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Protein Helps Post-Menopausal Women Avoid Rebound Fat

I’ve long said that protein is without question the one nutrient that frequently gets under-consumed in a woman’s diet. Granted this isn’t always the case, but I certainly see more cases of insufficient protein levels with my female clients than male clients.

There are a host of reasons for this but I try and make sure that everyone I consult with has a clear understanding on the role of protein in the diet.

Some people would assume that I’d recommend a very high protein diet since I’m a personal trainer and fitness coach. It’s the stereotype thing you know. The reality is I’ve discovered with years of research and hands-on experimentation that protein simply needs to be sufficient to meet the individual’s unique needs.

Sure protein needs will be somewhat higher for athletes and more muscular individuals, but rarely do I see a need for protein intake to exceed approximately 30% of the total caloric intake.

There’s a lot of misconceptions about protein and the role it plays in your diet. While it is thermogenic and plays a role in blood sugar stabilization, protein is not an efficient fuel for the human body. The body will always preferentially use carbohydrates and fats for fuel and only use protein when those nutrients are depleted. I won’t bore you with the details but it’s important to simply know that if you don’t have sufficient protein in your diet you’re going to struggle with fat loss.

While you can certainly lose weight on a low-protein diet, you’re going to be more prone to “rebound” fat gain when the diet is over. I see this quite frequently with women who jump back and forth between diets. This is what we refer to as the “yo-yo” effect. You lose some weight on a diet but then gain it all back, often times with additional fat to boot when the diet is over.

One of the primary keys to maintaining weight loss that I teach my Charleston personal training clients is to consume sufficient protein both during and after the diet.

Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, recently studied 68 obese, sedentary, postmenopausal women. The test subjects restricted calories and part of the group completed vigorous to moderate intensity exercise. The women lost an average of 26 pounds over a five month period. On average 67% of the lost weight was fat and 33% was lean muscle mass.

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A year after the program ended, 54 of the women had regained weight with 81% of the additional body mass coming from fat and 19% lean muscle.

Here’s the key factor in this study. While the women were losing weight they were only eating 0.3 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This is far less than my recommendations for 0.6 to 1.0 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass.

In another study, women who consumed more protein both during and after the diet lost less muscle and didn’t regain as much fat. The whole idea here is that you have to have a concern for muscle during any dieting attempt to drop body fat. Protein not only helps to build and maintain lean muscle but it also prevents the breakdown of tissue during restrictive states.

When you sacrifice lean muscle during restrictive diets you only speed up the process in which a down-regulation of your metabolism occurs. In other words, you’re going to hit a plateau much quicker. And when you stop the diet you’re far more prone to regaining fat because you’ve triggered primal response mechanisms to store energy instead of releasing it.

A loss of lean muscle during restrictive dieting is one the primary causes of thyroid hormone decreases. The more muscle the lose the faster you’ll slow everything down. It’s all part of a complex series of events with your endocrine system. Remember, the human body is designed to protect itself at all times. You’re wired for self-preservation.

Losing lean muscle tissue is an alarm bell to your body that something wrong is going on. It will respond by restricting thyroid production and decreasing body temperature along with your metabolic rate. If this didn’t happen you’d only continue to lose additional muscle mass.

With all fat loss attempts you’ll want to manipulate fat and carbohydrate intake but never protein intake. Look to consume approximately 30-40% of your calories from protein at all times. During restrictive phases of your diet when carbohydrates and calories are decreased, dietary fat intake should slightly increase. This is to provide your body with fuel in the absence of glucose from carbs.

When you “break” your diet and reintroduce starch carbohydrates you’ll want to slightly decrease dietary fat intake. Think along these lines….when carbs are low dietary fat should go up, when carbs go back up, dietary fat should go down. Protein levels always stay about the same.

Look to plan out your diet by putting a priority on protein sources with each meal and snack. Build around the protein source and not the other way around.

There are numerous reasons why protein is so essential especially with post-menopausal women. Most of it has to due with decreases in hormones that maintain lean muscle mass.

Post-menopausal women will struggle losing weight and keeping it off with diets that restrict protein intake. No matter how much you exercise and restrict calories, if you don’t have a “concern for muscle” you’re going to see a down-regulation in your metabolism.

In other words, although you may be able to manipulate your body into dropping weight, a large portion of that weight loss will be lean muscle tissue. This will always come back to bite you. The more you “yo-yo” back and forth on diets that sacrifice muscle the harder it is to lose fat and easier it is to regain it.

So there it is ladies, just make sure to get in your protein. That’s the bottom line. If you’re not fond of animal proteins you’re going to have to incorporate protein powders with things like shakes or meal replacement drinks.

Trying to get all your protein needs from a plant based diet alone is going to be very difficult. Decreases in insulin sensitivity that occur with age make a high carbohydrate diet, even vegetarian diets, very difficult with most post-menopausal women.

You’ve got to find out what works best for your body. If you’re not seeing the results you want with a vegan or vegetarian diet I’d recommend experimenting with a Primal Blueprint type diet. I’ve seen very positive results with post-menopausal female clients who have transitioned to this type of diet.

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. If you’re looking for a personal trainer in Charleston, you can receive a no-obligations personal training trial and consultation without risking a dime. Over 1000 Charleston area residents have transformed their bodies following our unique burst training workouts and simplified nutrition programs. Experience the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Nutrition.