Can protein help you to get leaner and lighter?

When I work with clients who want to shed some body fat, one of the first things I get them to do is to keep a food diary for 7 days.   This gives me a snapshot of the foods they are eating, when they are eating them and how much they are eating.

When they return their diary to me I will look for clues as to why they might be struggling to lose body fat. Some of the things I look at include;

  • How much carbohydrate are they eating and how much of it is highly processed?
  • How much protein are they eating, what kind of protein are they eating and how often?
  • How much fat are they eating, what types of fat and what quality?
  • Fluid intake and is it enough?
  • Alcohol habits and intake
  • Foods they eat when their mood/energy is low

Without fail, the clients who struggle to lose weight are eating too much refined carbohydrate, and not enough protein.

One of the first actions I encourage them to take is to increase their protein intake in line with their body weight and activity levels for the following reasons:


  • Eating more protein helps to smooth out the carb highs and lows. When you eat only carbs, you cause your blood sugar to spike. Your body releases insulin to bring the sugar level down and if the sugar isn’t used for energy, it gets converted to fat and stored. Pairing carbs and protein smooths out the spikes which in turn reduces sugar cravings.


  • Protein uses more energy.Protein has a higher ‘Thermic Effect of Food’ (TEF) This means it uses more calories to digest food your food into the smaller components your body can use, than fat and carbohydrate.


  • Protein fuels fat burning;when you are losing weight, your body will use both body fat and muscle for energy. As an endurance athlete, you want to maximize the fat loss and minimise the protein and muscle mass loss. One of the ways to do this is to make sure that you eat enough protein.


  • Protein satisfies and reduces appetite when you have decided you are going to shed some body fat you will need to make sure you are eating enough of the right types of foods to make you feel full. Protein slows down digestion which means you will feel fuller for longer and therefore eat less.


  • Protein repairs As an endurance athlete, Protein is very important. After training and racing, your body needs adequate quantities to be able to repair and rebuild muscle tissue and tendons to prevent injuries.


Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that you subscribe to the Atkins diet ie eat excessively large quantities of protein. However, you need to make sure that you eat enough protein to supply your body with what it needs which is a minimum of 0.8g/kg of body weight. The more training you are doing, the higher this needs to be so you will need more in race season than you will in the off season.

To learn more about endurance athlete nutrition, come and join my Facebook community Eating to Win. Here you can hang out with like-minded people, ask questions, share your experiences and learn from others.

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