The Right Goal

Weight loss alone should never be your goal. Fat loss should be your goal. This can be demonstrated from the numbers. If you have 25% body fat then the weight you want to lose should come out of that 25% of body fat and not from the 75% of lean body mass. If you lose weight and most of the weight comes from your lean body mass you have not done yourself any favors.

Maximum Fat Loss

The fastest way to lose fat is to greatly reduce your carbohydrates and fat intake. Protein should never be reduced. For most people protein should be increased.

Macros for Fat Loss

There is a pretty simple set of macros for maximum body fat loss.

  • Protein at 1 gram per lb of goal weight. 
  • Carbs at less than 30 grams net. 
  • Fat at less than half the grams of protein. 

Macros Calculator

I made a calculator for maximum fat loss. The calculator estimates your current body fat and asks you to say what percentage body fat you want to reach.


The recommended daily protein minimums are pretty low. I suggest much more. If you have normal kidney function that is no problem.

You need enough protein in your diet to replace the protein your body will eat up during the diet. You also need some for gluconeogenesis. Since you will be eating at a caloric deficit any extra protein won’t be a problem – it won’t turn into chocolate cake.

Protein has essential nutrients. Eating 3 grams of Leucine (found in about 30g of protein) is a good goal to hit with every protein meal. That’s around 5 ozs of skinless chicken breast.


Eat the carbs as green leafy veggies. Broccoli is a great choice for micronutrients. You don’t like the taste? Get over it. It’s good for you. And you will eventually grow to like the taste.


If you want to lose fat faster, eat less fat. If you are losing too quickly, eat more fat. The fat you eat doesn’t come off your body. The fat you don’t eat in your diet comes off your body. Any fat you eat is stored on your body very efficiently. Fat has few essential nutrients.

Even a low fat diet is still relatively high fat. The fat is just coming off your body. You can’t stay on a low fat diet forever. You have to increase your fat over time as you reach your goals.

It’s a good idea to take a couple of fish oil capsules every day to get more of the good fats.

Studies on this Diet

This is also known as a variant on the Protein Sparing Modified Fast. It is well studied and effective. The PSMF is often done at very low (20g) of fat.

Calories-In and Calories-Out

Does Calories-In and Calories-Out work on Keto? In the last 162 days I have averaged 2391 calories a day. My weight is the same at the end of these 162 days. My total energy expenditure (TDEE) is calculated at 2232 calories a day. This is only 159 calories a day from my TDEE or 7% off the calculated amount and that’s less than half the assumed measurement error in the food (typically assumed to be 15%).

So, yes, I conclude that Calories-In and Calories-Out do fairly closely match. At least in my particular case and macros.

So Why Keto?

Where Keto comes in is that I have maintained a 120 lb loss for the past 5+ months without hunger. My hormones are in balance. My insulin level is kept low. I don’t have the blood sugar roller coaster ride.

Here’s a good podcast covering this subject (Sigma Nutrition Radio #85: What Drives Fat Gain? – Thoughts on CICO, Insulin & Obesity).

Low Carb vs Reduced Calorie

An interesting study that took a look at an ad libitum Low Carb diet compared to a Low Calorie diet (Foster, Gary D. A Randomized Trial of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet for Obesity. New England Journal of Medicine, 2003, VI 348, pp 2082-2090). The groups were:

We conducted a one-year, multicenter, randomized, controlled trial to evaluate the effect of the low-carbohydrate, high-protein, high-fat Atkins diet on weight loss and risk factors for coronary heart disease in obese persons. The subjects were randomly assigned to follow either a low-carbohydrate, high-protein, high-fat Atkins diet or a high-carbohydrate, low-fat, energy-deficit conventional diet.

The Low Calorie group was pretty restrictive:

1200 to 1500 kcal per day for women and 1500 to 1800 kcal per day for men, with approximately 60 percent of calories from carbohydrate, 25 percent from fat, and 15 percent from protein

You’d think that with the Low Carb group able to eat what they want that the calorie restricted group would beat them hands down. The results were:

Subjects on the low-carbohydrate diet had lost more weight than subjects on the conventional diet at 3 months (mean [±SD], –6.8±5.0 vs. –2.7±3.7 percent of body weight; P=0.001) and 6 months (–7.0±6.5 vs. –3.2±5.6 percent of body weight, P=0.02), but the difference at 12 months was not significant (–4.4±6.7 vs. –2.5±6.3 percent of body weight, P=0.26). After three months, no significant differences were found between the groups in total or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations. The increase in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations and the decrease in triglyceride concentrations were greater among subjects on the low-carbohydrate diet than among those on the conventional diet throughout most of the study. Both diets significantly decreased diastolic blood pressure and the insulin response to an oral glucose load.

