High Protein Diet. Historically dieting for weight loss hasn’t been synonymous with muscle preservation or physique. It’s always been about that number when you step on the scales.
Since the rise in popularity of resistance training and its huge applicability to all aspects of personal health, this has started to change.
Add to this the increase in visibility that ambassadors of strength training – particularly the female athletes – are getting on social media now, and the emphasis on how we lose weight is more important than ever.
There was a time when suggesting a resistance strength training program to a woman in her forties would be met with strange looks, and responses like “but I don’t want to look like one of those bodybuilders.”
These days it’s almost common place to find this demographic representing a good portion of the gym members working the machines and free-weights.
It’s great to see, and aside from the fact that there is no concern of being surprised by the growth of savage shoulder muscles overnight, it’s one important part of modern physical conditioning and the sub-category of weight loss
The other, and even more crucial, part is of course the diet.
Redefining Weight Loss
I dislike the term “weight loss”. It’s ambiguous at best and misleading at worst. It needs qualifiers to give it real meaning.
Losing weight might be a necessary part of your goal, especially if you are obese. However, obesity is essentially a state where you have too much fat compared to fat free mass (organs, water, muscle mass and bones).
That’s it. We don’t like labelling people “fat” but too much body fat is the cause of the problem and all of the health issues that go with it.
People who are obese, or considered to be above a healthy weight are therefore looking to lose fat.
In an ideal world we would be able to select the type of body tissue we could lose when we diet and exercise but as you know, the world is far from ideal.
By reducing your daily calorie consumption to a significant enough deficit below your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), i.e. the calories you burn, then you will lose weight.
However, this does not take into account the amount of muscle, bone density and adipose (tissue) will be lost relative to each other.
Fat loss being the main objective, it is recommended to eat and train in such a way that muscle mass and bone density are maintained as much as possible.
The absolute perfect scenario would be to increase muscle mass and bone density (aka lean mass) while losing fat.
That is unfortunately beyond difficult, which is why most bodybuilders work in phases called cycles. They may follow a bulk cycle, where they eat a calorie surplus and train for maximum muscle growth, for one cycle.
They might then follow that with a cutting cycle where they eat less calories and train specifically for fat loss in order to bring out the muscles’ definition.
While cutting they may lose some lean mass too but they will try and retain it as much as possible through training and maintaining a high protein diet.
A similar approach to the cutting cycle can be followed by people who are looking to lose body fat but not be weakened by the loss of too much lean muscle tissue.
High Protein Diet – How Much Protein Should You Eat?
Controlled scientific studies involving human subjects are the best way to determine what does and doesn’t work for the average person.
From researching supplements and nutrition for years I’ve come to realize that even the most well designed clinical trials can have flaws.
Also, simply spouting results of research without looking at the results in a wider context and from a common sense perspective is useless.
One fact that shines out from researching dietary protein is that the amount you need to consume per day is determined by your total bodyweight, your physique goals and your activity level.
The simplest way to adjust your protein consumption to fit with your objective and activity level is to think of it in terms of: grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
So, first, find your weight in kilograms. If you know it in lbs then simply divide your value by 2.2. For example a person weighing 170 lbs is a smidge over 77 kg.
For people looking to tackle obesity, the quantity of protein per kg of bodyweight is going to be different to someone of healthy weight looking to grow more muscle and burn more fat.
Here are some values to guide you in your protein consumption:
Overweight or Obese people looking to lose weight and retain muscle mass should eat approximately 1.5 grams protein per kilogram of bodyweight. This assumes some moderate resistance training and cardio vascular exercise is being undertaken (approx. 4 hrs/week)*
People of average or healthy weight who are training to build muscle but want to burn fat need to consume the highest ratio of protein to the other macros at 2.2 to 3.3 g/kg.
When the desired physique is reached, maintenance protein consumption should be in the range of 1.4 to 2.2 g/kg.
For inactive/sedentary individuals, 1.8 g/kg is the perfect number, regardless of the goal. It is the fat and carbs which should be adjusted down for weight loss.
The amount of protein for obese people looks low but when you consider that obese people are heavier, the protein per kg bodyweight adds up overall to assist the lean mass retention and possible growth.
High Protein Diet – Conclusion and Working Example
You might be wondering what you do once you have figured out your protein number and prepared your lean sources of protein such as fish, chicken, tempeh, quinoa and spinach.
What about the other macronutrients, Carbohydrate and Fat?
This is where I encourage you to do a basic calculation of your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) and your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). You can find out how to do that in this article about calculating metabolism and using it for success.
Once you are aware of the total calories you can eat per day, depending on your current health status and your goals, you can subtract your protein calories from the total to leave you with the combined total that’s allotted to carbohydrate and fat.
To figure out your protein grams in calories, simply multiply the grams by four, because there are 4 calories per gram of protein.
A 30 year old woman of average height, weighing 192 lbs converts her weight to kilograms, giving 87 kg.
She then calculates her TDEE based on her RMR (1578 kcal) plus her activity level (moderate since she started training) and she gets: 2446 kcal per day.
She figures she can handle eating about 500 less calories than her TDEE per day, so that she can lose some weight. That gives her about 1950 calories to consume per day.
At 87 kg and her sedentary lifestyle until now, she would be considered obese.
This means a protein value of 1.5 g/kg, which is (1.5 x 87) = 130.5 grams of protein per day.
Multiplying this by 4 to get the protein in calories, it is 522 calories.
That is roughly 25% of her total calorie intake. It leaves 1428 calories in her allowance which will be taken up by some of the fat bound to the protein source, and other fat and carbohydrates she eats during the day.
In terms of bodyweight, the ratio of fats to carbs doesn’t really matter, but in terms of health the ratio is okay at 1:1 of the remaining 1428 calories, and the healthier the foods the better.
Remember that an overall calorie deficit results in weight loss, but with her protein consumption at a good quarter of her total, she can be sure that her muscles won’t waste too much and she’ll lose fat.
The resistance training program will be even more beneficial to muscle tissue.
Once she has noticed her physique change after a few weeks it is a good idea to recalculate.