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How Much Protein Should You Consume to Lose Weight?

author image Janet Renee, MS, RD
Janet Renee is a clinical dietitian with a special interest in weight management, sports dietetics, medical nutrition therapy and diet trends. She earned her Master of Science in nutrition from the University of Chicago and has contributed to health and wellness magazines, including Prevention, Self, Shape and Cooking Light.
How Much Protein Should You Consume to Lose Weight?
Grilled chicken salad Photo Credit: Adam Kulesza/E+/Getty Images

Adding extra protein while on a reduced-calorie plan helps you retain lean mass while lowering your body weight. It may even help you burn more fat and gain muscle. You'll need to make good choices so that you're not eating too much saturated fat when adding protein to your diet, however. Talk to your doctor first if you plan to add a significant amount of protein, and when going from a low-protein to high-protein diet, do so gradually to give your body time to adjust. Remember, exercise also plays a role in preserving lean mass and burning fat.

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Total Calories Matter Most for Weight Loss

When it comes to overall pounds lost, it's total calories and not macronutrient composition that matters most. Some research shows that weight loss diets with average protein content -- 15 percent of your daily calories -- yield similar results to meal plans with high protein content -- 25 percent of your daily calories -- according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009. Dieters on the average and high-protein diet lost a similar amount of weight based on six and 12-month follow-ups. In addition, participants felt just as full on the average protein diet as they did on the higher protein plan. Health improvements were similar as well. Both diets improved fasting insulin -- the way the body processes sugar -- and factors that put your heart health at risk.

High Protein Boosts Fat Loss

Protein may not impact overall pounds lost, but it does influence body composition during weight loss. Your body requires more protein to maintain lean mass when you cut back on calories. In this aspect, protein plays a crucial role in how much fat, compared to lean mass you lose while on a low-calorie meal plan. The goal is to preserve muscle during weight loss and encourage your body to get rid of mostly fat. Boosting protein intake helps accomplish this, according to a study published in the September 2011 issue of the Journal of Nutrition. When women followed a high-protein, dairy-rich diet, they lost more body fat and gained lean mass compared to participants eating an adequate protein, medium dairy meal plan. Even though they lost a similar amount of weight, the high-protein group had a more favorable body composition, which means they lost more fat and while retaining or gaining muscle.

How Much Protein to Consume

Bump up your protein intake to boost fat loss and preserve your lean mass. The recommended dietary allowance for protein is a minimum of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. An example of a higher-protein diet for weight loss is 1.4 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight, which is close to twice the RDA. So for a 180-pound individual, a high-protein diet would include roughly 114 to 122 grams of protein a day. Divide your protein so you're eating almost a third of it at each meal and a little for a snack. Healthy sources of protein include fish, nuts, low-fat dairy, tofu, beans and other legumes, eggs, and lean cuts of meat and poultry. These foods are also packed with essential vitamins and minerals.

Tips for Increasing Protein Intake

To simplify grocery shopping, create a list in your notebook or on your smartphone. Add protein-rich foods such as low-fat cottage cheese, low-fat Greek yogurt, chicken breast, salmon, tuna, a variety of nuts, eye or round steak, lentils, kidney and black beans, soy patties and eggs.

Create a weekly meal plan ahead of time; Sunday is often a good day to do this. Design your plan to have a protein-rich food with each meal and plan out your main meals, as well as your snacks. To save time, some dieters even prepare weekly meals and snacks ahead of time and store them in organized containers in the fridge.

Carry high-protein snacks with you on the go. Portable snacks keep hunger at bay and make it easier to stick to your meal plan when you're on the move. Some snacks that travel well include mixed nuts, low-fat string cheese, low-sodium turkey jerky, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, as well as hard-boiled eggs.

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