Eat Protein First – and Carbs Last – to Lose Excess Body Fat
by Nils Osmar. July 18, 2022. Medical disclaimer
The order in which we eat our macronutients can have an effect on body composition and promote the loss of excess body fat – even if we make no other changes in the content of our meals. According to a study called Eat protein before carbohydrates to lower post-meal glucose:
In a new study, researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, NY, found that the order in which different types of food are consumed has a significant impact on post-meal glucose and insulin levels in obese people….
When the vegetables and protein were eaten before the carbohydrates, the researchers found that glucose levels were 29%, 37% and 17% lower at the 30, 60 and 120-minute checks, compared with when carbohydrates were consumed first. Also, insulin was found to be significantly lower when the participants ate vegetables and protein first.
Jason Fung weighs in
Ted Naiman’s thoughts
Dr. Ted Naiman has talked about the same underlying phenomenon in his talks about protein. If we’re not eating enough of it, according to Naiman, our bodies will crave food because of the absence of the nutrients in it. When we base our meals around the best, most bio-available sources of protein, those cravings vanish.
Relating this to my experience
I find studies like this interesting, but to my mind they need to be tailored to our individual situations.
To me a key question in evaluating any protocol is whether I’m trying to activate mTOR (the growth pathway) at a given time or AMPK (the longevity pathway). I try to keep my AMPK activated most of the time, but I also activate mTOR strongly at some, but not all, meals.
When i get up in the morning, I often have a vegan fasting mimicking smoothie. See my recipe at this link.
This smoothie is essentially some very low-protein green powder along with some sea buckthorn powder and a half avocado and a half tomato and a little salt. I drink it along with my NAD boosters (NMN and NR) and sirtuin activators (SIRT6 Activator).
If I drink a smoothie like this in the mornings, I actually feel like I’m still fasting — and metabolically I still am, since there’s nothing in it to take me out of autophagy or ketosis or deactivate AMPK. It has almost zero protein and carbs, and the only fat in it is the very healthy fat from the avocado. It’s just a drink to wash down my morning supplements with.
Ten or twelve hours later… usually around 4 pm… I’ll have my first “real” meal of my day, aimed at activating mTOR. I base this meal around eating high quality protein, usually animal-based, such as shrimp, salmon, poultry, or red meat. I make sure there’s some high quality protein in the meal first, then, once my body’s need for protein is satisfied, I add some vegetables.
I sometimes add a half cup or so of rice which has been chilled overnight after cooking to change the starch in it into a resistant starch. I cook the rice up with some added fenugreek, a natural appetite suppressant. (I wouldn’t add rice if it hadn’t been chilled overnight first.)
This approach is particularly helpful if my weight starts creeping up. When I follow this protocol, the pounds start dropping away…. every time I step on the scale I’ll be leaner and have better muscle tone, and weigh less. Of course, the weight loss is partly also because I’m fasting 20 hours a day (apart from the smoothie in the morning, which I don’t view as having broken my fast).
There’s some advice floating around the web to “eat lots and lots of fruit and vegetables” as the supposed foundation for weight loss. When I’ve tried basing my diet around vegetables (without increasing my protein), I’ve either gained weight – mostly fat – and gotten bloated. Or if I do lose weight, I’ve found myself losing muscle instead of fat. When I base my first real meal of the day (usually around 4 pm) around a good dose of protein, then add veggies to it, and (possibly) end it with some berries or dark cherries, I either stay at a good weight or lose excess body fat… I don’t gain fat.
“But isn’t protein (or the leucine in meat) bad?’
Yes and no.
Both protein and leucine are essential. We would literally die if we stopped consuming them.
What’s good about them is that they support the maintenance and building of muscle; prevent sarcopenia; and support having a healthy immune response.
When we eat in excess, they can be problematic from an anti-aging point of view, because if our mTOR is activated all of the time, AMPK will stay “off” and our lives may be shorter. (Our internal resources will be going into supporting growth instead of longevity.) But how much is an “excess”?
The consensus among most researchers is that an adequate amount, for most people, might be around 0.7 grams of protein per day per pound of lean body weight (the ideal body weight for our height). If we work out with weights, our needs appear to go up to 1 gram a day.
Methionine (found in meat and some other animal foods) can be pro-aging when we eat too much of it, but we can reverse its negative effect in the body by eating some glycine or collagen along with it. (Our ancestors, who ate animals head to tail, got their glycine from eating the whole animal.) See Dr. Chris Masterjohn’s blog.
I’m not saying everyone agrees with these sentiments. Dr. Valter Longo, for example, recommends much less. In my opinion, his very-low-protein recommendations are mistaken. When I’ve followed his dietary recommendations, it did not lead to health, it led to a significant loss of muscle. To those who want to go down that path, I wish you well, but it’s not one I’d follow again.
See this Healthline article for more information about some possible ways of evaluating how much protein we may need.