This article explores how increasing the amount of protein you eat can support weight loss and provides easy tips on how to incorporate protein into your diet for maximum results.
By Andres Ayesta, MS, RD
- Protein is an essential macronutrient that provides building blocks for the body and is found in various tissues.
- Weight loss is achieved by creating a calorie deficit, either through consuming fewer calories or increasing calorie expenditure.
- Protein has a significant impact on weight loss by affecting appetite-regulating hormones, preserving muscle mass, and increasing the thermic effect of food.
- To optimize weight loss, it is recommended to consume 1.8-2.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass or 0.8-1.2 grams per pound.
- Strategies for incorporating protein into the diet include adding a protein source to each meal, distributing protein intake throughout the day, planning protein-packed snacks, and considering protein supplements when necessary.
Protein is one of the three macronutrients. It provides the building blocks for our bodies and is found in muscle, bone, skin, hair, and almost every other kind of body tissue . Through its impacts on satiety and metabolism, protein is arguably the most important nutrient when it comes to achieving weight loss. But many people struggle to get an optimal amount of protein to reach their goals.
How Weight Loss Happens
Before we dive into the specifics of how protein supports weight loss, it’s important to understand the concept of energy balance. You can find a full explanation of the science of weight loss in this article. But, we’ll summarize it briefly here: weight gain or loss is determined by the balance between the calories consumed and the calories burned each day .
To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit by burning more calories than you consume through your diet. This forces the body to use stored energy (fat) to meet its energy needs, resulting in fat loss over time . There are a few different ways your body burns calories:
- Basal Metabolic Rate - the calories burned just to keep you alive (ie. beating your heart, breathing, chemical reactions in the body) 
- Thermic Effect of Food - the calories burned by digesting food .
- Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT) - the calories burned during intentional exercise .
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) - the calories burned in any activities outside of intentional exercise (eg. walking around the house, typing, fidgeting) 
So, if your goal is weight loss, it’s necessary to take in fewer calories from your diet, increase the energy you burn in the four categories above, or a combination of both . Adding more protein to your diet impacts both the amount of energy you take in and the amount of energy you burn .
The Power of Protein for Weight Loss
There are several ways that protein impacts calorie intake and expenditure:
Effects on Appetite-Regulating Hormones
When you eat foods that are high in protein, they help you feel fuller for longer, so you naturally consume fewer total calories throughout the day.
One of the main ways this occurs is by affecting the hormones involved in hunger and satiety. When you eat a high protein meal, it triggers the increase of hormones that cause you to feel full, including glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), cholecystokinin (CCK), and peptide tyrosine-tyrosine (PYY). Protein also suppresses appetite by reducing levels of ghrelin, which is known as “the hunger hormone” . Interestingly, studies have found that higher protein diets can help reduce late-night eating, which is a struggle that keeps many people from succeeding with their weight loss efforts .
Preserving Muscle and Boosting Metabolism
Muscle loss is a common side effect of weight loss that you want to avoid. Muscle tissue is metabolically active, meaning it burns calories even when you’re not exercising. So, the more muscle you have, the easier it is to lose weight .
By consuming an adequate amount of protein, you provide your body with the necessary building blocks to maintain and repair muscle tissue. When you pair high protein intake with strength training, you can increase your muscle mass, which boosts your metabolism .
Increased Thermic Effect of Food
The thermic effect of food – one of the ways your body burns calories that we described above – is the energy expenditure required for digestion, absorption, and storage of nutrients. Protein has a higher thermic effect compared to carbohydrates and fats, meaning you burn more calories when digesting protein-rich foods, which slightly increases overall energy expenditure .
How Much Protein Do You Need for Weight Loss?
While the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults is 0.8 grams (g) of protein per kilogram of body mass (g/kg) or 0.36 grams per pound (g/lb), this amount of protein is not optimal if your goal is weight loss .
To avoid muscle loss when you’re in a calorie deficit while feeling full and satisfied, you want to aim for 1.8-2.7 g/kg or 0.8-1.2 g/lb. . The easiest estimate is to aim for 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight every day (e.g., if you weigh 150 lbs., eat 150 g of protein daily). You can use an app (such as MyFitnessPal or Cronometer) to track your protein intake and become familiar with the amount of protein in the foods you commonly eat.
Incorporating Protein into Your Diet
To make the most of protein's benefits for weight loss, consider the following strategies:
1) Include at least 20 g of protein at every meal
Most of the time, choose fresh, lean, and minimally processed sources of protein, such as poultry, fish, tempeh, legumes, eggs/egg whites, and Greek yogurt. These options offer high-quality protein with additional nutrients and are low in saturated fat . 20-25 g of protein in a single meal is enough to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis, allowing you to maintain and build muscle mass .
2) Distribute Protein Intake Throughout the Day
Rather than consuming most of your protein in a single meal, spread it out over the course of the day. This approach optimizes muscle protein synthesis and ensures a steady supply of amino acids for your body's needs .
3) Plan Protein-Packed Snacks
When hunger strikes between meals, reach for protein-rich snacks like Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese, or plant-based options like roasted chickpeas or edamame. These snacks not only provide a satiating effect but also contribute to hitting your daily protein goals.
4) Consider Protein Supplements
I constantly find that my clients struggle to hit their protein targets to optimize weight loss. If you find it challenging to meet your protein requirements from whole food sources alone, protein powders can be a convenient option . They are a great way to get more protein in when you’re on the go, short on time, or you’re craving something sweet.
Protein plays a crucial role in accelerating your weight loss journey. By incorporating protein into your meals and snacks, you can promote satiety, preserve lean muscle mass, and increase your metabolism. Remember to prioritize lean sources of protein and distribute your intake throughout the day for maximum benefits and use high-quality protein supplements if necessary to hit your daily protein goals.
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About the Author
Andres Ayesta is a sports dietitian and the founder of Planos Nutrition, with over 12 years of experience helping people transform their nutrition and lifestyle. He works with busy professionals and parents to help them lose weight, improve their confidence, and show up as the best version of themselves, using a personalized, evidence-based nutrition blueprint.
With a Bachelor's Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Southern Indiana and a master's degree in Exercise Science and Sports Nutrition from the University of Central Florida, Andres has earned numerous certifications, including Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach (CSCS) and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). He is a licensed Registered Dietitian in the state of Florida and provides coaching programs worldwide. To connect with Andres, you can find him on TikTok @andresthedietitian or Instagram @andresayesta
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