How much protein do you recommend for a fat loss diet?
Matt: I think the standard rule of 1 gram per pound of lean body weight is always sufficient when fat loss is the goal. Often due to massive carb restriction protein is increased to compensate because the body has begun catabolising muscle tissue in order to make glucose. That of course is a tried and true tactic and if you are cutting using a low-fat, low carb diet then you are going to have to increase the protein to make up for the remainder of your caloric total.
In those situations the diet is often built around the amount of protein, such as two grams per pound of lean body weight. Then the fat and carbs are adding in after. Both of these methods work as will the ketogenic method, but that has the fat intake much higher and the protein lower as protein is still insulinogenic. That’s a far more complicated diet and not something I’m going to get into here.
Colin: I have to agree with the standard 1 gram per pound of lean body weight as a great starting point. There have been several studies showing that taking in more than that doesn’t make much of a difference at all. In fact there has been research that shows the more experienced you are in training the less protein you need. On the other hand the nice thing about protein in a fat loss diet is it helps you feel fuller longer. Since you’ll be in a calorie deficit, this can help you mentally. Additionally on a fat loss diet carbohydrates are going to be lower and you won’t have the benefit of the protein sparing carbs. So if you don’t have any health risks with a higher protein diet going with 1.5 grams per pound isn’t a bad idea, but not necessary either.
JC: Asking a bodybuilder how much protein to take is like asking a crack addict how much will “do the trick.” Depending on where you go for your info, you will find some sources calling for 50g a day, some 100g, and even some double that.
Once you have determined your calories (deficit), the rest is pretty standard. You can try to ‘eyeball’ it and start your protein at 1 or 1.5g per pound of bodyweight, but this is not an easy or accurate guess for those who stand to lose some serious weight/fat. Your numbers will be way off if you do it that way since you will be calculating your numbers from bad weight. Since the normal person knows very little about their LBM, this just starts the diet off with a lot of confusion and anxiety.
Your standard meal plan will typically involve a 50:30:20 macro split for carbs, protein, fat respectively. Say you determine your diet calories to be 1600; your numbers would be 200C, 120P, 35F. For the average person, 120g of protein is plenty in a day. Carbs at 200 is a nice comfortable level also which should help with satiety. I disagree with the statement that protein will keep you full. When I restrict carbs and up the calories with protein and fat I am never satisfied. Carbs satisfy, and at the end of the day it is still calories in vs. calories out.
As a bodybuilder, you can bet that I will be taking more than 120g of protein per day – regardless of what the latest study finds. Leaning out for a show is not like your average diet, so sharing the details of a prep cycle will do no benefit for this discussion. For the sake of argument, let’s just say that you are not the “typical” person looking to shed a few pounds. You are a fitness conscious person, avid lifter, and you have some good quality muscle you want to show off for the summer. Go low carb and give this a go.
Rather than base your calories from where you are, base them from where you want to be. Calculate the calorie requirements at your ideal weight and eat that way, switching the protein to 50% and the carbs to 30%.
So what I am really saying, the numbers will come to you based on the goal and method of dieting.
Dara: This is highly dependent on how much muscle mass the dieter has. As has already been stated, someone with a higher amount of muscle mass may not need as much protein as someone just starting to build muscle. It gets a bit complicated here because I would be unlikely to prescribe someone a purely “fat loss” diet without first putting them through a conditioning and building phase if they are new to exercise. So for that I would start from a standard 50% carbs, 30% protein and 20% fats and adjust until I see the body composition start to change. At first I’m not concerned with the scale number, but I still track it in addition to the body fat % and measurements. Once I am happy/the client is happy with the amount of muscle gained and the change in body composition, we will switch into a focus on fat burning. For this I will build from the numbers we had figured out previously worked for changes in body composition. I will lower the carbs and increase the protein. In my reading I have seen several studies that have shown that increased protein intake during a fat loss diet will preserve muscle tissue by keeping NO levels higher. This is my reasoning for increasing protein on a fat loss diet and it works for most people. So it’s not a simple answer and I don’t have a set number that I would just recommend because it’s going to be different for everyone.
JC: Just as a point of reference, I am currently following a 45C:35P:20F (270,210,53) and am maintaining a good weight while keeping body fat down. I also eat whatever I want on weekends, a little something I picked up from Jason Kaiman. These were taken July 15.
Round 1: The best fat loss method
Round 2: Fasted vs fed cardio for fatloss
Round 5: The best 3 exercises
Round 6: The ideal training program