If you're on the fluffy side, you most likely overeat carbs and fats instead of prioritizing protein and eating for purpose. This problem compounds as you become more metabolically unhealthy. The solution? Prioritize protein.
The Best Diet Hack Ever: The Protein Test
Protein is the best way to decipher between a food craving and actual hunger. If you're willing to eat ONLY pure protein (chicken, steak, fish, or a protein shake) you're actually hungry. However, if a pure protein meal doesn't sound appetizing, you're not truly hungry. You're bored, emotional, or just having a craving.
The Protein Test works for everyone. It's one of the most effective ways to build a healthier relationship with food and avoid overeating.
Whether you want to get shredded or "lean bulk," you must prioritize protein:
- If your primary goal is to get lean, adhere to a caloric deficit and eat about 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
- If your primary goal is to gain muscle and minimize fat gain, eat a 5-10% caloric surplus and try to get all the surplus calories from protein.
Most people think the best way to bulk up is to eat in a surplus while eating high carb (50% of daily calories), moderate protein (0.75 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight), and low fat.
While this formula certainly works for younger lifters, this approach may not be ideal for everyone, especially those that want to do a true "lean bulk" – a slower mass phase where most of the gains come from muscle instead of increased body fat and water retention. You still need to have a caloric surplus. However, instead of getting those excess calories from carbs and fats, get them from protein.
Multiple studies have confirmed the efficacy of protein overfeeding. One study looked at two groups of resistance-trained females:
- One group decreased their protein intake to 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight and lowered their calories by 300 calories per day.
- The other group increased their protein intake to 1.25 grams per pound of bodyweight while eating in a 250-calorie surplus for 8 weeks.
The high-protein resistance-trained females lost 2% body fat; the low-protein group lost only 1% body fat. Remember, the high protein group increased total daily calories and lost more body fat than the low-protein group who decreased total calories. That's quite remarkable. (More info on that study here: Female Muscle.)
I always thought if you ate in a caloric surplus, you'd gain fat. This is still generally true, but these females were resistance training while in a caloric surplus from protein ONLY. So, if you lift weights and increase your calories from protein alone, you won't gain fat (provided your surplus is reasonable) but instead, lose fat and build muscle.
Researchers overfed subjects by 1000 calories per day for 8 weeks in another study. The participants weren't obese, just overweight non-exercisers. One group ate just 47 grams of protein per day. The other group ate 228 grams of protein per day.
The results? The high-protein group gained twice as much weight as the low-protein group (14 pounds vs. 7 pounds). The catch? The low-protein group gained ALL of their weight from fat, whereas the high-protein group gained half of their weight from lean body mass (primarily muscle).
This study clearly demonstrates that if we're going to overeat on purpose, we should overeat protein. Related studies back this up.
- Protein helps maintain muscle mass when dieting.
- Protein increases your resting metabolic rate, allowing you to burn more calories at rest.
- Protein improves metabolism. It has the highest thermic effect (TEF), meaning your body burns more calories and requires more energy to digest protein compared to carbs or fats.
- Protein is very satiating and keeps you feeling full for longer. Not a bad problem to have when dieting for fat loss!
- Campbell BI et al. Effects of High Versus Low Protein Intake on Body Composition and Maximal Strength in Aspiring Female Physique Athletes Engaging in an 8-Week Resistance Training Program. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2018 Nov 1;28(6):580-585. PubMed.
- Bray GA et al. Effect of dietary protein content on weight gain, energy expenditure, and body composition during overeating: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2012;307(1):47-55. PubMed.