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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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  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.
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.
Of the 16 “Biggest Loser” competitors originally investigated, 14 participated in this follow-up study. Weight loss at the end of the competition was (mean ± SD) 58.3 ± 24.9 kg (P < 0.0001), and RMR decreased by 610 ± 483 kcal/day (P = 0.0004).
After 6 years, 41.0 ± 31.3 kg of the lost weight was regained (P = 0.0002), while RMR was 704 ± 427 kcal/day below baseline (P < 0.0001) and metabolic adaptation was -499 ± 207 kcal/day (P < 0.0001).
Weight regain was not significantly correlated with metabolic adaptation at the competition’s end (r = -0.1, P = 0.75), but those subjects maintaining greater weight loss at 6 years also experienced greater concurrent metabolic slowing (r = 0.59, P = 0.025).
Body-weight (BW), fat mass (FM), blood- and urine-parameters of 132 participants (age = 50 ± 12 yr; BW = 107 ± 20 kg; BMI = 37 ± 6 kg/m2; FM = 47.5 ± 11.9 kg) were compared after 3 and 12 months between four energy-restricted diets with 33% of energy requirement for the first 3 months, and 67% for the last 9 months: normal-protein normal-carbohydrate (NPNC), normal-protein low-carbohydrate (NPLC); high-protein normal-carbohydrate (HPNC), high-protein low-carbohydrate (HPLC); 24 h N-analyses confirmed daily protein intakes for the normal-protein diets of 0.7 ± 0.1 and for the high-protein diets of 1.1 ± 0.2 g/kg BW (p < 0.01).
BW and FM decreased over 3 months (p < 0.001): HP (− 14.1 ± 4 kg; − 11.9 ± 1.7 kg) vs. NP (− 11.5 ± 4 kg; − 9.3 ± 0.7 kg) (p < 0.001); LC (− 13.5 ± 4 kg; − 11.0 ± 1.2 kg) vs. NC (− 12.3 ± 3 kg; − 10.3 ± 1.1 kg) (ns). Diet × time interaction showed HPLC (− 14.7 ± 5 kg; − 11.9 ± 1.6 kg) vs. HPNC (− 13.8 ± 3 kg; − 11.9 ± 1.8 kg) (ns); NPLC (− 12.2 ± 4 kg; − 10.0 ± 0.8 kg) vs. NPNC (− 10.7 ± 4 kg; − 8.6 ± 0.7 kg) (ns); HPLC vs. NPLC (p < 0.001); HPNC vs. NPNC (p < 0.001). Decreases over 12 months (p < 0.001) showed HP (− 12.8 ± 4 kg; − 9.1 ± 0.8 kg) vs. NP (− 8.9 ± 3 kg; − 7.7 ± 0.6 kg) (p < 0.001); LC (− 10.6 ± 4 kg; − 8.3 ± 0.7 kg) vs. NC (11.1 ± 3 kg; 9.3 ± 0.7 kg) (ns). Diet × time interaction showed HPLC (− 11.6 ± 5 kg ; − 8.2 ± 0.7 kg) vs. HPNC (− 14.1 ± 4 kg; − 10.0 ± 0.9 kg) (ns); NPNC (− 8.2 ± 3 kg; − 6.7 ± 0.6 kg) vs. NPLC (− 9.7 ± 3 kg; − 8.5 ± 0.7 kg) (ns); HPLC vs. NPLC (p < 0.01); HPNC vs. NPNC (p < 0.01). HPNC vs. all other diets reduced diastolic blood pressure more. Relationships between changes in BW, FM, FFM or metabolic parameters and energy percentage of fat in the diet were not statistically significant. Metabolic profile and fat-free-mass were improved following weight-loss.
…these trials encompassed considerable variation in percent protein (spanning 8–54% of total energy), carbohydrate (1.6–72%) and fat (11–66%). The data provide an opportunity to describe the individual and interactive effects of dietary protein, carbohydrate and fat on the control of total energy intake. Percent dietary protein was negatively associated with total energy intake (F = 6.9, P < 0.0001) irrespective of whether carbohydrate (F = 0, P = 0.7) or fat (F = 0, P = 0.5) were the diluents of protein. The analysis strongly supports a role for protein leverage in lean, overweight and obese humans.
