They say you can’t outrun a bad diet, but what exactly does a healthy diet look like if you want to lose weight? While there are plenty of fad diets out there that tell you to cut carbs, restrict calories or even fast for hours on end, it might be time for a new approach. Instead of thinking about what you shouldn’t be eating, it’s important to look at what you should be eating in order to stay full and slim down.
Earlier this week, Dr Michael Mosley said that his 800-calorie diet will work so long as you stick to healthy meals containing the right foods.
Promoting his latest Channel 4 show, Lose A Stone in 21 Days, the diet expert told Radio 2 listeners that the key is to eat enough protein as part of his Mediterranean-style plan.
Dr Mosley recommended eating at least 60g a day on the restricted calorie diet for maximum results.
So why is protein so important for weight loss?
“Protein is an essential macronutrient and a building block for our entire body,” commented nutritionist Holly Wilkinson, who works with nutritionally complete food brand Jimmy Joy.
“It is essential in repairing and growing our muscle tissues through amino acids, in addition to physical activity.”
Ms Wilkinson explained that protein is key because of the way it helps you to burn off energy, as well as the effect it has on your appetite.
While most diets require a calorie deficit, whereby you eat less than you lose through exercise, that doesn’t necessarily mean cutting back on what you eat will do the trick.
“To lose weight we need a calorie deficit and often we think that means eating less,” explained Holly.
“In fact, burning more energy helps us reach a deficit quicker than simply eating less.”
That’s where protein comes in. It helps to build muscle – which burns a lot of extra energy and therefore increases the total daily amount of calories burnt (also known as an increased metabolic rate).
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This boost to your metabolism “accelerates” the number of calories you burn, which will result in weight loss.
But eating plenty of protein will also change your eating habits for the better.
“It is widely known that the more protein we intake, the more ‘full’ we feel, which should result in less unhealthy snacking,” revealed Holly.
However, she warned that it’s not as simple as focusing on one nutrient if you’re trying to slim down.
“Having said that, increasing your protein intake on its own will not make you lose weight – it is all about having a calorie deficit, and exercise is essential to that.”
Timing could be important too, as anyone who has followed up a fitness routine with a protein shake will know.
But is there an optimum time to get your protein fix?
“It depends on your schedule – when you eat, when you wake up or when you work out, for example,” commented Holly.
“It’s very important to spread your protein intake across your main meals. Protein shakes are good before or after a workout as they’re easily digestible, but replacing that with a protein heavy alternative isn’t recommended as it can have a lasting effect on your digestive system.”
It also depends on what type of workout you are doing – so you may want to adjust your diet depending on whether HIIT spinning classes or free weights are more your thing.
“How your body reacts to protein varies from person to person and depends on what your workout entails,” said Holly.
“In a heavy cardio session, your body won’t require a large amount of protein prior to training but following a weights session, you will be able to tolerate more – it comes down to how digestion interferes with your total performance which, again, is different for everyone.”
Then there’s the question of the best high-protein foods to stock up on.
“All unprocessed whole foods contain a certain amount of protein,” noted Holly.
“Of course, some sources are better than others, for example vegetables, tofu and tempeh, seeds, free range eggs, lean meats, fish – the list goes on.
“While it would be difficult to fit these all into one meal, a complete meal product like the Jimmy Joy Plenny Shake includes all the vital nutrients you need without the hassle of having to prepare and cook a meal.”
The complete nutrition shakes provide 20g of protein in just one meal – which would make Dr Mosley’s target of 60g a day across three meals easy to reach.
However, Holly warned against simplifying your diet too much, because focusing on one type of nutrient won’t be enough to beat weight gain.
“Just like crunches won’t reduce belly fat, single nutrients won’t either,” she said. “Overall, a healthy lifestyle, balanced meals and some patience will do the trick.”