Want a quick way to flatten your belly while preventing, improving, even reversing type 2 diabetes? Protein researchers have hit on a new approach that makes it a cinch. The secret? “Eating the right amount of protein at the right time,” says Paul Arciero, PhD, a nutritionist at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. In one of Arciero’s recent studies, subjects using his simple protein guidelines dropped up to 72 pounds in 12 weeks. “They also cut levels of the hormone insulin in half,” he reports. “When insulin comes down like that, it means the body is handling blood sugar much better. It also means fat burning — especially around the abdominal area — has gone way up.” Other benefits include better energy, strength, cholesterol levels, and more, says Arciero. “It’s the way to a happier, healthier life!”
Diets that cut carbs and increase protein are all the rage, yet many women find they get disappointing results. Turns out, protein does increase our calorie burn, but we often go overboard on a good thing. When University of Texas scientists set out to determine the ideal amount of protein we need to boost metabolism, they found weight-loss benefits “max out” at about 30 grams per sitting — the amount in four ounces of chicken or beef. “Most of us eat three or four times that amount, especially when we’re cutting back on carbs. And anything you can’t use ultimately ends up as fat,” cautions Caroline Cederquist, MD, one of the nation’s top weight-loss experts and medical director of the BistroMD meal delivery service. On the flip side, she adds, we tend to skimp on protein in the morning, when we need it most. (Surprising fact: Three eggs contain just 18 grams of protein, so even some keto dieters don’t get enough at breakfast!)
The Magic Protein Formula
What this approach boils down to is eating more protein at breakfast and then smaller-than- usual protein servings the rest of the time. You also want to keep carbs and calories down to speed weight loss, but protein helps with that. “It’s the key nutrient that tells the brain you’re satisfied,” says Arciero, author of The Protein Pacing Diet ($22.45, Amazon). “You automatically begin to want less food.”
Steady doses of high-quality protein also digest in a way that helps keep blood-sugar levels lower and steady, which reduces cravings. On top of that, amino acids in protein help the body to repair itself — so your whole system heals. “A damaged system can’t use sugar properly, and a lot of it ends up as abdominal fat even as our cells are starved of energy,” notes Dr. Cederquist. As normal function returns, ab fat is naturally released. Plus, “your cells finally get the fuel they need, and you just have so much more energy.”
“We see best results when people eat a protein-rich meal or snack every two to three hours or so,” says Arciero, noting that when he compared dieters using protein pacing to those getting the same calories from three larger meals, the protein pacers lost significantly more fat. Some protein pacers even report losing one to two pounds a day!
How to Use Protein to Get Lean
The goal of protein pacing is to get about 30 grams of quality protein per meal and 15 to 20 grams per snack. We’ve got great examples at right. Spread sittings evenly through the day. To maximize results, opt for healthy fare while keeping carbs under 20 grams or so per sitting and calories under 1,500 per day. As always, get a doctor’s okay to try any new plan.
“Research consistently shows that 30 grams in the morning is needed to ‘wake up’ your muscles,” Arciero says. “It turns up the metabolic furnace, so you see a lot more fat loss.” Like Arciero, Dr. Cederquist urges us to eat smaller amounts of protein more often. “It’s the difference that makes all the difference!”
Breakfast — 1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt (which boasts more protein than three eggs!) layered with ½ cup of your favorite berries; 2 Tbs. chia, pumpkin or hemp seeds; and optional stevia to taste.
Lunch — Southwest Chicken Salad: Toss 3 oz. grilled chicken, 4 Tbs. black beans, 2 Tbs. cheese, ¼ avocado, 3 cups mixed salad and 2 Tbs. vinaigrette.
Dinner — Skinny Shrimp Scampi: Coat 4 oz. shrimp in Old Bay seasoning; sauté in 1 tsp. ghee and serve over 2 cups steamed zoodles with 2 whole-grain breadsticks.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.