The skinny on protein

Every once in a while I have a patient who insists that he or she is following my New Hamptons Health Miracle to a “T” and exercising regularly but the spare tire around their midsection just isn’t getting any smaller. And their muscles aren’t getting any bigger.

Nine times out of 10, it turns out that people in this situation aren’t actually eating enough protein.

So how much protein do you need? The answer might surprise you.

According to a new study, you may need to eat twice as much as the current Recommended Daily Allowance (or as I like to call it, the “Ridiculous Daily Allowance”) of protein.

Given the small RDAs we’re dealing with now (just 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men), I’d say doubling is a step in the right direction. But I’ll share my specific protein recommendations in a minute.

First, let’s talk about the results of this new study.

As part of this randomized, controlled trial, researchers assigned a group of 39 subjects to controlled diets of varying protein content for a month. One diet provided the U.S. RDA of protein, another provided double the RDA, and yet another provided three times the officially recommended intake of protein.

For the first 10 days, subjects ate enough calories to maintain body weight. But in the following three weeks, they ate a restricted calorie diet and exercised enough to induce weight loss at a steady rate of two pounds per week. (Research staff prepared and served all meals and controlled exercise to ensure consistency in results.)

And wouldn’t you know? Body composition and muscle protein measurements during both phases of the study revealed that doubling protein intake protected lean mass–and just as important, maximized fat loss–during short term weight loss.

These results shatter the ridiculous misconception that you can’t shed pounds without sacrificing some muscle mass along the way. I mean, the whole purpose of losing weight is to get healthy (and, let’s be honest–to look good). And losing muscle isn’t conducive to either of those things.

I learned this lesson the hard way. Back when I was first starting to get in shape, my trainer continually insisted that I should be eating more protein. And of course, I didn’t listen.

But finally, after month upon month of not getting the results that I wanted, I relented and decided I would give his advice a shot.

In the six months that followed, I gained more muscle and lost more fat than I had in two years. And even now, I’ve never looked so good in my life (if I do say so myself).

Unfortunately, most diets out there simply don’t provide the right amount of protein. In fact, they’re all pretty protein-phobic.

Which brings me right back to that inevitable question. How much protein should you eat if you really want to get the most out of your weight loss efforts?

Here’s my master formula: Eat your body weight in grams of protein on the days you’re not exercising. And eat 1.5 times your body weight on the days that you do hit the gym. So a 140-pound woman should eat 140 grams of protein on non-workout days, and 210 grams of protein on days she does exercise.

Meanwhile, if you’re actively trying to gain muscle, you should eat twice your weight in grams of protein every day.

It’s quite a simple trick. But it works like a charm.

“Effects of high-protein diets on fat-free mass and muscle protein synthesis following weight loss: a randomized controlled trial.” FASEB J. 2013 Sep;27(9):3837-47.