When it comes to muscle, we generally understand the vital role protein consumption plays. After all, the driving force for muscle growth is aptly named muscle PROTEIN synthesis. We typically stress the importance of protein in times of bulking, where one intentionally puts on weight in hopes that, much of the added weight results in muscle.
- What we don’t talk about as much is if we’re to try to lose weight, especially fat, then what do we do about our protein? Common wisdom again is to eat more protein, this time for the sake of preserving muscle instead of building. In fact, some research suggests you should be eating MORE protein during weight loss than you would during a bulk.
- But, to further promote its importance, what if we were to find out that more protein also helps you burn more fat? A 2016 study helped shed additional light on this matter. In this 4-week study, 40 overweight and recreationally active (some form of physical activity 1-2x week) young men were split into two groups. Both groups had the same weight loss diet and given the same weekly 6-day exercise protocol consisting of resistance, aerobic, and anaerobic training.
- The only difference between the two groups is the experimental protein shakes they were given three to four times a day. One group was given a shake that pushed their total daily protein intake to 1.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. The other group was given twice as much protein at 2.4.
- After 4 weeks, what did they find in terms of body composition? With such an extreme weight loss diet at 40% calorie reduction, both groups unsurprisingly lost a solid amount of weight, but no significant differences between the two groups. In terms of lean body mass, the lower protein group remained largely unchanged, suggesting 1.2 grams or protein per kg of bodyweight is sufficient in preserving muscle. Looking at the 2.4-gram group, we actually see a noticeable increase in overall lean mass. This result highlights an important aspect in its own right. Assuming some of the lean mass gained is muscle, the result proposes that we can indeed build muscle and lose weight simultaneously granted that we eat enough protein.
- And finally, let’s take a look at fat mass. Seeing that the lower protein group lost zero lean mass, it can only mean that all of the weight lost was from fat, as we see here. As for the higher protein group, if they indeed gained lean mass yet lost roughly the same amount of weight as the lower protein group, then it only means that they had to compensate by losing even more fat. And indeed, that’s exactly what we see and exactly what we hoped for.
- First, this is only one study. Fortunately, we do have plenty of research that indicates the importance of protein consumption for muscle preservation, which this study only reinforces. Another limitation is the overweight and untrained subjects used.
- It is not much of a secret that, given a decent resistance training program and adequate protein, untrained, overweight individuals can, for a short period, burn fat and gain muscle at the same time. Whether the results of this study apply to trained individuals remains to be seen. My hunch is no, given a trained individual’s more tight-knit body composition looming closer to their genetic limitations.
- On that note, having an effective exercise program is equally as important in order to stimulate the muscles for growth. But ultimately, our question seems to be heading to a clearer answer. If you want to burn more fat during weight loss, eating MORE protein instead of less, might not only help you preserve or build muscle, but help you shed more of that funky fat as well.