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News about protein and losing weight

Published March 17. 2012 09:01AM

I love it when science finally catches up to common sense especially when it corroborates one of my claims.

A couple months ago, I wrote "there's a two-word way to lose weight without eating less. Eat protein." I did so for two reasons.

First, protein does not digest nearly as easily as simple carbohydrates or fat. Whereas about 3 percent of fat and 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 you overeat and the majority of those calories happen to be protein, there's significantly less to store as body fat.

Second, the ingestion of protein does not adversely affect blood sugar.

Eat a snack of mainly simple carbs, like a bagel, and your blood sugar spikes, the spike causes excessive insulin secretion, and the excessive insulin secretion makes it far more likely that you store the calories that you do not immediately need as energy in the muscle cells as fat.

The difference between what your body does with protein as opposed to simple carbs is why macronutrients were not mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. Unlike men, they are not all equal. Fat is preferentially stored as fat, simple carbs become fat easily, complex carbs are the best source for sustained energy, and protein doesn't digest easily.

These nutritional truths though not self-evident have been proven anecdotally time and time again by countless bodybuilders adhering to pre-contest diets and thousands of adherents to the Atkins diet in its Induction phase, yet these truths were never fully embraced by mainstream medicine. That, however, should soon change.

An article published in the January 4 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association proves that all overeating is not the same. Researchers took 25 healthy, weight-stable males and females between the ages of 18 and 35 and overfed them by nearly 1000 calories a day.

Eight weeks later, surprise, surprise, all had gained weight. But the type of weight gained was predicated on the percentage of protein in the diets.

The subjects who consumed a diet that was comprised of 25 percent protein actually gained the most weight, but they also gained the most "good" weight. They increased their lean body mass defined as everything other than fat by 7 pounds.

The subjects who consumed a diet comprised of 5 percent protein actually lost 1.5 pounds of lean body mass but gained 7 pounds.

That means the 5-percent-protein diet produced a total body fat increase of 8.5 pounds.

The subjects stuffing themselves with protein gained 1.1 less fat than the low-protein group.

The 25-percent-protein group also recorded significantly higher energy expenditure while resting, more proof that protein does indeed get wasted in the digestive process.

To appreciate this study's significance, consider that the 25-percent-protein diet really wasn't that high in protein. Although protein ingestion of 25 percent is considered slightly higher than average, many bodybuilders and even some endurance athletes ingest 40 or 45 percent of their daily calories as protein to aid in recovery and enhance performance.

If this percentage of protein would've been used in the study, I believe the fat-gain gap between the two groups would've been even greater.

The results of the JAMA-published study come on the heels of the Gallup Polls annual Health and Healthcare survey that revealed this disturbing statistic: American adults weigh on the average 20 pounds more than they did 20 years ago.

Twenty years ago, the average American male weighed 176 pounds. Now that average is merely 4 pounds shy of 200. Females now average 160 pounds.

The Gallup Poll is proof that people are eating more, and the way society is structured virtually assures that caloric consumption is not going to go down in the foreseeable future. That's why developing strategies to negate the additional calories is so important.

Increasing your amount of exercise is one tried-and-true course of action, but it is also a limited one. Unless you are highly motivated or still competing in some form of athletics, it's hard to find the motivation or the time to work more than four or five times for 45 minutes each in a typical week.

That's why the JAMA study, which in essence validates the concept that all calories are not created equally called nutrient partitioning, is so significant. Although the reported gain of 20 pounds in 20 years seems disheartening, stopping such a gain is really doable.

You would simply have to keep from adding one pound every year, and a simple measure such as eating a higher percentage of protein and a lower percentage of simple carbs might be all you need to do to achieve that.

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