5 Reasons Why Protein Is Good for Weight Loss

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5 Reasons Why Protein Is Good for Weight Loss

With the continued excitement for eating low-carb and Paleo–two diets known for having higher protein intake– the popularity of protein is reigning high. As you undergo your weight loss journey, you might question why protein is so prized. How does it really help you lose weight? Here are 5 reasons why protein can be your weight loss pal:

1. PROTEIN SATISFIES & SAVES CALORIES  In the beginning of your weight loss journey, protein is important because it helps you feel fuller longer. Having protein around slows down digestion making us more satisfied and less likely to go back for seconds. If this happens over the course of multiple days your calorie savings can help with weight loss.

2. IT CURBS CARB HIGHS AND LOWS  I don’t know about you, but when I come off a sugar high onto a sugar low I can make food decisions I’ll later regret (here’s looking at you, last breakroom donut). Pairing protein with carbohydrate-rich foods slows down the absorption of sugar from your stomach into your bloodstream, which may help keep your blood sugar from skyrocketing and ward off future cravings.

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3. PROTEIN REQUIRES MORE OF YOUR ENERGY  The “thermic effect of food” (TEF) is the energy we use to digest food into small, absorbable components. Protein has a higher TEF compared to carbs and fat meaning you’re actually burning more calories to process protein than to process the other two.

4. IT FUELS FAT BURNING  It may be surprising, but it is a scientific fact that your body cannot effectively burn and use fat as energy if it doesn’t have help from either carbohydrate or protein. As you are losing weight, your body loses both muscle and fat (I know, bummer!). During this process it is especially important that you continue to eat enough protein in your diet. Having adequate protein coming in from your food fuels fat burning while preserving calorie-burning lean muscle.

5. PROTEIN PROMOTES MUSCLE REPAIR & GROWTH  Your protein needs increase especially after bouts of intense exercise so increasing your protein intake on days that you exercise is beneficial. Additionally, if you strength train consider having a high protein snack right after a training session when the muscle is sensitive to nutrients that it can use to repair and grow.

One important thing to realize is eating more protein alone won’t necessarily help you shed excess weight in a healthy way. When consumed in excessive amounts it can still lead to weight gain much like eating excess carbs or fat would, and could put unnecessary strain on the kidneys over a long period of time.

But, you can still make protein a pal on your weight loss journey by getting enough protein in your daily diet. MyFitnessPal sets your protein to be 20% of your total calories, which should be enough for the average person.

Want more information about protein and tips on how to choose the healthiest forms? Check out this great infographic, and some of our high-protein recipes.

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  • RaRa

    I myself jane dropped 6lbs. In 2 weeks with a street workout plan and a 85/15 protein to carb ration

  • akceo

    ive been eating carbs but those carbs havent been breads or pastas etc.

    will this derail my weight reduction goals?


    • Peter

      I think it’s healthier to eat less protein and more carbs, as long as those carbs come from whole foods in their natural form. My carb/fat/protein breakdown is about 70/20/10, and I’ve lost over 100 pounds over the last 2 years. There are a lot of people doing very well on a 80/10/10 diet…

      • canadianwinter

        What does your daily food intake consist of? Thanks.

        • gp65

          I am not Peter but have similar intake – carb 65%, fat 20% and 15% protein and have lost 58 pounds in the last year.
          I eat mostly a plant based diet though I do occasionally eat Chichen and fish. It consists of a lot of greens, beans, fruit – particularly berries, soy (edamame, tofu), nuts(walnuts, almonds) and seeds ( hemp, flax).

          I do not spend a lot of time cooking and get my nourishment primarily in the form of salads and smoothies.

    • Arden Green

      Of course not.
      There is nothing inherently bad about carbs, especially if they come from fruits, legumes and vegetables! Not even whole grains or dark breads will detail you but most people find them more tempting to overeat.
      Weight loss at the end of the day is about calories only, however most people find grain products like oatmeal or sourdough bread more satisfying and blood sugar friendly.

