How to Get More Protein While Using Intermittent Fasting to Lose WeightDec 29, 2021
This episode is going to teach you how much protein you actually need to lose weight, and how to eat more protein when using intermittent fasting.
You may have heard that intermittent fasting is one of the best ways to lose weight...and for many, it is! It can be the needle mover in a plateau. Plus it’s easy, convenient, free and saves you time on meal prep and dishes.
But a common pitfall people who are trying to lose weight can fall into, is using intermittent fasting as a means of restrictions - falling back into the old diet mentality. Then, when they do eat, they’re under-fueling and putting their body in a state of starvation.
When done right, intermittent fasting boosts your metabolism.
When done wrong, it’s no better than a regular chronic calorie restricted diet that’s been shown to crash your metabolism for 6 months to 4 years, leading to weight regain.
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Benefits of a High Protein Diet
As important as the fasting, is the fueling. There are many benefits of a high-protein diet. What you are eating during your eating window can either work for or against you when losing weight.
It’s vital that you work to eat in a way that keeps insulin low, and supports healthy muscle mass. A key part of this is reducing the number of times you eat in a day and eating larger meals. We want to move away from mini-meals and towards big meals with lots of protein.
Protein helps support your lean muscles, bone, hair, and nails. Plus it triggers satiety hormones like peptide YY and CCK in your gut to keep you full between meals. It has a moderate impact on your insulin and a slow blood sugar response.
FAQ: “How Much Protein Do I Need a Day?”
Let’s start with an FAQ that’s frequently answered wrong, and that’s “How much protein do I need a day?” Most people are drastically under-eating protein.
A recent 2020 publication sums up the importance of getting more than the recommended daily allowance for protein to ward off sarcopenia - or muscle loss with aging.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (or RDA) for protein of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day is deemed “adequate” and meets the metabolic demands of this nutrient, irrespective of age and gender. There are 2.2 kilograms in a pound.
So for example, to meet the RDA for someone who weighs 150 pounds, take 150 pounds/2.2 pounds per kilogram and you get about 68 kilograms. Then take 68 kilograms x .8 grams per kilogram and that’s about 55 grams of protein per day.
However, the Recommended Dietary Allowance is thought to be insufficient for repeated, robust stimulation of muscle protein synthesis and maintenance of muscle mass in older adults.
Here’s a scary fact. A recent study found that only 50–69% of older adults met the minimum protein recommendation of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. In other words, only 50-69% of people who weigh 150 pounds are eating at least 55 grams of protein per day.
This recent study showed a higher protein intakes of 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day are associated with increased muscle mass and strength in older individuals. This means less frailty and fractures. Less hospitalizations, surgeries, and rehab bills.
As we age, our body becomes less efficient at pretty much everything, including making muscle. So total protein needs and protein needs per meal is actually higher in older versus younger adults.
This is problematic for many older individuals, who typically consume dietary protein unevenly across meals, with the majority of protein intake being consumed during one meal.
This uneven pattern of daily protein intake likely results in a failure to meet the threshold for maximal muscle protein synthesis stimulation during most meals which as I’ll discuss here in more detail and give portion size examples, is about 30 grams.
Said simply. Aging adults need more protein spaced throughout the day to ward off sarcopenia - or loss of muscle mass with aging.
.8 grams per kilogram of body weight a day is not enough. Of note, the upper end for protein recommendations is 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
I recommend 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. Another simple calculation I like that’s usually on the higher end is 1 gram per pound of ideal body weight. That’s what I personally shoot for most days but I also do strength training several times a week.
How to Calculate Your Daily Protein Needs
Let’s do the math to see how both of these equations work well to calculate your protein needs for the day.
Let’s say you weigh 200 pounds, but your “ideal weight” is 140 pounds.
200 pounds divided by 2.2 kilograms per pound is about 91 kilograms times 1.5 is about 136 grams of protein per day. So pretty close to the 140 grams for the 1 gram per pound of ideal body weight equation.
Let’s return to that example of someone who weighs 150 pounds and see how the recommended amount of protein is different when you use the 1.5 grams per kilogram equation versus the RDA which was about 55 grams. 150 divided by 2.2 is about 68 x 1.5 is 102. There’s a big difference between 55 grams, and 102 grams. I hope you’re aiming high.
When intermittently fasting, most of our Zivli members do 2-3 meals a day with a moderate intermittent fasting schedule. For example, 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating each day. Sometimes they mix that up and do a longer fast a day or two a week. It depends on their goals and how they mentally handle intermittent fasting.
FAQ: "How Much Protein Do I Need Per Meal?"
What’s more important than how many meals you have is how much protein is in each meal. You may need to add a 2nd or 3rd meal to reach your optimal amount of protein for the day to build and maintain healthy muscle. That’s why I’m not a huge fan of OMAD - or one meal a day every day of the week.
Remember that healthy muscle acts as a reservoir for glucose and helps improve your insulin sensitivity, making weight loss and weight maintenance easier.
When using intermittent fasting to lose weight, it’s vital that you reach the minimal amount of protein needed to stimulate muscle protein synthesis so that you can maintain or build your lean muscle mass while losing fat mass. Adequate protein plus resistance training when you’re losing weight will help prevent you from crashing your metabolism.
The absolute minimum should be 20-30 grams (preferably closer to a minimum of 30 grams) of high quality protein per meal. Obviously if you’re eating two meals a day, you’re going to need more than the minimum amount to reach your total daily needs.
Even if you get two doses of 50 grams of protein per meal, you’re going to be doing well and exceeding the Recommended Dietary Allowance.
