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​​Does Protein Burn Fat? (5 Benefits You Should Know)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: September 17, 2022

Throughout my career as a fitness trainer, I’ve routinely instructed my clients to go on a high-protein diet to set their nutrition on the right path.

High-protein consumption seemed to help them with most of their fitness goals. Interestingly, many of them were surprised that it helped them shed fat, which begs the question: did protein help them burn fat?

So, based on my research and observations, I’ll explain whether protein consumption helps you lose fat and the benefits of consuming a high-protein diet.

Let’s begin.

Quick Summary

  • High-protein diets are becoming highly popular among people who want greater fat loss and muscle growth.
  • Research suggests protein is the most filling of all the macronutrients, so incorporating higher protein intakes contributes to greater post-meal satiety.
  • Consuming adequate dietary protein has many health benefits like maintaining optimal health, building strength, and promoting healthy bodily development.

Does Eating Protein Burn Fat?

A handsome man eating cooked steak in a restaurant

Yes, eating protein can help you burn fat and lose weight. However, consuming protein doesn’t directly burn fat.

Other than helping you gain muscle, protein has certain effects on the body that allow you to lose weight and retain lean body mass.

Compared to fats and carbs, increasing protein intake can help you lose weight in a healthy and effective manner.

How Protein Helps You Lose Weight

A buff male working out in the gym

Protein can help you lose weight in the following ways:

  • It increases satiety
  • It regulates hunger hormones
  • It prevents muscle loss and metabolic slowdown
  • It helps maintain weight loss
  • It increases the thermic effect of food

Let’s explore each of these in greater detail.

Increases Satiety

Studies have shown that a high protein diet tends to make you less hungry [1] [2] [3]. And when you’re fuller, you’re less likely to binge on extra calories.

Because of its satiating effects, I’ve recommended high-protein diets to clients who struggle with appetite control [4].

After upping their protein intake per day, they reported feeling fuller after meals and experiencing decreased appetite, which helped them with better weight management.

Adding even a little extra protein to your diet can substantially affect your appetite.

A study conducted with overweight women found that they decreased their caloric intake by 441 calories by increasing their protein intake from 15% to 30% [5].

Another study compared the effects of high protein intake (2.3 grams of protein per kilogram per day) to low protein intake (1 gram per kilogram of body weight per day) on lean body mass over a short period of caloric deficit.

The low-protein group lost 3.5 pounds (1.6 kgs) of muscle, whereas the high-protein group only lost 0.66 pounds (0.3 kgs) [6].

Regulates Hunger Hormones

A bearded man holding steak up to his mouth

Your weight is actively regulated by the hypothalamus in your brain [7].

Your brain receives signals that determine when and how much you eat. This is regulated by certain hormones that change in response to hunger and eating.

As we’ve seen, consuming protein regulates your satiety and makes you feel fuller than other macros.

This is because protein improves the functioning of your weight regulation hormones.

Consuming a high amount of protein decreases levels of hunger hormones like ghrelin and boosts appetite-reducing hormones like peptide YY [8] [9].

When you replace carbs and fats with proteins, you reduce the activity of hunger hormones and boost satiety hormones. This leads you to reduce calorie intake, helping with weight loss in the long run.

Prevents Muscle Loss and Metabolic Slowdown

Weight loss doesn’t always mean fat loss. If you exercise but don’t consume enough protein, you can lose lean muscle mass — something most people don’t favor [10].

There’s also the possibility of increased fat loss leading to decreased metabolism [11].

The result: you burn fewer calories than you did before losing all that weight. This effect is called “starvation mode,” and it can reduce your daily calorie-burning by several hundred calories.

Eating a sufficient amount of protein to gain muscle may reduce muscle loss, which in turn keeps your metabolic rate high as you burn fat [12].

An excellent way to double down on preventing muscle loss and metabolic slowdown would be to add strength training into your fitness routine [13].

Together, high-protein and strength training won’t just prevent muscle loss but increase your muscle growth. Increased muscle growth will make you more metabolically active, leading to faster weight loss [14].

Over the years, I’ve had clients who’ve only done dieting and those who’ve done weight training along with their dieting.

More often than not, the latter lost weight and gained muscle much faster than the former.

Helps Maintain Weight Loss

A muscular male in the gym posing for the camera

If you’ve lost weight and are trying to maintain your weight loss, a higher protein intake can help prevent weight regain.

One study showed that even a modest protein increase (from 15% to 18% of calories) reduced weight regain after weight loss by 50% [15].

Many of our clients who had achieved their weight loss goals benefitted from their protein diet by maintaining their new weight and building lean muscle mass.

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Increases Thermic Effect of Food

When you eat, your body utilizes some calories to digest and metabolize food. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF), and it can help you burn more calories.

Protein has a significantly higher TEF (20–30%) compared to carbs (5–10%) and fats (0–3%), giving you a metabolic advantage by burning more calories [16].

For example, if you consume 100 calories of protein, a thermic effect of 20–30% will burn 20–30 calories to digest and metabolize those proteins.

With a well-planned exercise routine, you can use this to your benefit by adding more muscle-building foods to your diet without the fear of any excess getting stored as fat.

Because of its thermic effect, high-protein diets were effective with clients who couldn't exercise but wanted to burn extra calories.

By planning out their caloric deficit and dietary protein intake, clients improved body weight management.