      • Louis Edgar

        The above comment is not correct far from it infact if people took the time to understand what happens in your body when you eat certain foods that put your body in fat storing mode it would benifit them so much more than pointless calorie counting

        • Crashster

          I lost over a hundred pounds with “pointless calorie counting”. I think you’re not seeing the big picture – good health is a combination of many factors, not one small aspect of your diet.

        • David

          I’ve never heard of fat storing mode, please stop making things up .
          The most sound and well known fact is that caloric deficit=weight loss.

        • gp65

          The comment that you said is inaccurate seemed very balanced and reasonable to me. What part did you specifically disagree with? You were unclear about that.

    • North American

      My weight loss doctors say that the body burns carbs first. It will go to your stored fat as a source of energy next. Protein is used to build. High protein, low carbs and fat = weight loss.

      Sugars and white flour are a no. Fruit is high in carbs. Stay away from vegetables that require cooking. They are usually high in carbs.

      • David

        Being at a caloric deficit is all what you need to lose weight. Manipulating your macros won’t do that much really. They might affect how full you feel or your energy level, but surely not weight loss

      • Shawna

        There was a study recently done about the correlation between protein consumed and fat loss. Subjects that ate double the recommend protein for their weight lost the most fat (not pounds). Those who consumed the recommend amount and those who consumed triple the recommend amount averaged the same amount of fat loss. This study was done in conjunction with exercise for all subjects across the board. While it might feel great to see the pounds fall away quickly those with more muscle mass with lose more weight even at rest.

    • I don’t know about you, but when I come off a sugar high onto a sugar low I can make food decisions I’ll later regret (here’s looking at you, last breakroom donut). Pairing protein with carbohydrate-rich foods slows down the absorption of sugar from your stomach into your bloodstream, which may help keep your blood sugar from skyrocketing and ward off future cravings.

  • MarkJFine

    When it comes down to the big three calorie categories (carb, protein, fat), I’m big fan of carb/protein combinations over protein/fat. This, especially if you’re trying to maintain or lose weight, as well as keep your body fat low. So although I’d really love to dig into that gorgeous bowl of peanuts you’re showing in the preview image, I’d rather it be a bowl of no-fat frozen yogurt. If it has to be nuts, which are typically very high in fat content, it really should be almonds or walnuts instead of peanuts. Just saying.

    • Bill

      Fat is hormonally neutral, unlike carbs. Athletes that need additional calories due to heavy training often up their fat intake, as opposed to protein or carbs. Your misguided vilification of fat is an artifact of historic dietary knowledge, and is not consistent with the current research.

      • MarkJFine

        You are correct in that I’m not aware of current research, but it is certainly not misguided. What I do know is whats best worked for me, personally, in practice, and measured over the past 3-5 years.

      • gp65

        Disagree. Dr. Dean Ornish is the only Doctor practicing alternative medicine who is approved for Medicare. Over 20 years back he proved that heart disease could be reversed with nutrition and lifestyle intervention. His recipe ? Vegetarian diet with Plenty of good carbs (fruits and veggies) with less than 20% calories from fat if you want prevent cardiac disease and less than 7% calories from fat if you want to reverse it.

        Dr. Neal Barnard who chairs Physician Committee for responsible medicine has written books on reversing diabetes? How? Regular exercise, vegan diet, low fat intake. There are plenty of studies he quotes along the way.

        Dr. Joel Furhman who promotes a nutritional approach to wellness also advocates vegan diet with fat not exceeding 30% of total calories.

        Of course there is good fat and bad fat and all these doctors recognize it. Nevertheless they cap number of calories eaten through dat – however good. Of course the calories from carb must come through nutrient dense whole foods and not processed junk which gives empty calories.

  • Bill

    For an article that purports to hype protein so much, I’m very surprised by the ratios prescribed. The average person should have no less than 30% of their calories per meal from protein in order to maintain healthy blood sugar levels; 20% may be ‘enough’ for weight loss, but it is inadequate for hormonal regulation day-to-day.

