By far, the most effective diet for staying lean is a high-protein one. To understand why protein is so important for fat loss, we have to study some biology. There exist three categories of macro-nutrients in our food: protein, fat and carbohydrates.
Each provides energy for our daily activities and exercise. However, only one of these macronutrients contains the building block for the synthesis of muscle—protein. Amino acids, which are found in proteins, are required for the construction and repair of muscle tissue. Again, without amino acids you cannot create and new muscle tissue.
Trying to build muscle without sufficient amounts of protein is like trying to build a log cabin without enough wood. You can possess 1000 tons of feathers; without an ample supply of wood, you will not be able to erect a log cabin.
Why is all of this discussion of amino acids relevant to your fat loss goals?
Muscle tissue, at rest, burns more calories than fat tissue. The mere presence of muscle mass contributes to your quest to lose fat. The more mass you can add, the more calories you can burn during the day, even while sleeping. Muscle requires more energy and nutrients to be maintained, a major reason why the body breaks down muscle before fat when the body is starving. Fat also contains more calories per gram, nine compared to just four for protein, so the body will sacrifice muscle before consuming precious fat reserves.
Certain protein–laden foods such as chicken or fish also produce a Thermogenic Effect, heat generated while in the process of eating and digesting your food. Think about how much work it takes to consume a piece of steak versus drinking a vanilla milkshake. You have to cut and chew each bite of your food repeatedly. After swallowing, your body then has to invest significantly more energy to break down meats and other foods high in protein. Foods containing primarily fats and carbs usually do not require as much energy for absorption by the body.
So what is the ideal macronutrient ratio for most people?
Ideally, you would eat at least one(1) gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. So if you weight 150lbs, you would ingest 150 grams of protein over the course of a day. If you exercise strenuously at least four times a week you may even want to up your protein to 1.1 or 1.2 grams of protein per day per pound.
But aren’t diets high in protein dangerous for your health?