High-protein, Atkins-style diets can help maintain muscle in individuals who lose weight through diet and exercise programs, new research shows.
In fact, consuming twice the recommended daily allowance of protein while participating in a weight-loss program prevents the loss of muscle and promotes fat loss, according to a new study in the FASEB Journal, published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
The conclusions, by researchers with the Military Nutrition Division at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, challenge the long-held notion that significant muscle loss is unavoidable when losing weight through exercise and diet. But the researchers noted too much protein — three times the RDA — did not have the same beneficial effects.
"It is our hope that the findings from this well-controlled study will be discussed and cited by the Institute of Medicine for the updated Dietary Reference Intakes on protein," said Stefan M. Pasiakos, a researcher involved in the work. "We believe that the RDA for protein should be based on a level to optimize health, as well as prevent deficiencies, and our data demonstrate a potential inadequacy of the current RDA for sparing muscle mass during weight loss, which may affect a significant portion of the population."
For the study, Pasiakos and colleagues tracked young men and women who were placed on specific diets for 31 days that provided dietary protein at three different levels: the U.S. RDA; twice the U.S. RDA; and three times the U.S. RDA. The participants underwent a weight-loss program — including a low-calorie diet and added daily exercise — and lost an average of two pounds per week.
All meals were prepared by research staff and exercise was tightly controlled. At the end of the study, the results showed the diet with double the RDA was optimal for maintaining muscle mass during weight loss.
"This study essentially confirms what body builders have shown us for a long time — a high protein diet helps prevent muscle loss when trying to lose fat," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., editor-in-chief of the FASEB Journal. "Although eating a well-balanced diet is still necessary for health and weight maintenance, upping one's protein intake when dieting might be a useful tool in the short term."
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