Why Being Specific About Protein Matters

So, those of you who know me know that I emphasize the reduction of carbohydrates in your diet. You also know that I advocate eating more protein, fat, and vegetables in place of the carbohydrate that has been taken out of your diet. These are great general principles to help you lose weight and to improve your health. When it comes to protein, however, it pays to be a little more specific. The way that you consume protein can have a huge impact on losing fat mass, your metabolic rate, and how fast you lose weight.

From a physiologic standpoint, your body is made of two things. The first is lean mass and the second is fat mass. A simplistic way to think about this is that all of your lean mass is made of proteins. The normal processes of living wear down this lean mass a lot like a tire gets worn down by driving on the road. On a daily basis you need to repair this lean mass. Your body has a process to do this and the process is named protein synthesis. Protein synthesis is the removal of old worn-out protein and replacing it with new protein. This process burns a ton of calories. From the standpoint of your metabolic rate, it is an absolute jackpot!

So what does protein synthesis have to do with the specific consumption of protein? What you need to know as a dieter, who is trying to manage obesity, is that you can trigger this process of protein synthesis by what you eat. You will never trigger this process by the consumption of carbohydrate or fat. You cannot trigger this process if you were to eat less than 30 g of animal protein at a meal. However, the consumption of 30 g or more of protein that comes from an animal source will trigger this process. Scientific study of this process reveals that a person who eats 30 or more grams of animal source protein at the first meal of the day triggers this process and experiences a rise in metabolic rate of almost 40% for 3 to 4 hours. It turns out that those who do not eat 30 or more grams of protein at the first meal of the day never can trigger this process normally the rest of the day. That means that the first meal of the day, which we usually call breakfast, is absolutely critical in this process.

Based on review of scientific study, I recommend to my patients 30 or more grams of animal source protein three times daily (or more) and never skipping 30 g or more of protein at the first meal of the day. When patients do this, they do get several benefits. First, they have a much higher metabolic rate during the process of dieting which causes them to lose more weight. Second, the weight the patients lose is almost exclusively fat mass and it spares the lean mass. Third, there is improvement in other metabolic parameters like blood sugar and cholesterol. Finally, the constant repair of your lean mass keeps you looking young and healthy: it has a natural anti-aging effect.

In my next blog, I will explain what animal source protein is, and what 30 g of protein actually looks like. This will help you learn to pick the correct protein in the correct amount to achieve this effect. In sum, to most effectively lose weight and body fat I recommend the consumption of 30 or more grams of protein at least three times daily – most importantly at the first meal of the day.

Wickham B. Simonds, M.D.

Diplomate ABEM, ABOM