The Power of Protein: Why, When, and How to Eat More to Lose Fat and Keep It Off
You know how critical of a role eating adequate protein plays in muscle growth and recovery.
But what you may not know is the depth of benefit eating adequate protein provides when trying to lose fat and keep it off for good. If you understand how much protein to eat and when to eat it, you can dramatically improve the likelihood of losing body fat, maintaining and growing muscle mass…
…and keeping that body fat off for good!
In today’s episode, I’ll detail all you need to know about how much, when, and why to eat protein to support your sustainable fat loss goal, and also share several strategies to help make eating this nutrient much easier so that you can reach your own unique goal.
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Hey, I’m registered dietician Paul Salter, and you are listening to Screw The Scale Radio. If you’ve been losing and regaining the same 20 pounds and struggling to have a positive relationship with food and a loving relationship with yourself, you’re in the right place, ready to get out of your own way and truly feel and look your best. Buckle off as I dive deep beyond the nutritional X’s and O’s to teach you how to build massive amounts of self-confidence, self-love, and self-trust so that you can not only lose the weight you desire and keep it all for good, but truly feel your best.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to another episode of Screw the Scale Radio. Thank you so much for tuning in, for being here. And hey, I’m proud of you. Really applaud you and admire you for putting yourself atop the priority list, really spending this time to learn something new, to gain a new perspective, and ultimately walk away from having completed listening to this episode with a new skill, a new frame of mind, and a new opportunity to be that much better.
So kudos to you and I’m really excited just to dive into today’s episode. Now for some of you, but know that I appreciate and love all of you, some of you, this will be a refresher, but it never, never hurts to hear similar information over and over again, especially in a different chapter in your journey from a different person or with a different perspective. And then for the rest of you, this might be brand new information and I’m really excited to provide that to you because today I want to talk all about the power of protein through the lens of achieving sustainable fat loss. So we’re going to talk about why, when, how to eat more protein to lose fat and keep it off for good. And I think the best place to start is to address the obvious. We have all become incredibly aware of the wonderful positive impact protein plays when it comes to building muscle, supporting muscle maintenance and influencing muscle recovery.
There is no shortage of information and photos on social media, magazines, et cetera to clarify the role protein plays in muscle building, recovery and maintenance. But beneath all of that, perhaps even more valuable and impactful and worthwhile to know is the wonderfully tremendous benefit protein plays, eating enough specifically at the right times when it comes to losing body fat, keeping it off for good, managing your appetite, and all of that being under the umbrella of achieving sustainable weight loss. And that is what I am excited to really detail and talk about today. So the first thing I want to address is why is protein so important? Why does it literally need to be priority number one when it comes to entering a diet phase, achieving significant sustainable weight loss? And first and foremost, protein goes a long way in helping to preserve muscle mass. Remember, it plays an integral role in muscle maintenance.
Why does that matter when we’re trying to lose fat and keep it off for good? Because if you were to follow at a very, very, very low protein intake while also placing yourself in a calorie deficit or diet to lose weight, what you’re going to find is that you’re not consuming enough protein to protect your precious hard-earned muscle mass. Therefore, your body is going to start eating away at its own muscle mass to use the constituent byproducts as fuel to help minimize the calorie deficit that you have put on it because it’s trying to preserve, protect itself, get out of that calorie deficit as fast as possible. It essentially begins eating away and using up your own muscle. As a result, you might lose a tremendous amount of weight, you might also lose a tremendous amount of body fat, but guess what? You’re likely going to lose a significant amount of muscle mass too.
Therefore, ending up in a position, what is known as, and this is not my term, it’s a widely used term, as skinny fat. You lose all the weight, you lose the body fat, but you’re still not impressed, happy with or strong and confident in the physique that is left at the end of that diet because you haven’t paid attention to protein and made it a priority like you should. So protein’s role in muscle maintenance goes a long way in helping you to achieve the physique you desire. You’re able to really maintain that level of muscle and primarily lose body fat as a result of spending adequate time in a calorie deficit. Now, another reason protein is so important is the role it plays in appetite management. And this a little under the radar benefit is applicable to literally your entire life, whether you’re dieting, maintaining, et cetera.
But most importantly, the biggest challenge we face when dieting is trying to achieve a level of consistency, consistency in our adherence. And when we continue to eat less and less food during a dedicated dieting phase, hunger goes up and up and up. Eating adequate protein, prioritizing enough protein goes a long way in helping to manage your appetite because protein works in a couple of different ways to achieve this. First and foremost, protein is really slow to digest. It’s really taxing to digest. So just the act of taking a long time to move its way through your gastrointestinal system, spending ample time in your stomach, really having your body fight hard to break it down, that in and of itself, that slow transit time really works to slow digestion and promote satiety or fullness. But second to that, when protein begins to make its way to the stomach and small intestine, it signals to the release of specific appetite management hormones.