Satiety Index

There’s a study that was done of food satiety (Holt SH, Miller JC, Petocz P, Farmakalidis E. A satiety index of common foods. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1995 Sep;49(9):675-90) (PDF).

Isoenergetic 1000 kJ (240 kcal) servings of 38 foods separated into six food categories (fruits, bakery products, snack foods, carbohydrate-rich foods, protein-rich foods, breakfast cereals) were fed to groups of 11-13 subjects. Satiety ratings were obtained every 15 min over 120 min after which subjects were free to eat ad libitum from a standard range of foods and drinks.

A satiety index (SI) score was calculated by dividing the area under the satiety response curve (AUC) for the test food by the group mean satiety AUC for white bread and multiplying by 100.

Thus, white bread had an SI score of 100% and the SI scores of the other foods were expressed as a percentage of white bread.

The results were:

There were significant differences in satiety both within and between the six food categories. The highest SI score was produced by boiled potatoes (323 +/- 51%) which was seven-fold higher than the lowest SI score of the croissant (47 +/- 17%).

Most foods (76%) had an SI score greater than or equal to white bread.

The amount of energy eaten immediately after 120 min correlated negatively with the mean satiety AUC responses (r = -0.37, P < 0.05, n = 43) thereby supporting the subjective satiety ratings. SI scores correlated positively with the serving weight of the foods (r = 0.66, P < 0.001, n = 38) and negatively with palatability ratings (r = -0.64, P < 0.001, n = 38).

Protein, fibre, and water contents of the test foods correlated positively with SI scores (r = 0.37, P < 0.05, n = 38; r = 0.46, P < 0.01; and r = 0.64, P < 0.001; respectively) whereas fat content was negatively associated (r = -0.43, P < 0.01).

This goes a long way to explain the Kitavan diet which is largely sweet potatoes. Can you imagine eating sweet potatoes every day as a main staple? Even though they are high carbohydrates it would be tough to over eat them.

Added: Gary Taubes takes on the palatable foods cause obesity theory (CATCHING UP ON LOST TIME – THE ANCESTRAL HEALTH SYMPOSIUM, FOOD REWARD, PALATABILITY, INSULIN SIGNALING AND CARBOHYDRATES… PART II(E, AS IN “END” AND “ENOUGH ALREADY”). Gary has some good points about the usefulness of this idea.

Carbs and Weight Gain

I looked earlier (Glycogen Stores – Why does it matter?) at this study (K J Acheson Y Schutz T Bessard K Anantharaman J P Flatt E Jéquier. Glycogen storage capacity and de novo lipogenesis during massive carbohydrate overfeeding in man. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 48, Issue 2, 1 August 1988, Pages 240–247). The purpose of the study was to look at body glycogen stores. As part of the study they compared several diets. These diets were performed as a glycogen depletion/repletion strategy. The study shows the relatively short term weight loss on each diet (Low Carb High Fat, [overfed] High Carb Low Fat, and Protein Sparing Modified Fast diets).

Mean body weight decreased by 0.8 ± 1.4 kg during the 3 d on the restricted, high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. After the 7 d of overfeeding the high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet (day 10), body weight had increased by 4.6 ± 1 .3 kg (ie, 5.6, 4.9, and 3.2 kg). During the 2 d on the restricted high-protein, low-energy diet (600 kcal/ d) 4.4 ± 0.9 kg were lost.

PSMF for the win!

How Much Protein on Low Carb Diets?

The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound.  This amounts to:

* 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man.
* 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.

As I noted in a prior post (Overfeeding Studies) minimum protein requirements are determined by nitrogen studies which typically give standard diets with adjusted protein contents until excess nitrogen is produced in the urine. This indicates that the person is in a positive protein intake since the excess protein is being expelled as urea (nitrogen).