    • Arden Green

      I wonder what your qualifications are to say so?

      • sunkist4338

        Sometimes just being a well educated normal person is qualification enough…. If you know what I mean!

        • 1Day@A

          I agree! You don’t need qualifications to educate yourself. I’m a nurse and I’m constantly correcting the doctors I work with, of course I always show proof of the information I bring. Doctors think they know it all when in reality they had to be educated on the things they know so why can’t we do the same?

          • Kk

            If your so good you become a doctor. You don’t have anyone under you watching every step you make because your at the bottom.

          • Sarah

            Incorrect, nurses are not at the bottom. There are CNAs, MAs, etc. Plus maintenance and dietary. Nurses are the midlevel, depending on their education, LPNs, RNs, BSNs, and Nurse Practitioners (Who are pretty much doctors). I hope you never get sick or have family that need long term care, because nurses are the bread and butter of the health field!

          • kyron

            Nurse practitioners are pretty much doctors? Tell me then, at what School did they do their medical degree? Oh and where did they do their internship, reg training and specialty training. I keenly await your response so I can enrol in these programmes

          • Tammy

            Hi Kyron, I am a registered nurse currently enrolled in the Family Nurse Practitioner program with 3 semesters remaining. What Sarah conveyed is correct. NP’s are basically doctors it is one of the very reasons why I have regretted not going to medical school, as we are responsible and carry out the exact same duties as a primary care physician. In regards to residencies, what we have is called “clinicals” which are clinical hours that are required, totaling about 300+ hours per semester in combination with in class didatics

          • Kyron

            Hello Tammy, good on you for being a NP, you must be a hard worker. note that I have not doubted the role of an NP but to say NPs are basically doctors is ludicrous. Doctors do fours times as many training hours as NPs and manage far more complicated and specialised cases. I believe, and this part here just my opinion, if you want to recieve the recognition and respect you deserve as an NP simply say NPs are basically NPs not NPs are basically doctors which is fallacy.

            I can link you to some reading if your are interested on further exploration of this. There have been studies done where NPs attempt the same qualifying tests as MDs.

          • LGP

            NP are as knowledgeable but don’t specialize in one area why general practice was mentioned. Nurses are also not narsacisstic nor are they as likely to obtain “The God Complex”. All medical professionals required continued training and all people require the assistance of the colleagues.

          • Alisha

            To Kyron: this is what I think of your opinion… Good luck on your journey with Doctors!

          • Val Schott

            Kyron is correct. While NPs are an important part of the health care team, the physician is the leader of that team from both more training and experience.

          • Lsm

            My Dr’s FNP is just as comment ant as my Dr. That is why I chose my Dr. When I can’t see Dr, I know I’m still in good hands.

          • cassandra k

            No nurses and drs are not the bread and butter of the health field. Can a nurse or Dr take an xray?

          • bb

            I just wish people knew the difference between spelling “your” and “you’re”. It isn’t too difficult. “You’re” stands for YOU ARE. You should have used “you’re” in both cases above. Yikes.

          • lck20013

            Incorrect grammer sucks!—oooops, I meant grammar—-people are in a hurry when writing so make mistakes, as in your instead of you’re—what people should get in the habit of doing after writing is proof reading what they have written. I do this but sometimes forget.

          • lck20013

            OH! BTW—I get irritated when people aren’t grammatically correct as well!!—-I work for elementary schools, here in my state, and from what I have seen for the last 10 years, teachers could give diddly squat what mistakes kids make in spelling now days!! Pitiful!

          • what name

            They talk about nurses “correcting” doctors but they fail in spelling!

          • kyron

            I bet your work mates just love you

          • Rose Mirin

            Nurses are the ones who teach doctor’s about the reality of every day life with their patience. They share more information with us. Don’t get me wrong, doctors have a handle on what they think is important, there is just more to it sometimes. Some doctors are better gender based care givers.

