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Counting Calories Matters More Than Protein For Weight Loss

When It Comes to Weight Loss, Calories Count More Than Protein

There are tons of diets claiming that focusing on protein is the key to weight loss — either eating more or less of it can help you shed pounds fast. But a new study has found that weight loss may be less about how much protein you eat than how much you eat overall.

The study, released this week in JAMA, followed 25 participants closely for 10 to 12 weeks who all stayed in a hospital for monitoring. The volunteers were first fed a "weight-stabilizing diet" for up to four weeks, and then later fed a high-calorie diet about 1,000 calories over their previous meal plans. During the period they were overfed, the participants were split into three groups and put on either a low-protein, normal-protein, or high-protein diet.

Find out how much each group gained and why you shouldn't always focus on just protein intake after the break.


After eight weeks of overeating, all the volunteers no matter their protein intake gained weight, but in different ways. Those on the low-protein diet gained the least (six pounds on average, compared to 13 for the normal-protein eaters and 14 for the high-protein eaters), but consuming low amounts of protein led participants to store more fat and lose more muscle than the other groups. In fact, while the volunteers who ate the high-protein diet gained the most weight, they actually had higher resting metabolisms and more lean body mass than everyone else.

The findings of the study show that when it comes to building lean body mass, how much protein you eat definitely has an effect. When it comes to weight loss, however, it's a different story. "Protein has one set of effects, and calories have another set of effects, and they are not directly connected," said Dr. George Bray, the study's investigator.

Have you tried any high- or low-protein diets?

Image Source: Thinkstock
Russell-Jensen Russell-Jensen 5 years
Also, if you burn more calories than you eat in a day then you will lose weight. It's pretty simple.
Russell-Jensen Russell-Jensen 5 years
@russelljensen Count your calories: if you take in more calories than you burn then you will gain weight.
leemorg leemorg 5 years
Hi there, This is an interesting study; thanks for sharing! As we can see, the key to the article's study (and/or the title of this article) really hinges upon the idea of "weight loss" versus "lean body mass," and how we subsequently understand the two terms. Often, "weight loss" is thought to be synonymous with "getting ripped," "toning up," "getting fit," "getting into shape," and so forth. However, as this article does mention, there is a difference the term "weight" and "mass." For those who take the notion of losing weight as in terms of getting into shape in general, the idea that your protein levels contribute more to weight gain could be interpreted as, if I eat a steak, I'll get FAT. This is a bit misleading, but easily confusing. I just wanted to clarify, if anyone was confused by the terms, that "weight loss" relates more directly to what you see on the scale; just because you "lose weight" doesn't necessarily mean you're going to appear tighter and toned, since "losing weight" in the technical sense doesn't mean losing MASS. Mass, on the other hand, can be understood in terms of the amount of matter in an object. You can relate "lean body mass" to that tight, solid look you find on people with low levels of body fat. On the scale, they might "weigh" more in the technical sense this article refers to, because muscle is denser than fat and weighs more. In response to the comments about protein filling you up, I do believe that is correct. However, certain proteins do have a higher caloric index, so by the numbers, eating more protein can potentially cause to "gain weight." :) There is a compositional difference between the lean, athletic look (think a professional athlete) versus the more "naturally slim" look that some actresses have. Both looks really depend on diet and the amount of cardio and weight or resistance training involved in the regime. Again, it's understandable how the terms can be confusing. With respect to appearance, I think most of mean that would admit that to look "seamless" is more of the goal--no muffin top, everything streamlined visually, no excess rolls and dimples where there shouldn't be any. :) Just hope to have added some clarification to the article. Ladies, best of luck in your fitness journeys! I totally agree, the protein shakes DO help me feel full longer as well. Cheers, Lee @ customizingfitness. com
yogarunlive yogarunlive 5 years
@imLissy I had heard the same thing. I've recently started consuming protein shakes, and I definitely stay more full longer, so I end up eating less calories over all.
imLissy imLissy 5 years
i thought the idea was protein fills you up more, so if eat 500 calories of protein vs 500 calories of junk food, you're less likely to overeat at your next meal thereby eating fewer calories and losing weight.
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