The problem is the standard diet is used for the baseline which includes carbohydrates. In the standard diet glucose needs are completely met from carbohydrates. In a Low Carb diet glucose needs come from fat and protein in the diet (via GNG).

It is important to determine if the Dietary Recommended Intake (DRI) for protein is adequate for people on a Low Carb Diet (Protein Intake – How Much Protein Should You Eat Per Day?).

So how should we determine if those are adequate levels for a person on a low carb diet? Protein Sparing Modified Fasts (PSMF) are low carb diets which also are low fat. They are typically higher levels of protein with the intent of preserving Lean Body Mass (LBM) in the face of a high caloric deficit. There is a study which determined the Protein needs via nitrogen balance on the PSMF diet (Bruce R Bistrian, George L Blackburn, Jean-Pierre Flatt, Jack Sizer, Nevin S Scrimshaw, Mindy Sherman. Nitrogen Metabolism and Insulin Requirements in Obese Diabetic Adults on a Protein-Sparing Modified Fast. Diabetes Jun 1976, 25 (6) 494-504).

 In the three patients who had extensive nitrogen-balance studies, balance could be maintained chronically by 1.3 gm. protein per kilogram IBW, despite the gross caloric inadequacy of the diet. 

This seems like a reasonable approximation for the minimal protein needs on a Low Carbohydrate Diet. The number 1.3g/kg of body weight is significantly more than 0.8g/kg of body weight. A 200 lb (100kg) person would need to eat a minimum of 130g of protein a day.

Here is a similar view from Dr Donald Layman (Donald K. Layman; The Role of Leucine in Weight Loss Diets and Glucose Homeostasis, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 133, Issue 1, 1 January 2003, Pages 261S–267S).

More recently, the overall contribution of dietary amino acids to glucose homeostasis received further support on the basis of quantitative evaluations of hepatic glucose production. Jungas et al. provided an elegant argument that amino acids serve as a primary fuel for the liver and the primary carbon source for hepatic GNG. Other investigators extended this thinking with the findings that endogenous glucose production in the liver is a critical factor in maintenance of blood glucose. After an overnight fast, GNG provides 70% of hepatic glucose release, with amino acids serving as the principal carbon source. These studies provide further evidence for a linkage between dietary protein and glucose homeostasis.


…a diet with low carbohydrates and increased protein would reduce the role of insulin in managing acute changes in blood glucose and maximize the liver’s role in regulating blood glucose through hepatic GNG.

We need additional protein in a low carb diet to provide the substrate for GNG.

Overfeeding Studies

There are quite a few interesting overfeeding studies. The typical format of these studies is to take subjects and first determine the caloric intake to keep them in energy balance (weight stable). The study will then increase one of the three macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate or protein) and then look at the effects. Often studied are fat accumulation, body composition changes or blood lipids. The change is then attributed to the changed macronutrient.

Both fat and carbs are shown to increase weight and make body composition worse. Protein has been shown to not increase weight and increased protein improves body composition.

The problem I have with the study methodology is that the changes can’t all be attributed to the increased macronutrient alone since the increased macronutrients interacts with the other baseline macronutrients. 

Take as an example a baseline diet which provides 25% of calories from protein, 50% from carbohydrates and 25% from fat. For a 2000 calorie a day person that’s 500 calories from protein (125g), 1000 calories from carbohydrates (250g) and 500 calories from fat (55.6g).

Adding 500 calories a day of fat, for instance would change the fat from 500 calories to 1000 calories (111g) while leaving the carbohydrates and protein at the same amounts. So if there’s an increase in body fat how much of a change in body fat can be attributed to the fat alone? How much of the increase in weight is due to the interaction between fat and, say, carbohydrates? Perhaps there’s a carbohydrate/fat limit where if you exceed the amount of carbs/fat it causes much more fat storage due to the combination of the two?

Low Carb Diet Reduces the Variables

The Low Carb Diet essentially reduces the three [macronutrient] variables to two. The calories from carbohydrates are typically 5% on a very low carb diet. So the only two macronutrients left are protein and fat. Yet, even this is no guarantee for weight loss. There are people (think Jimmy Moore) who eat on the very low protein and high fat end. There are others (think Ted Naiman) who eat on the higher protein and lower fat end.

