Protein intake and low carbohydrate dieting

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The other time when more than 30% protein is justified is when you're using a low carbohydrate diet, either because you're carbohydrate sensitive or you're preparing for a bodybuilding or fitness competition (Or photo shoot). A high protein, low-carbohydrate diet may not be appropriate (Or healthy) for year-round maintenance, but there's no question that eating more protein and less carbohydrates makes it easier for some people to lose body fat.

Some people are very "sensitive" to carbohydrates. When they eat a lot of carbohydrates, their bodies "overreact." There's an unusually large surge in their blood sugar and insulin levels, which may increase fat storage and inhibit enzymes that promote the breakdown of stored body fat. One solution to this problem is less carbohydrate and -you guessed it - more protein.

The baseline diet of 50-55% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 15-20% fat is without a doubt the healthiest, most balanced way to eat, and most people will lose fat on these ratios just by making sure their calories are below maintenance. However, take a look at the diets of the world's best bodybuilders and fitness competitors and you'll discover that nearly all of them use some variation of the low carbohydrate or moderate carbohydrate diet to achieve the "ripped" look necessary to win competitions.

If you've reached the competitive level or if you think you're carbohydrate sensitive, you might opt for the lower carbohydrate approach to fat loss. The problem is, if you drop out carbohydrates and leave the amounts of protein and fat the same, your calories might fall into the "starvation zone." If carbohydrates are decreased substantially, the protein (And to some extent, the healthy "good" fats) must be increased correspondingly so the calorie deficit doesn't become too large.

When your carbohydrates are too low and your calories are also low, the result is almost always muscle loss. So, to offset the drop in carbohydrates and keep your calories above "starvation level," your protein intake must be increased - sometimes to very high levels. Exactly what ratio of protein to carbohydrate you take in depends entirely on your type of metabolism and can only be determined through trial and error.

Most people, even endomorphs, lose fat quite rapidly on a "moderate" carbohydrate diet with about 40% carbohydrates, 30-40% protein and 20-30% fat (40-4020 or a "Zone" type diet of 40-30-30). Bodybuilders preparing for competitions might take in as much as 45-50% of their total calories from protein, although this is a temporary increase strictly for pre-contest preparation (And I would not recommend this extreme for most people).

Not only does a high protein level fend off muscle loss while you're on lower carbohydrates, but it can also speed up the fat burning process. Protein has the highest "thermic effect" of any food. That means that protein foods speed up your metabolism because your body has to work harder to digest, process and utilize this nutrient compared to fat or carbohydrate. The "thermic" effect of protein is one of the reasons that a higher protein diet is more effective for fat loss than a high fat diet or a high carbohydrate diet. Too much of any food type can be stored as body fat, but protein is less likely to be converted to fat than any other nutrient.

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