Research Ties High-Protein Diets to Increased Metabolism and 45% More Muscle Mass

New research suggests that high- and normal-protein diets are tied to higher metabolism and 45% more storage of lean tissue, or muscle mass, versus fat when compared to low-protein diets. Further, it shows that this increase in metabolism tied to a high-protein diet is not sustainable when changing to a normal-protein diet, suggesting that the human body cannot be trained to maintain a higher metabolism. Research results were unveiled during an oral presentation by author Elizabeth Frost, PhD candidate, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, at The Obesity Society Annual Meeting at ObesityWeekSM 2014 in Boston, MA.

“Rather than conducting a weight-loss study, our focus was to explore whether high- or low-protein diets might lead to less weight gain when consuming excess calories due to the ability of the body to burn extra energy with a high-protein diet,” said Frost. “What we found was that study participants all gained similar amounts of weight regardless of diet composition; however, there was a vast difference in how the body stored the excess calories. Those who consumed normal- and high-protein diets stored 45% of the excess calories as lean tissue, or muscle mass, while those who were on the low-protein diet stored 95% of the excess calories as fat.”

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Researchers concluded that one mechanism for weight loss success with high-protein diets, like the Atkins Diet or the Ideal Protein Diet, could be due to an increase in our body’s natural process of metabolizing food for energy following meals.

TOS recognized Frost for her research by naming her as a finalist for the Ethan Sims Young Investigator Award, an annual award given to 5 young researchers to cover travel expenses associated with TOS’s annual meeting. All 5 winners presented their research during a session today in competition for the final award: a $1000 cash prize.

TOS says the study results reinforce the importance of energy deficit for weight loss, showing that weight loss regardless of diet composition is not possible without consuming fewer calories per day than those burned.

“High-protein diets for weight-loss or to build muscle mass can certainly be effective, but the diet composition must be maintained for dieters to continue to see and sustain results,” said Steven R. Smith, TOS president. “Further, it’s important to balance how many calories you eat and how many you burn on a daily basis. This concept, also known as energy balance, is vital for weight control. I congratulate Elizabeth Frost for her study, which further reinforces that it is not possible to achieve weight loss on a high-protein diet, or any diet, without burning more calories than calories consumed—also known as energy deficit.”

The study was a randomized controlled overfeeding trial of 16 healthy individuals with varied amounts of protein (low 5%, normal 15%, high 25%) for 8 weeks while living in a metabolic ward. Diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT), which is 1 of 3 components for the metabolic rate, was measured over 4 hours by indirect calorimetry following meals. Results showed that prolonged exposure to high-protein diets does not alter DIT, and suggests that it is under acute regulation and not involved in adaptive thermogenesis, or a sustained increase in metabolism.

The full abstract is available online.

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by the Obesity Society via Newswise.

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