And essentially there’s one in particular that when you eat adequate amounts of protein that makes its way to your stomach and small intestine, this appetite regulating hormone is known as cholecystokinin or CCK. Basically this is produced in greater amounts. It travels all the way or sends a signal to the satiety center in your brain that says, “Hey, whoa there, there’s plenty of food, plenty of fuel, plenty of calories, we don’t need anymore.” And it’s another way it further strengthens that satiety signal. So by prioritizing eating enough protein specifically during a diet, you’re holding onto more muscle mass and you’re also better able to manage your appetite, which enables you to better adhere consistently to your plan to get the results you desire. And one additional fun fact I forgot to mention when talking about the benefits of holding onto muscle mass is that having adequate muscle or more muscle versus less muscle is so valuable for a variety of different health and longevity issues.
But muscle tissue is what’s known as being energetically costly tissue. Your body has to work really hard to just maintain your current or typical amount of muscle mass. When you begin losing muscle because you’re not eating enough protein or perhaps not resistance training during a diet phase, what happens is when you lose that muscle, your body doesn’t have to work as hard because it’s not maintaining as much. That type of work is really just another way of saying your body doesn’t have to expend as many calories in an effort to maintain that muscle mass. So now you’re actually expending fewer calories, which is further working against the calorie deficit you’re trying to create that is essential to losing body fat. So long story short, eat more fucking protein. Now, let’s get a little bit more nitty-gritty and get into the tactical aspects, the X’s and O’s of this protein.
So first and foremost, one priority I want you to take away, and I want you to really challenge yourself to make this mindset shift is that protein needs to be non-negotiable every single time you eat. Whether it’s 6:00 AM, 11:00 AM, 3:00 PM, 6:00 PM or 11:59 PM protein should always be the priority. It helps with satiety and I just went through the long list of wonderful benefits it provides. But with that said, there used to be a lot of misunderstanding and misconception about what was more important, eating enough protein throughout the day versus eating enough protein every time you eat. And the latter is what’s most important. The typical Western or maybe American diet is a very small amount of protein at breakfast, a small little bit, maybe more protein at lunch, and then a colossal serving of protein at dinner time. It turns out that that is not nearly as effective as say an even distribution at every single time you eat during the day.
And the reason being is there exists a minimum threshold, so to speak, and it’s not until you reach this minimum threshold of protein that you truly get to reap the wonderful benefits, all of the wonderful benefits that eating adequate protein provides. And the way that I like to think about this is imagine right now you are about to walk into a dark room and as you go to flip that light switch, you flip the switch halfway up. What happens? Absolutely nothing, the light doesn’t come on. Maybe there’s a flicker, you got some old faulty electricity, but nothing happens. So that’s like analogous to eating 50% of what you need at breakfast or at lunch or an afternoon snack. You’re missing out on getting the full benefit. The light doesn’t even come on. You don’t really tap into the full power of eating an adequate amount of protein.
But similarly, if you find yourself walking into that dark room and you flip that switch all the way up, you have crossed that minimum threshold, the light has come on. Similarly, when you’ve crossed that threshold with protein, you’re now able to really reap all of the full extent of the wonderful benefits that protein provides. So what’s most important is not only prioritizing protein every time you eat, by prioritizing enough protein and enough protein coming from a high quality complete protein, a protein that provides all essential amino acids, which are the nine amino acids. And amino acid is essentially a building block of protein, there’s nine of them that our body cannot make that they are essential because we have to get them from food. We get them from all animal seafood products, we get them from quinoa, we get them from tofu, dairy, and eggs. But otherwise, your primarily plant-based proteins are missing one or more of those essential amino acids.
So not that those are bad in any way, shape, or form, but you need to be incredibly strategic, diligent, and well planned if you’re following a plant-based diet to meet your protein needs on a per meal as well as a per day basis. But again, as I alluded to, your per meal protein goal is what is most important. And when it comes to your day protein goal, there’s such a spectrum of optimal that exists here, anywhere from 0.7 or so grams of protein per pound of body weight, that’s 140 grams of high quality complete protein for a 200 pound person, up to two, two and a half grams per pound of body weight has been shown to be safe, effective in a variety of different studies. So you need to find your sweet spot. And the way that I do this when I work with clients is I prioritize the per meal need, which for most people it’s about 20 to 25 grams of high quality complete protein, but it can, obviously, it’s very size dependent here.
