Keep the muscle and lose the fat with this super simple, science-backed diet strategy. Here’s what to do.
If you need to drop some body fat, retain muscle mass while doing it, and improve the overall quality of your diet, eat an extra 21 grams of protein per day. That’s it. You can go read another T Nation article now.
Still here? Okay, truthfully, you’re probably getting adequate protein anyway as a lifter. But we can learn a few interesting things from a new protein study.
Researchers from Rutgers gathered up 200 people, overweight or obese men and women from all age groups, and divided them into two groups:
- Both groups used a 500-calorie deficit diet for 6 months.
- Half the group consumed a diet low in protein – about 58 grams daily.
- Half the group consumed a diet “high” in protein – about 79 grams of protein per day.
Yeah, I know, 79 grams isn’t “high protein.” But remember, they were non-lifting normies. This was actually more protein than they were eating before the study.
The results were about what you’d expect: both groups lost roughly the same amount of weight, but the higher protein group retained more lean body mass and was more likely to keep the fluff off after the diet.
For protein, there was only a 21-gram difference between the two groups. That’s just half of a chicken breast, about three eggs, or a single scoop of protein powder. But that 21 grams had some unexpected effects on the higher-protein dieters – their diet quality improved:
- They ate more green veggies.
- They ate less sugar.
- They ate fewer refined grains.
The researchers were very excited about what they called “dietary patterns.” When most people diet, they drop their calories lower, but the quality of their overall diet suffers: less nutritional variety, not enough fiber, etc. They consume fewer micronutrients, often to the point of developing basic vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
A modest boost in protein, 21 grams in this study, fixed that problem. For some reason, the higher-protein eaters also improved their overall diet quality. With just a modest bump in protein, they made better choices.
Based on common Google queries, regular folks have a hard time eating even a barely-adequate amount of protein. Even consuming 100 grams per day is daunting to them.
For them, a single scoop of Metabolic Drive (on Amazon) (22 grams of protein) would make a big difference. Not only would they reap all the usual protein benefits, but based on the above study, they’d naturally, almost unconsciously, make better non-protein food choices: more veggies, less sugar, healthier carbs.
We know that protein is the most satiating macro. Your body also expends more calories to process it – it has a greater thermic effect than carbs or fats. (It’s just a little boost, but we’ll take it.) And finally, we know it’s difficult for the body to even store protein as body fat.
But what about protein intake for bodybuilders and athletes trying to lean up? Is a 21-gram bump enough?
Well, another study took 20 weight-lifting athletes between the ages of 18 and 40 and put them on a strict four-week diet: 40% below maintenance calories.
- Half of them ate what they normally ate, just a lot less of it. Naturally, their protein intake dropped to about 1 gram per kilogram. So, a 200-pound lifter in this group ate about 90 grams of protein per day.
- The other half replaced some of their carbs and fats from solid foods with protein shakes, increasing their daily protein intake to 2.3 grams per kilogram. A 200-pound lifter in this group ate 207 grams of protein.
- The lower-protein dieters lost just as much muscle as they did body fat, even though they kept lifting during the study. Losing 14 pounds means 7 pounds of muscle loss and 7 pounds of fat loss. That sucks.
- The higher-protein group lost pure fat and virtually no muscle.
So, we can safely say that natural lifters dieting to lose fat can exceed the bodybuilding standard of 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. You may not need that much for actual protein synthesis, but given all the other benefits – autoregulation (satiation, improved diet quality) and lean mass preservation – it’s a worthy increase.
Want to keep it simple? Replace 110 to 220 calories you’d normally “spend” on carbs and fats with equal protein calories. That’s one or two scoops of Metabolic Drive (on Amazon) – 22 to 44 grams of protein.
If you got all your other dietary math right, that should put you at just above the ol’ one-gram-per-pound-of-bodyweight protein standard. And based on both studies above, you’ll be a lot happier with the body you see in the mirror after your diet phase.
- Ogilvie, et al. Higher protein intake during caloric restriction improves diet quality and attenuates loss of lean body mass. Obesity, May 2022.
- Mettler S et al. Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Feb;42(2):326-37. PubMed.