Benefits of a High-Protein Diet

Other than weight loss and muscle growth, high protein intake has the following benefits:

  • Good for bone strength: Protein makes up about 50% of your bone volume and 33% of your bone mass [17]. Dietary protein, alongside calcium and vitamin D, regulates bone health and can prevent osteoporosis [18].
  • Lowers blood pressure: Evidence suggests that increased protein intake, especially plant protein, may lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases [19].
  • Repairs injuries: Your body needs protein to build soft tissue and control inflammation response [20]. So, eating a protein-rich diet can help you reduce muscle loss and help repair damaged muscles.

How Can You Increase Your Protein Intake?

A chef holding up a steak

You can increase your protein intake by going on a high-protein diet.

There are many different diets out there that’ll help you with weight loss and muscle building.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular ones:

  • Keto Diet: This is one of the most popular diets that help people lose weight. The whole idea behind the ketogenic diet is to get all your calories from proteins and fats and a minimal amount from carbohydrates. Weight loss in this diet is achieved through ketosis: this is when your body begins to use all your fat reserves as fuel because carbs are running low.
  • South Beach Diet: This diet is considered healthier than most high-protein diets out there because it encourages consuming beans, legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, vegetables, unsaturated fats, and sources of healthy fats from fish and nuts. The South Beach Diet allows 20–90 grams of carbs per meal. It restricts any foods that are high on the glycemic index (GI), which are known for causing a rapid spike in blood sugar.
  • Atkins Diet: This diet emphasizes more fat consumption with 68% fat, 27% protein, and 5% carbohydrates [21]. It permits all kinds of fats and proteins but restricts carbs like pasta, bread, starchy vegetables, fruits, milk, and alcohol. Many people found this diet helpful and convenient because it doesn’t require strict calorie counting.
  • Stillman Diet: This high-protein diet rations your macros at 64% protein, 33% fat, and 3% carbohydrates. It encourages proteins such as lean meat, skinless poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, and low-fat cheese. It limits to oil, fat, and carbohydrates like fruit, vegetables, bread, pasta, and dairy. The diet is based on the theory that protein burns fat stored from carbohydrates.
  • Zone Diet: This diet has you stick to a specific ratio of 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat. The carb sources you consume in this diet have to be from a low GI, which means they keep you fuller longer. You also need to consume only lean protein and monounsaturated fats. The main goal of this diet, other than weight loss, is to remedy the inflammation.
  • Sugar Busters Diet: This diet plan emphasizes eating foods with a low GI to keep your blood sugar levels steady. Counting calories is optional because the diet has you eat high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains. At the same time, you must exclude refined sugar, flour, white bread, white potatoes, or any other foods with a high GI.

“For most healthy people, a high-protein diet generally isn’t harmful, particularly when followed for a short time. Such diets may help with weight loss by making you feel fuller.”

- Dr. D. Divakar, MBBS, MD, Nephrologist

List of High-Protein Foods for Weight Loss

Close up shot of beef steak seasoned with salt and pepper

Here’s a list of high-protein foods I’ve recommended to my clients over the years that’s helped them with losing weight and gaining muscle.

The following are animal sources of protein:

  • Lean meats like beef, lamb, pork, veal, and buffalo
  • Poultry like turkey, chicken, duck, and goose
  • Seafood like fish, prawns, shrimp, crab, lobster, oysters, and mussels
  • Eggs

The following are excellent dairy sources of protein:

  • Milk
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Whey protein

You can consume these sources as snacks or quick protein sources after working out:

  • Peanuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, and hazelnuts
  • Pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and sesame seeds
  • Protein shakes from whey protein powder, vegan protein powder, or soy protein powder (NB: You shouldn’t rely upon these as a meal replacement. But they can help you reach protein targets, especially if you couldn’t consume as much in earlier meals.

“Fish is one of the most common foods that one has to consume when you are on a high protein diet. It is full of omega-3 fatty acids that help to lower cholesterol.” - Dr. Priyanka Joshi, PhD, Dietician

FAQs

Which Protein Is Best for Fat Loss?

Whey protein is the best protein for fat loss. Whey protein is quickly absorbed by the body and promotes more muscle-protein synthesis after exercise.

Can Protein Burn Body Fat Without Exercise?

Yes, protein can help burn body fat without exercise. However, if you want to lose weight quickly and efficiently, you should add cardio and weight training to your fitness regimen.

How Much Protein Should I Eat Every Day to Burn Body Fat?

You should eat about 0.6–0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight (1.2–1.6 grams of protein per kg) every day to burn body fat. Protein should comprise 20–30% of your daily caloric intake.

Will Eating Too Much Protein Make Me Fat?

Yes, eating too much protein can make you fat because overeating any macronutrient means more calories. As with other diets, a high-protein diet should be consumed in moderation to maintain a healthy weight.

Burn Fat Away With a High-Protein Diet

Eating high-protein meals is one of the most effective ways to improve your nutrition, burn fat, and grow muscle. And many of my clients can attest to that.

However, some of them struggled with getting in all their meals.

To help speed things along, I usually advise my clients to include a high-quality fat burner into their routine: 

We’ve tried and tested these products to determine their safety and efficacy, so check out our lists to find the one that suits you the best.


References:

  1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160303083809.htm
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7539343/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5490566/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15466943/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16002798
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19927027
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3319208/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16469977/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16950139/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665330/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3387402/
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19927027/
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18356845/
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3661116/
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14710168
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC524030/
  17. https://journals.lww.com/nutritiontodayonline/fulltext/2019/05000/optimizing_dietary_protein_for_lifelong_bone.5.aspx
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22139564
  19. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12544662/
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4672013/
  21. https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/how-safe-is-atkins-diet

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