By Keri Gans
September 03, 2013

Typically when women think of weight loss, they think of restricting calories or food groups, such as carbs. And many may think that adding more protein to their diet will pack on muscle, which may lead to weight gain. But in addition to be satiating, increasing your protein intake may help you lose weight while maintaining fat-burning muscle, according to new research.

In the study, 39 adults were all fed a calorie-restricted diet but with varying levels of protein: the recommended daily amount (RDA), twice the RDA, or three times the RDA. They also exercised daily. After 31 days, the group consuming twice the RDA of protein saw the greatest reduction in fat mass while maintaining muscle.

But just how much protein are we really talking about? Following this study's guidelines, the average needs for a 5'5" woman trying to lose weight would be 90 grams (g) per day. And this adds up rather quickly without even trying. For example, if someone ate a 6-ounce serving of Greek yogurt at breakfast (18g), 3 ounces of grilled chicken at lunch (27g), a string cheese for a snack (8g), and 4 ounces of salmon at dinner (25g), they would consume 78g protein, and that isn't even including the additional grams from vegetables and grains that they hopefully are also consuming.

What I think is important to learn from this study, although I'm not sure this is what the researchers intended, is that adequate calories for weight loss almost by default will provide adequate protein. But on the other hand, if you consume too little calories while trying to lose weight-for instance with an extremely restrictive diet or cleanse-you will not consume enough protein and hence lose muscle. Lastly, too much protein by default may lead to too many calories and will hinder your ability to lose weight overall.

Bottom line: No need to rush out and start downing the protein shakes to keep muscle during weight loss. Consuming a well-balanced diet that includes lean protein, high-fiber carbs, and healthy fats should do the trick.

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