

    Thanks!

    1. February 8, 2013 #

      Hi Gren, thanks for the comment and good eye!
      -Bill
      http://www.builtlean.com/author/william-lagakos/

  6. Phil
    February 8, 2013 #

    Thanks William for this article. This seems good advice since you’re not advocating for a mega high protein diet – 20% of calories seems more realistic than the 30% or even 40% that some recommend. Just to point out that for these very high protein diets people need to be aware that there’s not a lot of evidence collected on long-term risks (see for example High-protein Weight-loss Diets: Are They Safe and Do They Work? A Review of the Experimental and Epidemiologic Data by Eisenstein et al in Nutrition Reviews 2002: (I)189-200). So is around 20% of calories your recommended ratio? And I’m also interested in the max number of eggs you recommend per day as another reader asked. Thanks!

    1. February 8, 2013 #

      Hi Phil,
      Thanks for the comment and I’m glad you liked the article. With regard to protein recommendations, percent of calories is of course important, but I think absolute amount is more relevant to body composition during weight loss. In other words, 20% protein on a maintenance diet is a lot more protein than 20% on a hypocaloric diet. In the latter case, I’d try to keep the absolute amount of protein the same or even increase it (to spare muscle while losing body fat).
      20% on a 3000 kcal diet = 150 grams.
      30% on a 2000 kcal diet = 150 grams.
      The best indicator will be strength and/or muscle mass – if they start declining, try increasing protein intake.
      -Bill
      (and eat as many eggs as you like!)

  7. Michael
    February 8, 2013 #

    I think the more important question to ask is not if you lose more weight but if you’re healthier with high amounts of animal protein. There is plenty of research out there on this subject. I suggest starting with the documentary Forks Over Knives or reading the China Study. The number one killer in America is heart disease. The main reason? It’s not that we eat animal protein, it that we consume way to much animal protein. I opened my mind and I’m way better off as a result.

  8. February 8, 2013 #

    Actually you failed to mention that with eggs, the reason people ate less later in the afternoon was not from the protein in the eggs, it was from the FAT in the eggs.

    Fat is good. I recommend a high fat, medium protein and low carb diet.

    1. February 8, 2013 #

      Thanks for your input Dr Greg. That’s a pretty solid diet recommendation, although check ref #4 (Douglas et al., 2010), protein is important too!
      -Bill
      http://www.builtlean.com/author/william-lagakos/

    2. Dr. Cory
      February 8, 2013 #

      Well said! So many people have the misconception that all fats are created equal. And I agree with your diet recommendations. When I recommend it to patients I always specify GOOD fats.

    3. Boon
      February 8, 2013 #

      @Dr. Ellis, thanks for mentioning that; I thought that too.

  9. Rebecca Chiu
    February 9, 2013 #

    The causal effect of high protein diet may not be because it’s high protein, but because it crowds out the percentage of carbs that one is taking. In fact, when one goes super low carb (when ketosis happens), the body starts using its fact content as energy source, making ultra-marathoner on this diet much more efficient in running super long distance than a person on a regular diet.

    In general, high protein could mean 20% protein, 5% carb, and 75% fat. So it’s really a high fat, low carb diet. Protein is important for building muscle, but eating high quality fat is the most important (as John Nieters, who studies chinese medicine and nutrition says) for maintain good health.

    I would also recommend reading “Why we get fat” by Gary Taubes on looking at these diet theories and researches more closely.

    1. February 9, 2013 #

      @Rebecca Chiu – Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Rebecca. I don’t agree that a high protein diet automatically makes a diet high fat. The standard bodybuilder diet is 30% protein, 50% carbs, 20% fat. I think satiety is a very interesting topic and varies from person to person. For example, I feel least satisfied on a very low carb high fat diet. For me, fiber in carbs makes a huge difference on my hunger levels. I actually wrote a review of Gary Taubes book here => Why We Get Fat Book Review. The one central tenet of his book is that calories don’t matter, only carbs. I think this tenet is very off-base and confuses more than it helps to clarify. With that said, he did do a great job of analyzing the history of nutrition research.

  10. James4567
    February 9, 2013 #

    Wow, I’m surprised to see that, calorie for calorie, an egg has a higher fat content than a croissant!

    http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/dairy-and-egg-products/111/2
    http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/baked-products/5010/2

    I have a question related to protein and carbs and fat after working out. I’m 5’6″ and around 124 lbs, BFP 12%. I’m trying to lose fat to get my BFP to around 8% without losing muscle. Anyway, after working out I’ve been in the habit of having a scoop of whey protein mixed with whole fat yogurt. It’s been working for me. Fine.

    But I’ve read recently that its important not only to get protein after a workout, but also carbs, in the ratio of approximately 2:1 carbs to protein. So I’ve put together an alternative after-workout snack of a scoop of whey protein, nonfat yogurt, and dried fruit. The problem is, this snack doesn’t satisfy me as much as the one with the full fat yogurt did.

    My question is, is getting in the carbs after a workout really so important that I should derail the program that works for me?

    1. February 9, 2013 #

      @James4567 – I don’t think comparing a processed food to a whole natural food is a fair comparison. Just because a food has fat (like nuts, or olive oil), does not make it unhealthy. With regards to your questions about pre/post workout nutrition, check out these articles:

      1) Pre-Workout Meal Ideas
      2) Post Workout Meal Ideas

      I’m in the camp that believes pre/post workout nutrition for the general population is significantly overrated when considering that the results you get are determined by what you do 24/7. If the yogurt works well for you, then stick with it. At the end of the day, you should take into account what research suggests (“suggests” being the operative word), and go with what works best for you.

      1. James4567
        February 9, 2013 #

        Thanks for your reply, Marc! I totally agree with you that keeping a wholistic view of nutrition is the most important thing.

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