Jimmy and Ted

Clearly, what Jimmy is doing isn’t working well for Jimmy and what Ted is doing is working quite well for Ted. Jimmy is an n=1 for overeating fat. Ted is an n=1 for eating more protein. However, Ted controls for total calories and Jimmy seems to have no clue how many calories he eats in a particular day.

The difference may be exercise. It may be diet. I have a hard time finding a picture of a higher protein advocate who looks like Jimmy but I can find plenty of keto personalities who eat a lot of fat and look more like Jimmy (the Two Keto Dudes comes to mind).

A Fear of Protein?

Jimmy and others have been afraid of protein with the fear that eating protein causes the protein to turn to chocolate cake (Jimmy is infamous for making the comparison to chocolate cake at one point). I’ve looked at this subject in many posts in this BLOG (Protein does not turn into chocolate cake). 

Ted says he spends most of his day trying to convince diabetics that they should eat more protein. It is true that protein does raise blood sugar by a small amount in a diabetic but the benefits outweigh that small rise and if a person is not a diabetic protein will lower blood sugar (Glucose Response to Protein).

Problem with Protein Studies

Protein studies are used to determine protein requirements. These studies look at nitrogen balance which is either negative (the person isn’t getting enough nitrogen from their diet) or positive (the person is getting enough nitrogen from their diet). 

The problem is that protein studies are based on so-called “balanced” diets where carbohydrates are available to make the amount of glucose required by the body (Low Carbs and Gluconeogenesis). These studies don’t include the effects of gluconeogenesis (GNG). If you are eating low carb then protein provides the substrate materials (from your diet) for (GNG). For diabetics their body is already really good at making glucose via GNG (Gluconeogenesis – Later Thoughts). 

If you barely eat enough protein to meet the minimum (nitrogen replacement) requirements then your body will get it’s GNG needs from fat. Suppose that the body requires 120g of carbohydrates per day for the brain and other essential organs. If you eat 20g of carbohydrates a day that’s 100 short. If half the protein gets converted to glucose and your body requires 200g of protein to provide that glucose. (Note these are very rough numbers but the idea applies).

So, if you are on a low carbohydrate diet you need more protein than just your replacement needs. You also need protein to meet your GNG needs.

Many Ways to Lose Weight

There are quite a few ways to lose weight. Most of them involve eating less calories than you burn. You can lose weight with Low Fat or Low Carb diets. You can even lose weight with a Low Protein diet. All of these work if you are at a caloric deficit. High fat and high carbs at the same time don’t work at the same time unless your goal is weight gain.

Also, there’s an interaction with the macronutrient type. Some macronutrients encourage fat gain. Truthfully, fat is always stored easily as fat – but only accumulates in a caloric surplus. You burn off what you eat if you are in fat balance. If you eat less fat you lose body fat. If you eat more fat you will gain body fat.

Even people who eat a carnivore diet are eating a large portion of their calories as fat. As an example: Ribeye Steak from Walmart has 22g of protein and 20g of fat in an 4 oz serving. That’s 88 calories from protein and 180 calories from fat. Or 33% of calories from protein and 67% of calories from fat.

Consuming large amounts of fat is unavoidable in the weight maintenance portion of Low Carb diets. There’s a top limit on the amount of protein that you can/should eat. As an example, if you are eating 1 g of protein per lb of body weight and you weigh 200 lbs that’s 200 gram of protein or 800 calories. The rest of your daily caloric needs will then come from fat.  If you are eating 2000 calories a day that’s 1200 calories from fat.

The problem is that many people, like Jimmy Moore, eat at a maintenance or higher level of calories and macros when they need to be in a weight loss phase. Jimmy eats low protein and carbs so it’s not protein or carbs that are making Jimmy fat. The extra fat that Jimmy eats accumulates as fat when he eats more calories from fat regardless of whether he avoids carbohydrates or not. Fat doesn’t magically vanish when you eat it and it doesn’t require much energy to store -it is about 95% efficient to store fat (Eat Too Much Fat – Get Fat).