Ad libitum energy intakes were lower with the LC diet than with the MC diet [P=0.02; SE of the difference (SED): 0.27] at 7.25 and 7.95 MJ/d, respectively. Over the 4-wk period, hunger was significantly lower (P=0.014; SED: 1.76) and weight loss was significantly greater (P=0.006; SED: 0.62) with the LC diet (6.34 kg) than with the MC diet (4.35 kg). The LC diet induced ketosis with mean 3-hydroxybutyrate concentrations of 1.52 mmol/L in plasma (P=0.036 from baseline; SED: 0.62) and 2.99 mmol/L in urine (P<0.001 from baseline; SED: 0.36).
These men were allowed to eat as much as they wanted but chose to eat less when they were given Low Carb food.
Interesting line of evidence as to why insulinemia may cause obesity (rather than the reverse). The evidence is based on a 5-6 week long water-only fast (Fasting insulin and weight loss on a water fast). In the study referenced, the fasting insulin of the individuals was measured as they progressed on the fast.
On a water fast the higher your starting weight (surrogate for “fed” fasting insulin, remote surrogate for “starvation” fasting insulin), the less weight you lose over 5-6 weeks.
Elevated insulin is associated with obesity BECAUSE it inhibits lipolysis.
Sorta right. In the end there’s some sort of caloric restriction required to effectively lose weight. So, yes. All things being equal calories do count. The problem is all things are not equal.
Not all food macros are created the same. For instance, none of the three macros produce the same hormonal responses. Insulin gets secreted by eating carbs and protein. In the case of protein, the insulin is counterbalanced by glycogon. Not so in the case of carbs. Fat gets stored very efficiently, carbs less so. Overfeeding studies show that protein doesn’t get stored as fat much at all.
The different parts of your body charged with dealing with excess of a particular macro operate in different manners depending upon how full they are. The liver stores carbohydrates as glycogen until the glycogen stores get full. The liver then stores excess carbohydrates as fat in the liver until the liver gets full. The extra fat from the then liver overflows into the blood stream and you end up with high triglycerides, etc. Your fat cells are made to take a flux in and out of fat every day. Eat too often and that outflux doesn’t keep up with the influx. Do that too long and you become obese. It’s all a viscous circle that needs to be broken.
The killer combination (and I mean killer literally) is fat and carbs together. There are people (like the Potato diet guy) who can eat carbs alone without fat and lose weight. There are people who can eat a lot of fat and very low carbs and lose weight.
Eating both Low Carb and Low Fat along with higher protein is the winning combination for rapid fat loss. Study after study has shown this to be the best way to change your body composition (lose fat and retain lean mass or maybe even gain a little bit of lean mass).
I don’t care who you are if you eat around 20 grams of carbs or less, around 20 grams of fat, and maybe 150 gram of protein you will lose a significant amount of weight. You might be miserable doing it, or like me, you may enjoy seeing the weight fall off quickly. I really did enjoy it a lot. It’s around 800 calories and assuming you have a fair amount of body fat you can tolerate eating like that for quite some time. I don’t recommend this unless you have a fair amount of body fat to deal with.
The really strange thing about this is that the people who oppose this rapid fat loss method seem to prefer water fasting where they eat nothing for days to a diet where they eat 800 calories a day. It boggles the mind how not eating is easier than actually eating. Perhaps they were on low fat diets in the past and have some bad association from the hunger pains that come from low fat and high carb diets? There’s no blood sugar roller coaster with this method of losing weight since it is low carb.
For most keto folks it’s nothing more than cutting out the butter or other extra fats that they add to their food.
In theory, combining my Protein, Fat, and Carb results should yield a good set of maintenance macros. To do this I took the data and fit it to linear trendlines. The y-axis is weight change the day following the macro. Solving each of the equations for the Y-axis intercept gives the grams that result in the change from weight loss to gain the following day.
Re-running the trendline data as linear gives the following graphs.
Y Intercept Values
Protein = 1.3802/.0066 = 209g = 837 kcal
Fat = 1.8728/0.0144 = 164g = 1478 kcal
Carbs = 0.7587/0.027 = 28 = 112 kcal
Total Calories = 2427 kcal
This compares fairly well to the total calories Y-axis intercept value of 2.5254/0.0011 = 2296 kcal (about 5% difference). My median consumption was 2231 kcal.
Averages Across 150 Days
My averages across the 150 days is:
Protein = 193g
Fat = 155g
Carbs = 24g
Total = 2462 kcal
My conclusion is that my current maintenance numbers are pretty close.