As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, losing weight is a very different proposition for a woman than for a man. Current societal attitudes around gender roles are changing, but there are still a lot of preconceptions about how men and women should look, think and behave. The common perception that females should be meek and submissive can hamper women when they want to get lean, strong and physically self-reliant.
Personally, I think that anyone, man or woman, who wants to be a lean, strong badass should be commended and celebrated. It’s hard enough to lose weight without prejudice getting in the way too! That’s why I’m writing an article aimed specifically at women. A few of the women very close to me (family, friends and colleagues) have struggled with weight loss over the last few years. Because of that, I wanted to combat some of the bad information in the mainstream media about weight loss and health that held them back and frustrated their efforts. Plus, I wanted to write something clear about my not-so-secret weapon: Protein.
This article is going to be a brief introduction into the role of protein in weight loss and an overview of protein supplements: what they are, what they aren’t, what they’re good for and how to get the most out of them. Let’s get started!
Protein and Weight Loss
By far, the most important factor in any weight loss regime is compliance. This means that how well you stick to your plan is much more important than what exactly your plan involves. Even mediocre weight loss programs can yield results if they are sustained for long enough. The point I want to make about compliance is that in order to get the best results you don’t just need a good program, you need a good program that feels easy to sustain. So how does this involve protein?
Well, the most common reason why people fall off the weight loss wagon is because of feeling hungry or unsatisfied. The majority of weight loss plans mentioned in the popular media involve cutting calories, restricting intake of nutritious food and increasing activity. This approach is bound to leave you feeling hungry and weak, as well as depleting your willpower. Instead, if you focus on getting a good serving of high-quality protein with each of your meals you’ll feel more satiated, lose fat instead of muscle and be better fueled for any exercise you do.
When is comes to weight loss there are several reasons why protein is the most important nutrient. Protein boosts your metabolism meaning your body burns more calories even at rest. Protein reduces your appetite meaning that you consume fewer calories voluntarily simply because of adding more protein to your diet. Increasing protein intake has also been shown to reduce obsessive thoughts about food and decrease late night snacking.
Simply put, consistently sticking to a diet is the most important factor in weight loss. And protein is the key to consistently sticking to a diet, as well as making the diet more effective. If you’re trying to lose weight, you need to eat more protein.
Sources and Schedules
Having a wide variety of sources of good quality protein can be invaluable to a weight loss diet. Making sure you don’t get bored eating grilled chicken breast every day for a month is vital to the long-term success of your weight loss. The more options you have for protein sources, the easier it is to vary them when you feel like you’re getting fed up with your diet.
Meat and poultry (especially nutrient dense organ meats), fish, eggs, dairy and nuts are all great sources of protein. Check out this article for a more exhaustive list.
Getting a serving of protein at every meal is ideal, but when is it most effective? Well, starting the day with a serving of protein-rich food has weight loss benefits beyond those of the protein alone. It might sound counterintuitive, but skipping breakfast has been associated with gaining weight. However, a latest research indicates that eating or skipping breakfast are equally ineffectual: it’s all about what the breakfast is. Protein at breakfast time changes your eating behavior for the rest of the day. High protein breakfasts have been shown to reduce hunger and help people consume fewer calories throughout the rest of the day.
Even more interesting, high protein breakfasts change how your brain works. They have been shown to reduce brain signals that control food motivation and reward-driven behavior. Basically, this means that getting plenty of protein at breakfast primes you to follow your diet for the rest of the day, making compliance even easier. What’s more, high protein breakfasts help you feel fuller for the rest of the day. They do this by influencing hormones that regulate hunger like Ghrelin and those that govern feelings of fullness (like Peptide YY, GLP-1 and cholecystokinin for all you nerds!). The bottom line is that a high protein breakfast makes following a diet for the rest of the day easier, as well as having all the previously mentioned metabolic effects of protein.
Eggs are the perfect breakfast food. To me, four scrambled eggs and a cup of black coffee is the perfect breakfast: delicious, satisfying, incredibly healthy and reasonably easy. However, I’d be a liar if I told you I always have the time, energy and motivation to cook eggs from scratch. And it’s at times like these, when I’m in a rush or tired, that protein supplements really come into their own.
I love protein shakes for post workout nutrition but I always keep some on hand for breakfast time as well. They make getting a healthy, protein rich breakfast absolutely foolproof. Mix the shake. Drink it. That’s all you need to do to prepare and consume a breakfast that will support weight loss and keep you on track for the rest of the day.
But how do you know what type of protein supplement to use?
It’s true that there are now more types of protein supplement available than ever before. Unfortunately, this hasn’t made losing weight any easier. If you want to choose a good quality protein supplement you need to be careful about the type of protein it contains as well as the other ingredients. There is a simply baffling array of protein supplements on every sports nutrition website, from hydrolyzed beef protein to soy protein isolate. With each of them boasting a freakish selection of flavorings and additives.
However, like many things in life, the simplest solution is usually the best. Whey protein with minimal additives and flavorings is the ideal protein supplement for women trying to lose weight. A final tip would be to avoid those containing sucralose in favor of other sweeteners (like stevia, xylitol or erythritol), failing that get an unflavored protein and add cinnamon, cocoa powder or coffee.
Whey protein is rich in all essential amino acids and is absorbed quickly making it an ideal post workout drink. Whey protein has been shown to increase strength, facilitate muscle growth and accelerate fat loss. It’s reasonably cheap because it comes as a by-product of the cheese industry and it’s probably the most widely available sports supplement.
One thing to bear in mind is that whey protein, or any supplement for that matter, is not a replacement for a balanced diet with lots of vegetables, meat, poultry, nuts and healthy fats. While protein is extremely important for health in general, and fat loss in particular, it isn’t the only important factor. Vitamins, minerals, fiber, micronutrients and fat are all vitally important and your weight loss will stall without them. Even the process of chewing and digesting (not to mention enjoying!) a variety of foods is important.
The bottom line is that, while protein shakes can be incredibly helpful in making a weight loss diet as easy and effective as possible, shakes alone are not enough.
Trying to lose excess weight, get strong, fit and healthy is a noble and commendable ambition. It’s a difficult challenge, and one that can be even more difficult for women than for men. However, if you plan things well and structure your weight loss plan to give yourself the best chance of success you can achieve your physical goals.
Following a diet consistently over a long period of time is the crucial factor in successful weight loss. Therefore, making it as easy as possible to follow the diet is really important. Great quality protein shakes like whey protein can remove the stress from getting a good serving of protein at the crucial times like breakfast or in the 30 minutes following a workout. Because of this, having a protein shake for breakfast every day is a great option for anyone, women especially, who are trying to lose weight.
If you’ve used Protein shakes to lose weight let me know how in the comments below. Feel free to share this with someone who might need a little help making their weight loss consistent.