A high protein diet (for weight loss) means cutting back on carbs, fats and increasing your protein intake through foods such as meat, fish, eggs, milk and high-protein snacks and whey.
People would mainly turn to this type of diet due to protein's proven ability to increase performance during exercise and promote recovery afterwards so that more exercise can be undertaken. It also helps to promote muscle retention when dieting - meaning that your muscles won't be used for energy, rather, your fat stores will be used instead. Thus, your fat mass will decrease rather than your muscle mass.
But you might ask, well, how does protein do this? Why is it even important?
Well, protein is made up of 21 amino acids. Out of these, your body can create 12 naturally but the remaining 9 must come from the food you consume which is why eating protein is essential as it contains these amino acids.
With the more exercise you do, the more your body needs extra amino acids and thus, it needs more protein because protein is what your body uses to repair and build your muscles (as exercising makes tiny rips your muscles). Therefore, extra protein is basically essential if you are into your fitness.
So does a high-protein diet make you loose weight?
The short answer is that, like with any diet, it depends.
You'll find a lot of people trying to make a lot of money from selling false diets and ideas, telling you to eat avocados and no bread or telling you to eat only pasta and no pizza and I think this is what puts a spanner in the works for many as it gets too confusing.
So the simple thing to remember is that any diet will work as long as you aren't eating too many calories for your energy expenditure. Now there are, again, lots of calculations you can do to workout your energy expenditure but my advice would be to get a fitness watch or app which tracks what you do and your height/weight. Then let it tell you how many calories you can have a day. But also be careful with this.
For example - I am a 5'3 23 year old female who lifts weights five days a week and gets at least ten thousand steps a day. The popular app, MyFitnessPal tells me I can eat 1,600 calories a day as standard but my Fitbit tells me that I burn about 2,300 calories a day.
Obviously this is a huge difference but I know myself that despite the copious amounts of exercise I do, I can only eat 1,700 calories a day (with a cheat day of 2000 calories per week) without putting on weight (I weigh myself weekly to make sure). In summary, I am saying that apps aren't always correct and you need to find the balance yourself as everybody's genes and metabolisms are different (If only we could all be those lucky people who eat like horses and never gain weight).
Back to the point, within my 1,700 calories that I can have per day, I can literally eat anything and not put on weight. For example, I could eat a 900 calorie pizza for dinner and still have 800 left. So as long as I don't eat more than 800 calories, I won't put on weight. This therefore debunks many diets which tell you not to eat any pizza. Although, pizza obviously isn't the healthiest option (it is high in protein though!)
Another way of finding out your metabolic rate (how many calories you burn) is by tracking. So, you weigh yourself (I would suggest first thing in the morning), eat for example 1,700 calories and then weigh yourself the next morning at the same time and see if you have lost, gained or maintained your weight. If you've lost weight, up your calories for a week. If you've gained weight then decrease your calories for a week. Once you stay the same for a few days, you know how many calories you can eat.
Then there is obviously the fact that you should not under-eat. When you eat too few calories, your body will decrease your metabolism as it assumes that you are starving. Therefore, when you start eating normally again, it's more likely you will gain some weight due to your now decreased metabolism (it will go back up again though).
Under eating also triggers a hormone called ghrelin which is the hunger hormone. At the same time it decreases leptin (the hormone which makes you feel full). Thus, you are left feeling hungry which is not ideal when you're on a diet. Therefore, try to just drop 200-300 calories a day for a week and see how much weight you loose but also ensure you are getting enough protein so that you aren't shredding muscle mass.
So if you ask the question of, 'does a high-protein diet work?' - well any diet works if you don't eat more calories than you burn but you don't want to be left feeling hungry and you don't want to loose muscle mass, you want to loose fat mass, so make sure you're getting enough protein.
Does protein have less calories than carbs and fats?
One thing to always remember is that you will get more volume with protein and carbs than fats which is because of their calorie content as seen below:
- Protein has 4 calories per gram.
- Carbs have 4 calories per gram.
- Fats have 8 calories per gram.
And this is why a protein diet might work well for some people. Perhaps it would work for you if you want to go for all the high-fat food, such as pizza, donuts and cream but when replaced with milk or a lean chicken breast on toast, you'll find this is far less calories than the high-fat options due to the calorie content of the fat itself (which is double that of carbs/protein).
Protein will always be required for your basic bodily functions due to the amino acids that it contains which your body cannot create. It is also great for people who workout or perform a lot of activities throughout the day as it will help with speedy muscle recovery and, if dieting, it will help retain the muscle you have built.
However, in general, loosing weight is based on calories, not macros, so as long as you are eating less calories than what your body burns on a daily basis, you'll loose weight.
For proper help and advice, ask a local PT to make you a meal plan or speak to your doctor for nutritional tips.
And if you're looking for a great way to get some extra diet treats, why not subscribe to a Mean Protein box which provides fresh protein bars, snacks and whey on a weekly, monthly of one-off basis. There are great for healthy diets, workouts and exercise! Check out our full store here.