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Power of protein

Published October 08. 2011 09:01AM

The country-and-western band Black Oak Arkansas must have been contemplating the afterlife when they first crooned "Everybody wants to see heaven / Nobody wants to die" way back in 1993. But if their thoughts would've been on weight loss, instead, they might have sung, "Everybody want to lose weight / Nobody wants to diet."

While the sentiments of the imagined song may be true, the lyrics may be a bit misguided. That's because there's a two-word way to lose weight without eating less.

Eat protein.

Protein is one of the reasons why many nutritionists in the know now say, "Not all calories are the same." To understand why this is true, consider what happens when you eat too many of the calories of the worst kind for weight control: simple carbohydrates.

The areas in the muscle cells and the liver where you store energy derived from all carbs are relatively small you can use it all in just two hours of intense exercise! which also means they're easy to fill. When this happens, the extra energy goes into long-term storage in fat cells, and you've gained weight.

Here's the kicker, however. Simple carbs turn to blood sugar quicker than complex carbs, but your blood prefers to hold only between 40 and 80 calories of what's technically called glucose. Your body's response to more than this amount is to secrete insulin, the storage hormone. The excess carbs in the form of glucose are then transported to the muscle cells.

But your muscles cells prefer to process a steady stream of glucose rather than a quick bombardment, so a meal heavy in simple carbs causes problems. In fact, the cell receptors often shut down and refuse glucose even when the muscles need energy!

This refusal is what's called insulin resistance. When this occurs, insulin takes the rejected glucose to the fat stores where it is transformed into fatty acids and stored as fat.

While insulin resistance is usually seen as a result of bad genetics or years of poor eating, eating a single meal with too many carbs, especially the refined ones found in soft drinks, white flour and most convenience foods, creates this problem. Ultimately, you store the energy as fat, never energize the muscle cells, and still feel hungry.

As a result, you eat again and add unwanted pounds. And if you eat more simple carbs the second time, the savage cycle starts again.

Now let's run through the same scenario, but have you eat too many protein calories instead. Protein does not digest nearly as easily. Whereas about 5 percent of simple carbs get wasted in the digestion process, the waste rate for protein can be as high as 30 percent.

So if the excess protein does get stored as fat which rarely happens for a few other reasons there's far less of it to store.

But more importantly, the ingestion of protein does not adversely affect blood sugar. In fact, if eating a primarily protein meal creates low blood sugar, glucagon rather than insulin is secreted.

Glucagon undoes insulin's work. It breaks down fatty acids made from the excess simple carbs so they can be used as energy.

What determines whether you secrete insulin or glucagon is the ratio of carbs to protein in your diet, so that's why many nutritionists now say, "Not all calories are the same."

But the power of protein has been proven recently in many other ways. For instance, postmenopausal women were found to lose less muscle remember, the less muscle mass, the less you can eat without gaining weight when they used a whey protein supplement in a 1,400-calorie-a-day weight-loss diet as opposed to postmenopausal women who ingested the same total number of calories but used a carbohydrate supplement.

Athletes also benefit from protein ingestion, allowing them not only to repair muscles damaged during exercise and recover quicker, but also to build muscle from their efforts.

And the quicker the better. Recently, a study conducted by Stuart Phillips at McMaster University found that one concentrated dose of whey protein about the amount in a serving and a quarter of most commercially sold whey protein powders increased muscle protein synthesis more so than the same amount consumed over an extended period of time.

Finally, a study published this summer in the journal Obesity helped explain why the Atkins diet works for some. Subjects following a higher-than-normal protein diet recorded greater feelings of fullness and reported less of an appetite in both the morning and late night when compared to subjects eating a lesser amount of daily protein.

These findings support a study published last year in Nutrition Research that found subjects who consumed a high-protein breakfast ate on average 112 fewer calories at a buffet lunch than those who had a typical low-protein, bagel breakfast.

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