      • Bianca

        I agree with you Arden. 20-30% at the absolute maximum for the average person. Any higher than that for more than a short period of time and you are putting too much strain on your kidneys and you end up with other health problems. There are times when highER protein is great for a short period of time such as if someone is obese and cannot budge the weight any other way, but this should be monitored by urine tests to assess the level of keytones and therefore strain on kidneys. I have personally found that slightly higher protein curbs any sugar cravings of mine, and research shows it may be useful in diabetics to stabilize their blood glucose levels, again keeping kidney damage in mind. But people need to know that fat and carbs and the micronutrients that come with them are essential to the body’s functioning and therefore their overall health. People are so focussed on macronutrients ratios… It’s time to educate on the micronutrient levels in whole, unprocessed foods! With that over, I do like this article, I think it is spot on in regards to protein and am glad they mention the pressure on kidneys at the end.

    • Gentry

      That is for a healthy person, An overweight person could benefit from a higher protein diet than most. Even if it risk other other problems. It depends on the situation.

  • mdb1283

    SPOT. ON.

  • Montrea Mia

    Hello I notice it’s always suggested to eat fish twice a week. I eat fish 8-10 times a week (lunch and dinner) and I try to stay away from red meat, is that bad or good?

    • 1Day@A

      Honestly it depends on the type of fish you eat but overall it becomes unhealthy due to the amount of mercury your introducing to your body. A safe level of mercury is difficult to determine. It can be very toxic to the body and have harmful effects to the cardiovascular, immune & reproductive system. I eat fish 3-4 times a week. 8-10 could be excessive but again everyone is different.

      • Montrea Mia

        I believe the type of fish I eat is low in mercury (cod, sole, talapia, shrimp, salmon, and light tuna). I understand that fish high in mercury are swordfish, shark, tile fish and king mackerel, which I don’t eat. Fish seems so much healthier than any other meat, I don’t understand why it’s recommended only 2-3 times a week when we are supposed to eat about 5 oz of lean protein per day. So does that mean that out of the 14 meals per week (just lunch and dinner) when we don’t eat fish 11-12 of those meals we are to eat red or white meat? It seems like a lot to me and un-healthier!

        • Atw138012

          I would suggest lean chicken breast our white turkey meat instead of all that fish….2 to 3 times is recommended for any type of fish to my understanding bc of mercury content….i only eat red meat or pork once in a blue moon. If I use ground turkey or chicken I use the 99/1 can’t get much longer than that!

          • Atw138012

            That was supposed to say Much more lean not much longer lol

        • gp65

          Tuna is also high in Mercury.

          Fish is surely better than red and white meat but your protein can also come from plant sources like legumes, greens, lentils, soya etc. So the fact that you eat only 2 servings of fish does not mean remaining have to come from red and white meat.

    • Tina

      You still should eat red meat once in awhile. Eating that much fish could cause problems because of mercury that is in some fish. Talk to your doctor to find out what is best for you.

      • Bill

        Correct regarding both farmed and fresh water fish. Ocean fish are really not a concern, due to their extremely high selenium content. Also choosing smaller fish that are lower down on the food chain limits your exposure to toxins which bio-accumulate (ie. sardines/herring, mackerel, tilapia or char).

    • David

      Though variation in foods is generally recommended, but what you doing is considered healthy and desirable. Healthy fat, good amount of protein.
      Mercury toxicity though is a high concern with pregnant women and children.

      • Montrea Mia

        Thank you David! I must admit I feel amazing when I don’t eat red meat, but I sometimes do crave it! So when I crave it, I eat it, & I enjoy it! Since I’m craving it, I feel like my body needed the nourishment. However, I don’t think I could ever eat red (or red and white) meat 12 times a week!

    • Gail

      Eat grass raised (and grass finished) beef with no guilt. It’s more nutritious than corn fed beef and grass fed is good for the environment….Grass fed beef is a great way for women to hit that high iron goal.

