weight loss

Why protein is your best friend for weight loss

Posted June 20th, 2022

Weight loss is big business. Over 70% of UK adults are uncomfortable with their weight, and there are typically three Google searches per minute on ‘how to lose weight fast’. According to the Huffington Post, almost two thirds of all Brits are on a diet most of the time – how depressing!

No wonder there is an overwhelming plethora of weight loss promises out there. Amidst the Paleo diet, Mediterranean diet, Keto diet, intermittent fasting and Herbalife (we could go on), the truth is that calorie deficit is the basis of successful weight loss. Whilst it doesn’t sound as Miami as the South Beach diet, it’s simple and it works, suitable for most people who are medically classed as overweight. Incorporating the right proportion of macronutrients plays an important role too, especially protein – a secret weapon in your weight loss artillery.

Calorie deficit explained

To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume (just to be clear, calories are the amount of energy in a food or drink portion measured in “kcal”). This doesn’t need to be a hard and fast rule every single day, but over a period of, say, six weeks, you would need to be using more calories than what’s going in. The bigger the deficit, the bigger the weight loss. Where do calories come from? The food and drink you consume. How do you burn calories? Through general day to day life (including sleeping and breathing) and exercise. Interestingly, the calories burnt through sport and gym are actually quite small! Many more are burnt through non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), so try and make your day as active as possible – take the stairs, walk more, drive less etc.

There’s no magical quick fix for sustainable weight loss… but you do need to set your goal calorie intake and make food, drink and physical activity choices accordingly.

How do you set and track a calorie deficit?

Track your goals

A weight loss plan shouldn’t make you permanently grumpy (it takes willpower, but the results are worth it), so it’s important to realise there’s a fine line between being in a sensible calorie deficit and undereating to the point of compromising your health, energy and wellbeing. Calories are fuel after all, not the enemy. Firstly, you need to establish a daily calorie goal, based on your gender, age, activity levels, height and weight. A Tanita scan, personal trainer or fitness app can do this for you. The NHS advises that an average man needs around 2,500kcal a day to maintain a healthy body weight, and a woman needs 2,000kcal. As a guide, to lose 1-2 pounds per week (considered a safe amount), you would need to eat 500–1,000 calories fewer per day than the number of calories your body needs.

To track calories, record your food and drink intake, either by:

• Keeping a food diary of at least five days a week, which will help identify high calorie food/drink (what, why and when) and potential swaps or drops
• Using an app such as MyFitnessPal which saves time by scanning packaging barcodes and totalling calories. It can also subtract calories burnt through exercise and activities, and set macro goals (carbohydrates, protein and fat)

Above all, be honest – you’re only cheating yourself if you massage the figures.

Macronutrients – why you shouldn’t cut the carbs or fat

Macronutrients are the nutrients we need in bigger quantities that provide energy, namely carbohydrate, protein and fat. Don’t diss them!

Carbs are often cut out of ‘fad’ diets, but they are the body’s main source of fuel and essential in a balanced diet (around 40% of your calories should be made up of carbohydrates, and they are indeed necessary if you want to feel up for the gym or run). Did you know that if you don’t eat enough carbs to fuel your training, your body will use protein as a fuel source rather than using it to repair and build muscle (‘toning up’)?! Complex carbs such as wholegrain pasta, bread, potatoes and legumes are best.

Eat fat to lose fat? Yep. Fat is a source of essential fatty acids, which the body cannot make itself. It supports bodily functions, provides energy, protects your organs and more. Note that saturated fat increases cholesterol while unsaturated fat offers more health benefits and is mostly found in oil from plants and fish, such as avocados and salmon. Moderation is key and fats should make up 30% of your calories.

Protein is king!

Protein is king

Now for the big reveal. Why is protein your best friend when it comes to weight loss and weight management? Well, protein makes us feel fuller and therefore less likely to overeat, snack or suffer from cravings. It does not spike insulin, unlike sugar which causes lethargy and hunger. Ultimately, protein requires more energy expenditure than carbs or fat (the energy required to break down food, contributing to the energy we use daily… i.e. burning calories). What’s more, it helps you become leaner by repairing and building muscle, especially if you’re resistance training. This isn’t ‘bulking up’, it’s helping you develop firmer, defined muscles, and helps minimise muscle loss associated with aging.

Hit your protein goal of 30% of your calories to promote growth, repair and recovery, build new cells, produce antibodies, and encourage lean tissue and muscle development.

Simple and tasty sources of protein
Protein shakes and bars are heavily marketed for weight loss and muscle growth and repair, but there’s no need to shell out for a protein-rich diet. Readily available for meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans, simple sources include:

• White meat (chicken, turkey)
• Fish (salmon, tuna, cod…)
• Red meat (lean is better)
• Dairy (eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt)
• Bean (soy, black, kidney…)
• Nuts and seeds
• Vegetables
• Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa…)

Top tip: to reduce saturated fat intake, opt for lean, unprocessed meat and choose natural nuts over salted or treated nuts. Get creative with packing protein into any meal or snack, from omelettes to lean homemade burgers to wholesome crunchy salads, and even high-protein, low-fat muffins and cakes.

Calorie deficit – it does what is says on the tin

There’s no exotic or celebrity-endorsed name for calorie deficit, but it’s simple, sustainable, flexible and it works. Enjoy carbs, fat and protein in proportion (40/30/30), make delicious, nutritious food and drink choices (factor in treats too) and up your protein to ward off hunger pangs and encourage lean muscle development. Additionally, increase your NEAT activity, as well as dedicated physical efforts, that boost your self-esteem, endorphins and energy levels.