Women lost fat and gained muscle without dieting or even training by making one easy change to their meals. Here it is.
Talk to the average out-of-date dietician and they’ll tell you that women need between 40 and 50 grams of protein daily. Poke around the nutrition journals and you’ll find that the average woman often gets even less than that. Today’s average woman is, in fact, overweight or obese – two out of every three American females, according to the Office on Women’s Health.
Many of those overweight women fall into a category called “normal weight obesity.” We call it skinny fat. Technically, that’s when a person has what’s considered a normal body weight but a high percentage of body fat and hardly any muscle. The scale says, “You’re fine,” but the mirror says, “You’re squishy.” And science says you’re in store for a host of future metabolic diseases.
How do you fix skinny fat? Well, the usual: clean up your diet and lift weights. But one study gave us another tip: eat more protein. You probably guessed that. But the surprising part here is that when women bumped up their protein intake while consuming a maintenance number of calories, they gained muscle and lost fat… at the same time… without working out. And it only took an additional 46 grams of protein to do it.
Hey, I’m a protein fanboy, but this surprised even me. Let’s review the study.
Researchers recruited 47 sedentary, skinny-fat women between 30 and 60 and divided them into two groups:
- Standard Protein Group: On average, these gals consumed 69 grams of protein per day (0.5 grams/pound of body weight).
- High Protein Group: On average, this group consumed 115 grams per day (46 more grams than the standard protein group, or 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight.)
Both groups were given maintenance-calorie meal plans to follow for 12 weeks – they shouldn’t have gained or lost weight. They were all told to keep doing what they always do when it came to exercise, which wasn’t much. (In fact, one woman was booted from the study because she started exercising! Good for her, but that would’ve thrown off the study, which only focused on protein intake.)
Remember, both groups consumed a maintenance level of calories, just under 2000 per day. Here’s what happened after 12 weeks:
- Standard Protein Group (68g per day): Gained 0.4 pounds of fat. Lost 0.6 pounds of muscle.
- High Protein Group (115g per day): Lost 2 pounds of fat. Gained 2.8 pounds of muscle.
Here are the big takeaways and holy-crap findings:
Even though they were eating maintenance calories, the “standard” protein group gained some fat and lost some muscle. Their body weights probably stayed the same, reminding us once again that the scale is largely bullshit. Body composition is what matters.
The standard protein group consumed more protein than the average female and more than some dumbass dieticians recommend for women. Their body comp still got worse.
Extend this eating plan and the standard protein group, without even overeating, would gain almost 2 pounds of fat per year while atrophying about 2.5 pounds of muscle. In just five years, well, they’d be a sloppy mess, especially when you factor in the downgraded metabolism. This tells us that “maintenance-calorie eating” isn’t really maintenance, not without a higher protein intake and, ideally, resistance training.
The high protein group gained almost 3 pounds of muscle without lifting weights and lost 2 pounds of fat. (Imagine if they’d trained!) While calories are important, we need to drop the “calories in, calories out” and “a calorie is a calorie” mantras. Clearly, over time, there’s a little more to it than that, mainly the amount of protein that makes up those daily calories.
Both groups were eating roughly the same number of calories. The high protein group fit that extra protein in by replacing some carbs. However, their diet plans were not low-carb; they consumed about 200 grams daily. This is generally what happens when people adopt a high-protein diet: it’s more satiating, they’re not as hungry, and carby foods and snacks are unconsciously reduced.
A couple of the women in this study couldn’t complete it because they weren’t compliant with their supplied meal plans. I suspect they were in the high-protein group. Eating over 100 grams of protein daily is daunting to the average person.
They were told not to use supplements, but a single daily protein shake would’ve fulfilled their needs. Two scoops of Metabolic Drive (on Amazon) contain 42 grams of protein, almost exactly what the high protein group needed to add to their diets.
Even experienced male lifters sometimes fall short of their protein needs. Whether you go by the “.8 grams per pound of body weight” minimal guideline or just keep it simple and try to hit about 1 gram per pound, it’s easy to slip when things get busy. Given all of protein’s benefits, I’ve long suggested the simple idea of having two shakes per day, which triggers what’s called the Protein Leverage Effect.
The rest of your protein needs are easily fulfilled with regular foods, hunger is controlled, and you’ll likely make other dietary improvements without even thinking about, like bringing down the junky carbs a little. Over just a few months, you’ll look better, usually without having to count a single calorie. Check out the full plan here: The Protein-First Diet Strategy.
Note: Thanks to Dr. Bill Campbell for bringing this study to my attention in his Body By Science newsletter.