  • DB2ning

    Do some reading on the liver, glucagon, insulin, & glycogen & how protein, carbs, & fat affect weight loss and inflammation. I prefer a 40% carb, 30% protein, 30% fat myself & is what has worked for me. I struggled for years eating salads & decreasing calories with endless frustration. While I still try to keep my calories low, I don’t have to decrease them nearly as much and can eat whatever I want supplementing my protein to balance out to this ratio if needed. I have had the most success doing this and fit into clothes I outgrew 10 years ago. I never drink less than 72 oz of H2O/day & usually 150+ oz/day. I also eat protein first before consuming carbs which you will see the positives from doing some reading/research.

    • Tavster

      Total with you people need to think out side the box, it’s pretty simple eat well in moderation and exercise… Old fashioned but true!!

  • elephant_in_the_room

    I learned in a Coursera lecture that you only need 0.8 kg protein per kg of body weight, that comes down to 10% of calories for many people. Okay, that may be disputed, but what all the protien hypers should really not forget, and this article should not have omitted, is that protein is digested by the kidneys, and if you have kidney problems or weak kidney function, you should be careful with them.

  • Zuzanna Zofia

    Except for Paleo diet isn’t really high-protein per se.

  • Jules

    Read Eat to Live by Dr Fuhrman- that’s the real deal!!

    • gp65

      Just read it. About to start on his way. Wish me luck.

  • Tina

    Whatever diet you choose to go on talk to your doctor first.

  • Helen

    I’ve lost 30kg (about 66 pounds) in 10 months on a high protein diet. The trick is to only stay high protein for 4 weeks or so then add carbs to stabilise your weight for a few weeks. Then your body doesn’t think it’s starving and you get the other nutrients and fibre you need from the extra carbs (fruit, veg etc.). After a couple of weeks, back onto high protein. Lots of water and a really good full chain Omega 3 supplement has helped too.

    • Neal Kernohan

      Thanks Helen, that is interesting. I’ll watch out for that plateau.

  • Melanie Ray

    If I want to eat eggs, what type of food with carbs could I pair with that protein? I prefer poached eggs, if that matters.

  • Melanie Ray

    If I want to eat eggs, what type of food with carbs would you pair with that protein? I prefer poached eggs, if that matters.

    • gp65

      You could add veggies to your egg – onion, tomato, mushrooms. Alternatively you can eat egg as part of a sandwich (be sure to eat whole wheat bread.

  • Greg Dahlen

    for a while now I’ve been pushing the masai diet. The Masai are a people in Kenya who are famous for living only on products from the cow: milk; beef; and blood that they extract from their cows without killing them. The Masai also follow an important rule: “If a man eats meat and drinks milk on the same day, he is a glutton.” Therefore every day, I, who follow the diet, have to choose whether it will be a milk day or a meat day (so far I haven’t found a source for blood.) While I like meat, I prefer milk, so basically I’ve been living on fluid milk products for the last six years. Most days I drink perhaps a gallon (3.5 liters) of some kind of milk, usually skim, and that’s all I eat or drink. Sometimes I have some cream, or half and half, or some other kind of milk: 1%, 2%, or whole. I have done very well on this diet, I am six feet, one inch and this morning weighed 151 pounds. On my last physical, my PCP told me I am in the top 3% of people my age healthwise, which I attribute to the diet (my PCP is very aware of my diet.) I believe this diet would be excellent for everyone, and am particularly interested to see if it might help people with various diseases, including biggies like cancer and AIDS, and have been pushing the medical establishment to test it.

  • MarkJFine

    Why are even slightly dissenting opinions being suddenly put into “awaiting moderation”? 21 Days ago, I posted the following, which only commented on the picture. So why the censorship?

    “When it comes down to the big three calorie categories (carb, protein,
    fat), I’m big fan of carb/protein combinations over protein/fat. This,
    especially if you’re trying to maintain or lose weight, as well as keep
    your body fat low. So although I’d really love to dig into that gorgeous
    bowl of peanuts you’re showing in the preview image, I’d rather it be a
    bowl of no-fat frozen yogurt. If it has to be nuts, which are typically
    very high in fat content, it really should be almonds or walnuts
    instead of peanuts. Just saying.”