Maximizing Weight Loss

The only way for someone like Jimmy to lose weight is to get enough protein and limit dietary fat. If Jimmy has a goal weight of 200 lbs he should eat 200 grams of protein spread over four meals a day of 50 grams per meal  (Protein Gurus – Part 2). That maximizes Muscle Protein Synthesis and provides enough substrate to maintain his blood glucose. Jimmy should then eat enough fat to cover the amount he won’t be eating from his body. Jimmy has at least 100 lbs of fat mass and could easily have a 3000 calories a day deficit. It wouldn’t be at all pleasant but he could do it.

If you want to find out what you can do on a maximum fat loss diet, check out our Keto calculator.

Improved Overfeeding Studies

So how would you improve an overfeeding study? I would isolate the macronutrients and absolutely minimize the other macronutrients. Do a lean protein study (essentially a PSMF study) with variable protein levels. I’d do a carbohydrate variation study with minimal protein and fat. I’d do a fat level study with minimal carbs and protein. All of them in isolation. Wouldn’t be a very balanced diet at 90%, 5%, 5%. Couldn’t be too long a term. May not pass ethics boards. But it could tease out the interactions between the macronutrients. 

Testing the Protein Leverage Hypothesis

There’s the common view of obesity that it’s due to increased fat and/or carbs in the American diet. And the statistics bear out that increase (Gregory L Austin, Lorraine G Ogden, James O Hill; Trends in carbohydrate, fat, and protein intakes and association with energy intake in normal-weight, overweight, and obese individuals: 1971–2006, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 93, Issue 4, 1 April 2011, Pages 836–843):

The prevalence of obesity increased from 11.9% to 33.4% in men and from 16.6% to 36.5% in women. The percentage of energy from carbohydrates increased from 44.0% to 48.7%, the percentage of energy from fat decreased from 36.6% to 33.7%, and the percentage of energy from protein decreased from 16.5% to 15.7%.

There’s an interesting note:

In NHANES 2005–2006, a 1% increase in the percentage of energy from protein was associated with a decrease in energy intake of 32 kcal (substituted for carbohydrates) or 51 kcal (substituted for fat).

What is the Protein Leverage Hypothesis?

The central claim is that protein is being displaced by increasing amount of carbs and fat. From this paper (Alison K. Gosby , Arthur D. Conigrave, Namson S. Lau, Miguel A. Iglesias, Rosemary M. Hall, Susan A. Jebb, Jennie Brand-Miller, Ian D. Caterson, David Raubenheimer, Stephen J. Simpson. Testing Protein Leverage in Lean Humans: A Randomised Controlled Experimental Study. PLoS ONE 6(10): e25929.):

The ‘protein leverage hypothesis’ proposes that a dominant appetite for protein in conjunction with a decline in the ratio of protein to fat and carbohydrate in the diet drives excess energy intake and could therefore promote the development of obesity.

The study found:

In our study population a change in the nutritional environment that dilutes dietary protein with carbohydrate and fat promotes overconsumption, enhancing the risk for potential weight gain.

Here’s the chart showing the differences:

From the study:

Simpson and Raubenheimer (Simpson, S. J. and Raubenheimer, D. (2005), Obesity: the protein leverage hypothesis. Obesity Reviews, 6: 133-142.) used data from the FAOSTAT [5] nutrient-supply database to show that an estimated decrease in percent dietary protein from 14% to 12.5% between 1961 and 2000 in the USA was associated with a 14% increase in non-protein energy intake, with absolute protein intake remaining almost constant.

Protein Contradictions

Much of the popular press writes that we should eat more meals a day. As an example (How Much Protein for Strength and Mass Gains?):

total protein amount should be spread out over 5 to 6 intakes a day

They advise the amount of protein to be:

For males, who aim at increasing muscle mass and strength gains, if you only train once a day, 2 g a kg should be more than enough (for women 1.2g /kg of bodyweight).

Let’s do the math here. Suppose someone is 75 kg (about 165 lbs). At 2g/kg that would be 150 grams of protein per day. If they eat 5 meals a day that would be 30 grams of protein per meal. The problem is that they will probably not ever reach the Leucine threshold at any of the meals (Protein Gurus – Part 2). As a result they will never maximize muscle protein synthesis.

Also the timing between protein meals should be 5 hours and that would be 25 hours of eating in a day. Doesn’t quite fit.

My current optimized method is three protein meals a day spread out by five hours (Muscle Protein Synthesis Meal Spacing Maximum). This can be challenging and does require advance planning for meals.