Age plays a role. I’ll talk about that more in a minute. But for most people, 25 grams or four ounces of cooked protein on a food scale is typically that minimum amount that is necessary to flip that switch, cross that threshold, turn the light on, and reap all of the wonderful benefits that protein has to offer. And of course, then there’s special considerations, age being one, we become much less sensitive to protein specifically in the post-workout period once we cross the age of 50. So an additional 10 to 20 grams of protein post-workout if you’re over the age of 50 really goes a long way in supporting muscle growth, maintenance, and recovery. But for most people, 25, and again, depending on size, 30 to 35 grams of protein every few hours throughout the day is that sweet spot to truly maximize the muscle building and maintenance, the physique enhancing and appetite management benefits that protein provides.
Now, just checking a few things. What else did I want to share with you here? So we talked about the role protein plays in appetite management, physique enhancement, and ultimately your ability to lose weight, significant weight and keep it off. We talked about the importance of prioritizing how much protein you eat per opportunity to eat, whether it’s 6:00 AM or 11 PM. It should be a non-negotiable, about 25 grams of high quality, complete protein is the sweet spot for most people. It can absolutely be more and ample research support it can be a heck of a lot more with no contraindications or challenges whatsoever. And then the other point I’d like to mention is we also have to be very mindful that protein is incredibly satiating. You feel full when you prioritize protein, and this is very normal. So the deeper and deeper you get into a calorie deficit, we just want to recognize how we’re distributing our portions amongst protein, carbs, and fats.
We want to be mindful that we don’t have so much protein to the point where we’re taking in so few carbs and fats that we feel like absolute shit during the day. So it’s just another consideration to discuss and work through on your own or with your coach to make sure that you’re still getting enough of the other portions of carbohydrates and fat throughout the day as well. Now, for those of you who may struggle to meet your protein goal, maybe you’re conditioned the last 10 years, the last couple of decades to just not eat a higher protein diet, which is roughly considered to be eating about 0.7 grams per pound of body weight, above that is considered a higher protein diet. If you’re not used to it, consider whey protein powder, for example, or any protein powder that’s composed of a complete protein.
Protein powder, yes, it’s powder. It’s not whole food, but whey protein in particular is the gold standard protein source they use to compare the protein quality of other proteins to. Don’t let the powder form fool you. Don’t let the negative connotation of just the supplement industry and powders in general really steer you away from that. So whether it’s a ready to drink shake, like a Premier or a Fairlife, Core Life, all of those are great options. Personally, the protein powder supplement company I use, this is not sponsored, no affiliation, it’s a grass-fed whey protein called Levels. Find it on Amazon. It’s a grass-fed whey protein that’s actually affordable. I believe it’s $79 for a five pound tub. That’s what I personally use. Highly recommend it. But we have to remember that powder can be a wonderful way to get more protein in because it doesn’t take up nearly as much space in your stomach, nor does it require you to chew 15 times per bite, like a juicy piece of steak might.
Outside of that, we have to think creatively. Sometimes we forget that outside of the traditional animal meats, the chicken, the beef, the seafood, the fish, there’s tons of beautiful dairy options. There’s milk, there’s cheese, like string cheese, there’s deli meat, there’s beef jerky, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese. There’s no shortage of opportunities to begin slipping more protein in throughout your day so you can reap these wonderful benefits. And I think the last thing that I want to share with you is just to remember, there’s so much power in protein, and if you can begin to make that subtle, yet significant mindset shift to make protein a priority and a non-negotiable, every time you eat you will feel fuller. Therefore, more in control of your appetite and your portions, you will get a better bang for your buck, get more out of your workouts. And when you allow this to accumulate and compound over time, week after week, month after month, year after year, the positive benefits that your physique experiences will be night and day.
And I’m excited for you to fully realize and experience the power of protein on your way to losing the weight you desire, keeping it off for good so that you can feel, look, and be your best. And if you right now are finding yourself stuck, stuck in a cycle of self-sabotaging behaviors, maybe it’s weight loss, weight regain, maybe it is not following through on the promises you make to yourself, maybe it is having a terrible relationship with food, speaking unkindly with yourself, and you would like to stop self-sabotage at the source so that you can feel, look or be your best, send me a message on Instagram @paulsaltercoaching with the word unstuck. I’m more than happy to have a conversation with you so I can learn more about you and you can learn more about how I can confidently help you feel, look, and be your best.
Well, thank you so much for listening to another episode of Screw the Scale Radio. If you found this episode helpful, share it. Subscribe to the show if you haven’t done so already, and definitely pass it along to a loved one, coworker or friend who needs the subtle reminders about the power of protein. Thank you for listening. Have a wonderful rest of your day. And as always, screw the scale.