  • azu

    I’m vegetarian, any tips about from where I can get my proteins?

    • Deeksha

      Lentils, beans, Yogurt, milk

    • gp65

      Beans, lentils, fat free dairy, soya products like edamame and tofu, greens like kale and nut butters like peanut butter ( be sure it is not stuffed with salt and added sugar)

  • Babs

    My fitness pal doesn’t calculate a combined carb protein, beans and rice for example. My protein is less than 20%, but i consume protein rich carb combos to fuel my increase in muscle. And btw yoga is a miracle muscle booster. Who knew.

  • joshua

    ” It may be surprising, but it is a scientific fact that your body cannot effectively burn and use fat as energy if it doesn’t have help from either carbohydrate or protein. ”

    Total garbage. What about fasting? When I’m in ketosis and IFing I’m pretty sure I’m burning fat. Additionally, carbohydrate raises insulin which prevents stored triglyceride being converted to ATP. I wish people didn’t say thing that werent inherently false.

  • Lovely

    Great article, I loved it and even enjoyed the commentary at the end by ppl responding.

  • Olympie Kawahara

    I’ve been overweight all my life and tried so many things. Different things work for different people and I was lucky enough to find one that worked for me. I lost 19 pounds in one month without exercise and it’s been a life changer. I’m a little embarrased to post my before and after photos here but if anyone actually cares to hear what I’ve been doing then I’d be happy to help in any way. Just shoot me an email at oceanflowers82@gmail.com and I’ll show you my before and after photos, and tell you about how things are going for me with the stuff I’ve tried. I wish someone would have helped me out when I was struggling to find a solution so if I can help you then it would make my day

    • Fernando Aguilar

      Hello, I been overweight all my life too. Been trying so many things but I lose small. I have a disability so it kind of minimizes my exercises. I will definitely will be emailing you to know more what has worked for you and to see if its beneficial to me.

  • Jadean Phillips

    I have ESRD and I eat only 8 oz of protein per day I also eat white items (white rice, white flour made bread and pastas) try to limit my dairy. The nutrients I look out for are potassium, phosphorous, sodium and calcium. dark greens are a no-no except for very rare happenings.

  • Minakshi Sinha

    Nice Tips.

  • DetroitSinkhole

    My experience over the last year has made me a believer of the low carb lifestyle. I cut out all added sugar and basically only get carbs from fruit, veggies, and very limited whole grains and quinoa. It was hard to train myself not to be afraid of fat. I have lost 35 pounds in the last year and am about 10 pounds from my goal weight. I eat when I am hungry and never feel deprived.
    Wish I had known long ago how wonderful I could feel by eating like this!

  • I agree with most everything suggested about protein in this article and would add that not all protein is created equal. Their is a metric called NNU (Net Nitrogen Utilization) that is the measure of the quality of a proteins bio-availability.

  • Jlh

    Bill. Your previous comment and this response is very useful information to know about fish! Thanku so much for this new insight into healthy and nutritionally balanced eating.

  • Name

    My doctor and trainer have two different ideas for wieight loss. My doc says less protein and burning calories on a continual basis. To many calories weight gain- remove calories weight loss. I decided to go with the protein suggested by my trainer and burning or not going over more than 1200 calories a day. I hope to see gradually but concrete changes in my weight and health.

  • Paranormal Skeptic

    I dropped weight by eating fewer calories than I consumed, not paying attention to macros.

    Maybe MFP could run an article about how counting calories is the key to weight loss?

  • Animal protein has also been linked to the promotion of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a myriad of autoimmune diseases. Doubt it? Watch Forks Over Knives. The RDA is 8%-10% of protein. Even world class athletes only need this much.

  • It’s so hard to get enough. I eat a lot of protein but still get only 120g or so, 25 of my overall diet. I cut rice and bread way down, and all sugary crap. I basically need to eat chicken breast 5 times per day, which is a little hard to do.