If you're fighting a battle against unwanted flab, excess calories are your foe -- no matter where those calories come from. Eating too much protein will make you gain weight because your body stores calories it doesn't use as body fat. But don't skip out on healthy protein -- you need the stuff for healthy muscles. Plus, eating moderate amounts of protein could help keep extra pounds off by promoting satiety.
Weight gain all boils down to calories, and protein contains 4 calories per gram -- just like carbohydrates. A pound of body fat is roughly 3,500 calories, so if your weight is stable now, you would need to take in more than 850 grams of protein on top of your regular diet to gain a pound -- that's a whole lot of protein shakes. To put that in context, most moderately active women under 50 burn 2,000 to 2,200 calories per day.
Protein and Appetite
Too much protein may spell bad news for your waistline, but moderate amounts could help you stick to your diet. In a study published in the journal "Obesity" in 2007, women who got 30 percent of their calories from protein reported feeling more satisfied than women who got just 18 percent of their calories from protein, despite eating an identical number of calories. Although all of the women lost weight, the high-protein group kept more lean muscle tissue. More muscle mass equals a higher metabolism, which is helpful for long-term weight loss.
Before raiding the nearest deli case, learn to choose proteins wisely. Many protein sources are laden with fat -- and at 9 calories per gram, large amounts of fat are bad news for your figure. Plus, saturated fats in meats and dairy lead to high cholesterol levels. Major fat offenders include pork ribs at 26 grams of fat per serving, chuck beef at 22 grams per serving and cheddar cheese at nearly 9 grams of fat per serving. Full-fat cheeses and red meats tend to be the fattiest protein sources.
Every cell in your body contains protein, so don't skimp on this essential nutrient. Ten to 35 percent of your calories should come from protein, which translates to 50 to 175 grams in a 2,000-calorie daily diet. Healthy, lean protein options include salmon at 23 grams per serving, cooked white beans at 19 grams per cup and nonfat yogurt at 13 grams per cup. You can't go wrong with most seafood and beans, and other good protein sources include egg whites and tofu.
- American Council on Exercise: Are There Health Risks Concerning Eating Too Much Protein?
- Obesity: Higher Protein Intake Preserves Lean Mass and Satiety with Weight Loss in Pre-Obese and Obese Women
- Drugs.com: Food Label Reading
- HelpGuide.org: How to Lose Weight and Keep It Off
- FamilyDoctor.org: Nutrition: Determine Your Calorie Needs
- American College of Sports Medicine: Metabolism is Modifiable with the Right Lifestyle Changes
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 16 - Fat
- MayoClinic.com: Healthy Diet: End the Guesswork with These Nutrition Guidelines
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 16 - Protein
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.