The minimum of 20-30 grams of protein per meal necessitates that it’s a high quality protein, meaning it has all essential amino acids. The one in particular that’s important for muscle protein synthesis is leucine.
Leucine Benefits & Leucine Threshold
There are a lot of leucine benefits. Leucine is suspected to be the only amino acid that can stimulate muscle growth and help prevent the deterioration of muscle with age.
The leucine threshold is the amount of leucine that’s been shown to trigger muscle protein synthesis. The amount of leucine required to do this is at least 3 grams but preferably closer to 4. This is the amount of leucine naturally found in 30 grams of many animal-based protein sources.
Studies in humans show that even in the presence of a high protein meal, adding leucine further augments protein synthesis. Because muscle protein synthesis is what creates new muscle tissue, optimizing your leucine amount per meal, even if your meal is high in protein, may further boost muscle gain.
In fact, recent studies suggest that the chief factor in determining how well a protein builds muscle is how much leucine the protein contains.
Complete Protein Food Examples & Serving Sizes
Here are several examples of complete protein foods. The ones I chose are great for weight loss because they are low in carbohydrates. I’ve also included in the table how much leucine is in the food.
Visualize a normal plate of food for you. Think about if it has at least 30 grams of high quality protein.
Assess whether or not you think you have as much protein as you need. This is where tracking your macros can become really helpful.
- 5 ounces of steak has 42 grams of protein and 3.5 grams of leucine.
- 7 ounces of salmon has 44 grams of protein and 3.22 grams of leucine.
- 4 ounces of chicken has 33 grams of protein and 3 grams of leucine.
- 6 ounces tilapia has 44 grams of protein and 3.48 grams of leucine.
- 6 ounces of shrimp has 40 grams of protein and 3.33 grams of leucine.
- 4 cups of cow’s milk has 32 grams of protein and 3.2 grams of leucine.
- 1.5 cups of cottage cheese has 35 grams of protein and 3.84 grams of leucine.
- 1.5 cups low-sugar greek yogurt has 27 grams of protein and 3.75 grams of leucine.
- 1.5 cups of Tempeh has 46.5 grams of protein with 3.57 grams of leucine.
- 5 eggs has 31 grams of protein with 3 grams of leucine.
These protein servings sizes may be double or more what you’re used to. This is what it means to prioritize protein in your diet.
When you actually eat enough protein, you won’t have as much room for the unhealthy stuff.
If you’re vegan, vegetarian, or have a food allergy that narrows your protein choices, there are branched chain amino acid supplements you can use to support muscle growth.
It’s a great way to still hit your leucine threshold if you choose not to, or aren’t able to have more animal protein in your diet.
5 Ways to Get More Protein When Using Intermittent Fasting
- Eat 1.5 to 2 times the portion size of protein per meal.
- Find protein tack-ons for your meals.
- Add a “clean” protein shake to your routine.
- Add a “clean” protein bar to your routine.
- Track your macronutrients (what matters needs measured).
The simplest way to get more protein is to eat 1 ½ to 2 times your protein serving size at each meal. If you’re used to eating 3 ounces of chicken, try eating 4 ½ to 6.
The second tip is to find what I call protein “tack-ons” for your meals. These are high-protein foods that you can “tack-on” to a meal.
Examples would include string cheese, shredded cheese, cottage cheese, greek yogurt, milk, hemp hearts, smaller portions of protein bars or shakes, peanut butter, chia seeds, edamame, peanut butter powder, hard boiled eggs, jerky, beans or lentils, or pasta made from beans, lentils, or edamame.
I do advocate for a mostly whole-food diet, but being honest I supplement my protein nearly every day, simply because I love my protein shakes.
The third tip is to add a protein shake to your day. My favorite is HLTH Code by Dr. Benjamin Bikman. I’m a proud affiliate of this product and you can get 15% off your first order if you use the code ZIVLI when you checkout.
I also like the Vital Proteins Collagen Powder and Garden of Life Plant Based Vanilla but I’ve learned to always add some form of animal protein such as whole fat greek yogurt or whole milk.
Of course there are a lot of different protein powders out there. As I’ve mentioned you want to be sure you’re getting at least 3 grams of leucine per meal. Many of these powders will show you how much leucine is in a serving so be sure you’re looking at your nutrition panels.
Also be on the lookout for their ingredients. You want to try and find “clean” brands that don’t add a bunch of sugar or unhealthy artificial sweeteners like sucralose - even the 1st Phorm brand that I mentioned had sucralose in their branched chain amino acid supplement.
My fourth tip is to add protein bars, either as a stand-alone protein snack or preferably to increase the protein content of your meal.
The Quest and One brands are getting better about not adding sucralose to their bars, but they still have quite a bit of sugar alcohols or polyols that can cause GI upset like gas, diarrhea or bloating in some people. I typically get the Kirkland protein bars and I like the brownie or peanut butter flavors best.
The last tip is a little different, and that’s to actually track your macronutrients. If it’s important, we should be tracking it.
One of my clients recently got rid of their Weight Watchers app after learning their points system is arbitrary at best, and doesn’t tell the amount of protein in foods, just the points and calories, which honestly isn’t that helpful for reaching your daily protein goals.
I like the Carb Manager App. It’s free, intuitive, and simple to use. Our program, Zivli has how-to videos to get your Carb Manager set-up and also includes a complimentary Lifestyle Audit where we can do this for you, or double-check your work to be sure you have it set up correctly to reach your weight loss and fitness goals.
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