You probably already know about the importance of protein in your diet, right? And it’s really important for losing weight, especially belly fat.
More on that in a minute, but let’s do a painless summary of what protein is. There will be no math.
A Little Bit of Science, I Promise
Proteins are the basic building blocks of the human body.
They are made up of amino acids, and help build muscles, blood, skin, hair, nails and internal organs. In fact, our bodies are made up of mostly water and, next to that, protein. Most of that protein is found in the muscles (which is why you need to lift weights. Lecture over).
Now there’s a lot more here to unpack, but I won’t bore you with that. Basically, there are different kinds of amino acids – Some that are supplied by your body and some that are supplied by food. The bottom line is that your body needs these essential amino acids both for your health and? To lose weight.
Getting the Right Kind of Protein
Foods that contain all of the essential amino acids are called complete proteins. These foods include
- Dairy products like cheese and milk
- Wild game (not for me, thanks…bison’s ok tho)
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seeds
- Nutritional yeast
Now, not all proteins are complete proteins. This isn’t something you need to worry about if you eat anything on that list above. But if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you may have to combine proteins to make a complete one. Here’s a little cheat sheet if that’s your bag: To get all of the essential amino acids, simply choose foods from two or more of the columns.
|Grains||Legumes||Seeds & Nuts||Vegetables|
|Barley||Beans||Sesame Seeds||Leafy Greens|
|Corn Meal||Lentils||Sunflower Seeds||Broccoli|
|Pasta||Soy Products||Other Nuts|
|Whole Grain Breads|
How Protein Helps You Lose Belly Fat
Now to the good stuff. Protein is one of the single most important things you can eat to help get rid of belly fat because:
- It keeps you satisfied. When you eat more protein, you eat less food. Voila!
- It can help reduce cravings, which is huge for those of us who, well, have them.
- It takes longer to digest, which means you burn more calories when you eat protein and it can boost your metabolism by up to 80-100 calories a day. What? Yep.
- Studies have shown that people who eat quality protein have less belly fat.
The bottom line? You can eat and lose belly fat. Win-win.
Figuring Out Your Protein Needs
So, how much protein do you need? The RDA is about 56 grams per day for the average male, 46 for the average woman. You need more if you exercise.
Now, I don’t know about you but I spend most of my day counting how many grams of protein I’m eating.
If you’re looking at percentages, experts suggest you aim for 25-30 percent of your diet as protein.
The questons are: How do you know how much protein you need and if you’re eating the right amount?
First, you can use this protein calculator which will give you an estimate. I’ve also provided a formula below (I said there would be no math, but that’s up to you).
As for how to plan out your protein needs, if you follow the 30 percent idea for protein, that usually comes out to mean 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fat.
To make it easy for you to visualize there, how about a sample plan for 40-30-30? Which is also the ratio for the Zone Diet, if you didn’t know.
Take a look and you’ll at least get an idea of what a typical day’s worth of meals might look like.
The take-home here is simple: Get some protein at every meal and you’ll notice a change in your how you eat, how you feel and, hopefully, in your body.
Now for the math nerds:
How to Calculate Your Protein Needs:
1. Weight in pounds divided by 2.2 = weight in kg
2.Weight in kg x 0.8-1.8 gm/kg = protein gm.
Use a lower number if you are in good health and are sedentary (i.e., 0.8). Use a higher number (between 1 and 1.8) if you are under stress, are pregnant, are recovering from an illness, or if you are involved in consistent and intense weight or endurance training.
Example: 154 lb male who is a regular exerciser and lifts weights
154 lbs/2.2 = 70kg
70kg x 1.5 = 105 gm protein/day
Calculating Protein as a Percentage of Total Calories
Another way to calculate how much protein you need is by using daily calorie intake and the percentage of calories that will come from protein. To do this, you’ll need to know how many calories your body needs each day.
Next, figure out how many calories you burn through daily activity and add that number to your BMR. This gives you an estimate of how many calories you need to maintain your current weight.
After you’ve figured out your maintenance calories, next figure out what percentage of your diet will come from protein. The percentage you choose will be based on your goals, fitness level, age, body type and metabolic rate. Most experts recommend that your protein intake be somewhere between 15 and 30%. When you’ve determined your desired percentage of protein, multiply that percentage by the total number of calories for the day.
For a 140lb female, calorie intake=1800 calories, protein=20%:
1800 x .20 = 360 calories from protein. Since 1 gram of protein = 4 calories, divide protein calories by four:
360/4 = 90 grams of protein per day.
No matter what your calculations are, remember that there are no magic foods or supplements that can replace the right training and the right diet. I know. Not fair. But getting more protein in your diet is pretty easy, right? You’ve get a head start with your meal plan.
Healthline: 6 Simple Ways to Lose Belly Fat With Science
Leidy HJ, Tang M, Armstrong CLH, Martin CB, Campbell WW. The effects of consuming frequent, higher protein meals on appetite and satiety during weight loss in overweight/obese men. Obesity. 2011;19(4):818-824. doi:10.1038/oby.2010.203
Weigle DS, Breen PA, Matthys CC, et al. A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82(1):41-48. doi:10.1093/ajcn/82.1.41