High-protein, extra exercise combo produces dramatic fat loss
Monday 27th of March 2017
If you're getting ready to roll out the old standards for your
upcoming summer weight loss resolutions, here's a little new
information that might make at least a couple of those a little more
effective this time around.
You may feel like you're flashing back a couple years, though,
because if you want your exercise to be more effective, it seems
that those high-protein, low-carb diets are the way to go,
especially if you're willing to go all the way.
A new study out of the University of Illinois shows that exercise is
much more effective in weight loss when it's coupled with a
high-protein diet. Well, sure, you might say. Exercise is good for
weight loss and low-carb/high protein diets can be good for weight
loss, so obviously, together they must be great.
But this is one of those cases where the whole is greater than the
sum of its parts. There's an extra, bonus effect of using the two in
combination, according to Donald Layman, the professor of food
science and nutrition who conducted this latest study.
'The two work together to correct body composition,' Layman said.
'Dieters lose more weight and they lose fat, not muscle.'
When we first undertake a weight-loss effort, most of us don't
really care how it's going, as long as it goes. When we see that
number on the scale change, we're just happy it's going down. But
many diets get those initial dramatic changes through an unfortunate
loss of lean muscle mass.
That's what happened with the subjects in Layman's study, which
ultimately showed that sticking to a diet as prescribed by the
USDA's Food Guide Pyramid actually reduced the effectiveness of
exercise and caused lean tissue loss.
This is how he determined that surprising fact. The subjects in his
four-month study were divided into two dietary groups and two
exercise groups. The first dietary group adhered to a low-calorie
diet based on the USDA Food Guide Pyramid.
The second dietary group adhered to a diet with the same calorie
content, but with high carbohydrate foods like breads, pastas and
potatoes replaces by high-quality proteins, like meats, eggs, nuts
and dairy foods.
Each of the two dietary groups was further divided into two exercise
sub-groups, with one group adding a light walking regimen of two to
three times a week to their lives, for up to 100 minutes of added
The other exercise sub-group was required to participate in five
30-minute walking sessions and two 30-minute weight-training
sessions per week.
Over the four months, both exercise programs helped overall weight
loss. But in the high-protein group, those participants lost more
weight, and almost all their weight loss was from fat not from lean
muscle tissue, as is often the case. Because the protein in lean
muscle is easier to metabolize, when our bodies need more fuel (like
when we're exercising), they go for the easier target first - our
In fact, in this study, for the high-carb/high exercise
participants, up to 30 percent of their weight loss was from lean
We don't want that, for more reasons than one. Not only is the fat
the excess tissue we're actually trying to get rid of, the more
muscle we have, the better we metabolize our fuel. So if we're
losing muscle mass, we're just increasing the risk that any later
excess caloric intake is going to end up converted to fat. And
that's what was happening for folks on the higher-carb Food Guide
Pyramid diets. They lost weight, but they also lost muscle mass.
The protein-rich diet was high in the amino acid leucine, which
works with your body's insulin to increase synthesis of protein.
That extra protein becomes available for fuel, again, helping to
prevent the use of the protein in your muscles, and the subsequent
muscle loss that is so common in weight loss efforts. Together with
the diet's low- carbohydrate availability, this forces the body to
turn to its fat stores for the fuel it needed during that exercise.
Now, the subjects on the high-protein diet/low- exercise diet also
lost weight, and more of their loss was from fat, too, compared to
the high-carb exercisers. But when the scientists did all the
mathematical extrapolations and comparisons, the high-protein/high
exercise combo was just dramatically more effective than expected,
so they expect to investigate that happy surprise some more.
There was something else they found in this study that really
deserves some extra exploration for its own sake.
It has long been an article of faith that you can't spot reduce,
because fat distribution is largely genetic and we pile it on and
strip it off according to our bodies' idiosyncratic genetic
tendencies. Nobody has ever found a way to lose just thigh fat, for
instance, and not, say, the facial fat that can give us that young,
But recent research has shown that fat is not just a passive fuel
storage tissue that we tote around in varied shapes. Some kinds of
fat produce certain hormones that actually make us more likely to
gain more weight.
People who have that 'apple' body shape, have more of this
hormonally active fat packed into their abdomens around their
organs. They tend to have higher triglyceride levels, have greater
likelihood of developing insulin resistance and deadly illnesses
like heart disease and diabetes.
But the high-protein/high exercise diet seemed to be particularly
good for reducing fat in the midsection, reducing the percentage of
the hormonally active fat tissue that's in there making trouble for
For most of us looking forward to our summer vacations, and spending
time outdoors, we just want to find a combination of diet and
exercise that will produce good results for us, and the sooner the
Caroline J. Cederquist, M.D. is a board certified Family Physician
and a board certified Bariatric Physicians (the medical specialty of
weight management). She specializes in lifetime weight management at
the Cederquist Medical Wellness Center, her Naples, FL private
practice, you can also get more information about Dr Cederquist and
her weight management plan by visiting
She is the author of Helping Your Overweight Child - A Family Guide,
is available at,