High protein diets have been shown to be effective for weight loss and weight maintenance but what is a high protein diet and is it for you?
Everybody is different and this is true even more so when it comes to food. What works for someone else may not work for you. When choosing a weight loss diet, you need to look for one that is scientifically proven and one that you believe you will be able to stick to long-term.
As we’ll show you in this article, a high protein diet covers both those criteria.
How much protein should I eat? It's personal.
Current Australian recommended dietary intake per kilogram is 0.75 g for women and 0.84 g for men. For a woman who weighs 71 kg that translates to about 53 g and for a man who weighs 86 kg it means about 73 g of protein.
For optimal weight loss, we believe these intakes are too low. Our recommendation, based on CSIRO research, is to eat between 1.2 and 1.6 g of protein per kilo of body weight if you are trying to lose weight.
More importantly, protein requirements vary quite a lot from person to person. Check the table to see how much you should be getting - or simply take our protein and weight loss calculator.
People who do a lot of resistance exercise have a higher protein requirement, as do older people whether they are actively losing weight or not.
But enough with the numbers stuff - why is protein so important for our bodies when we're losing weight?
Protein fills you up
The most obvious benefit of protein is that it fills you up without adding too many kilojoules to your diet.
|Body weight||Daily protein target|
|50 kg||60-80 g|
|55 kg||66-88 g|
|60 kg||72-96 g|
|65 kg||78-104 g|
|70 kg||84-112 g|
|75 kg||90-120 g|
|80 kg||96-128 g|
|85 kg||102-136 g|
|90 kg||108-144 g|
|95 kg||114-152 g|
|100 kg||120-160 g|
|105 kg||126-168 g|
|110 kg||132-176 g|
|115 kg||138-184 g|
|120 kg||144-193 g|
|125 kg||150-200 g|
The energy in protein-rich food is released slowly so you stay full for a long while after eating. Compare this to refined carbohydrates (e.g. sugar-rich food), which give you a massive energy spike right after eating followed by a sudden energy drop.
If your meals keep you full after eating, there is less chance you’ll grab a quick – and usually unhealthy – snack soon after.
However, eating enough protein does a few other nifty things for you. While on a diet, you mainly lose body fat, but you also lose smaller amounts of muscle mass. This is not ideal but by eating more protein you can lessen the muscle loss.
That protein plays a role in weight loss is not a new finding - the Atkins diet has been around for 30 years and more recently both the paleo diet and the keto diet have suggested protein is crucial for losing weight.
The CSIRO have shown for decades how a higher protein diet is beneficial for weight loss. Newer research suggests that protein should be spread more evenly across all meals, and especially at breakfast. For most this means eating more protein at breakfast and lunch and less at dinner.
Higher protein diets can lead to better appetite control, enhancements in metabolism, reduced cravings, reduced overall energy intake and improved body composition.
This philosophy is what we call Protein Balance – a more equal distribution of protein throughout the day. If you would like to try Protein Balance to lose weight, simply join the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet now and it is part of the program.
However, losing weight is not as easy as eating lots of protein at every meal.
What protein won't do for you
It has been suggested that protein rich foods are basically negative energy foods and that by digesting protein you are actually burning fat stores. Although there is a grain of truth to this, it doesn’t quite make sense.
Higher protein diets can be confused with fat burning because you feel fuller for longer. This means it’s easier to reduce your overall food intake – which does in fact burn fat.
There is also a difference between good sources of protein and not so good sources of protein. According to the CSIRO Diet Score report Australians overall consume far too much protein through junk food, which means the overall energy intake is too high.
If your protein comes in the shape of a burger served with fries and a coke or a meat pie with a liberal serving of tomato sauce, you’re likely watering out the wholesome effects of the protein.
So, if you’re on a weight loss diet, where should you get your protein?
The 2016 CSIRO Healthy Diet Score report showed that Australians get too much of their protein from junk food.
Wholefood protein is the best protein
As with most food, the unprocessed option is the healthier option. Lean beef, chicken, tuna and white fish are fantastic sources of protein, as are dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese. To boost your protein intake, you can get higher protein dairy products where possible, like protein-fortified milk and yoghurt.
Tofu, nuts and legumes like beans and lentils are also good sources of protein for vegetarians, vegans and others who want to eat less meat. If you’re worried about the amount of meat you’d be eating on a high protein diet, definitely make sure you incorporate as many vegetarian options as possible.
What about protein shakes?
Protein shakes or meal replacements are popular not just among people trying to gain muscle but also people who want to lose weight.
They tend to be seen as an easy solution – swap one or two meals per day with a protein shake and you will likely lose weight. But you’ll also lose out on many important nutrients that come with eating a whole food diet.
Where protein shakes are good is on days when you just don’t have time to eat a proper meal but you’re hungry and know that the snack you’ll pick up from the coffee shop is less than healthful.
Should I try a high protein diet?
High protein diets are effective for weight loss and weight maintenance. But then again, we would say that, wouldn’t we?
Extensive research over the last two decades into high protein diets by CSIRO has shown that a high protein diet is indeed an effective, sustainable and healthful way to lose weight.
A high protein diet will likely not be too different from what you’re already eating so it’s easy to get started with and easy to stick to. You won’t have to exclude any food groups from your diet and the food you eat on a high protein diet is available in most supermarkets.