We asked Alexandra Miller, RDN, LDN, and corporate dietitian at Medifast, if there was a magic number. As it turns out, while everyone's body and diet is different, there IS a bit of a "magic formula" when it comes to adjusting your protein intake for weight loss.
How Much Protein Do You Need to Lose Weight?
Miller noted that "protein needs are based on body weight or, in some instances, a percentage of calories," but the minimum recommended dietary allowance for protein is "about 0.4 grams of protein per pound for women." Her recommendation? Bump it by about 50 percent for weight loss.
Miller said, "0.54 to 0.68 grams [of protein] per [bodyweight] pound is about 70 to 90 grams per day for a 130-pound woman." This shift in added grams of protein will "help promote lean muscle mass retention during weight loss, particularly when coupled with strength-training exercises," as well as help you better control your appetite.
Eat your protein throughout the day — "aim for 25 grams at meals, and try to incorporate a source of protein with snacks."
What Kind of Protein Do You Need?
Not all protein sources are created equally; lean proteins will help you with your weight-loss goals. "Remember, in order to lose weight, there needs to be a caloric deficit; therefore, look for lean sources of protein that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting nutrients." Here are some of Miller's recommendations for healthy sources:
- Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and low-fat cheese
- Lean meats, such as chicken breast, lean ground meats, and white meat turkey
- Egg whites
- Fish and shellfish
- Pork chops that have been grilled, baked, or broiled
- Nuts and seeds are also a good source of protein and fiber; just watch the serving size. Try single-serve packs for portion control.
- Beans, lentils, and other legumes, as well as lots of nonstarchy vegetables; plant-based sources of protein are naturally free of saturated fat and are more environmentally friendly
How Do You Adjust the Rest of Your Diet?
Increasing your protein doesn't just mean you add more food to your diet. In order to lose weight, Miller noted, "You'll have to adjust your fat and carbohydrate intake to ensure you stick within your daily allotment of calories. The amounts will vary based on your personal caloric needs and your protein intake."
So how does that work? You adjust your macros. To determine this, you have to first calculate how many calories you need per day, and then determine how many calories come from protein, how many from fat, and how many from carbohydrates. "This is where food trackers and/or the assistance of a registered dietitian nutritionist can be helpful as both can speak to your individualized needs," said Miller.
Using Miller's example of 70-90 grams of protein per day, 80 grams of protein equals 320 calories (4 calories per gram). If your weight-loss caloric intake is around 1,600 calories, that means protein is about 20 percent of your diet. You'll then get the other 80 percent from fat and carbohydrates, depending on how you choose to split it up for your dietary preferences.
But whatever you do, don't eliminate fat or carbohydrates. "What you don't want to do is eliminate any of the macronutrients; that is, don't eliminate carbohydrates or fat as your body needs all of the macronutrients for optimal health," said Miller.
"To ensure your diet stays balanced, be sure to include a source of protein, carbohydrates, and fat at each meal. Opt for lean sources of protein, wholesome carbohydrates (e.g., low-fat dairy foods, whole grains, starchy vegetables), and healthy fats (i.e., mono- and polyunsaturated fats, such as olives, nuts/seeds, olive oil, avocados, etc.)."