While calorie counting is the easiest way to lose weight reliably while eating foods you love, if you’re not looking to lose weight, you can look and feel great without breaking out a calculator every time you eat. This is because maintaining a certain body composition allows for a relatively laidback approach to dieting, which is guided by smart food choices and your natural appetite. In this chapter, I’m going to share with you some simple dietary guidelines that will help you establish healthy dietary habits conducive to staying lean without planning or tracking everything you eat.
EAT A HIGH-PROTEIN DIET
Every few months some new fancy, faddish diet pops up on TV shows, in magazines, and on book bestseller lists that claims to be everything your hungry little heart can desire. You know the pitch: easy weight loss, sky-high energy levels, perfect health, superhuman longevity, and on and on. Depending on whom you listen to, it all can get quite confusing. Some regimens get more right than wrong and will be around for a while (Paleo and Mediterranean dieting, for example), while others just can’t live up to the hype (the current low-carb craze), and others still are more harmful than helpful and, hopefully, will fade away into obscurity (the HCG diet and other forms of starvation dieting come to mind). Well, the biggest common denominator among the better diets of the lot is that they entail eating plenty of protein. Let’s quickly discuss the major benefits of high-protein dieting.
YOU BUILD MORE MUSCLE AND GET STRONGER ON A HIGH-PROTEIN DIET
Muscle tissue is primarily composed of protein, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that a high-protein diet helps you build it faster. And with more muscle comes more strength. You see, when you train your muscles, you’re simultaneously damaging and breaking down muscle tissue and beginning a process known as “protein synthesis” whereby the body creates (synthesizes) new muscle proteins to replace and add to the damaged tissues. This is why exercise, and resistance training in particular, increases the protein needs of the body and why a high-protein diet helps you build more muscle and strength.
YOU LOSE MORE FAT AND LESS MUSCLE ON A HIGH-PROTEIN DIET
When you want to get leaner, the goal isn’t just “weight loss”— it’s fat loss. That is, the goal is to lose fat and not muscle, and research clearly shows that a high-protein diet is better for both losing fat faster and preserving muscle. 2 You simply lose more fat and less muscle on a high-protein diet than a low-protein one. Furthermore, research shows that a high-protein diet is easier to stick to when in a calorie deficit because it results in less mood disturbance, stress, fatigue, and diet dissatisfaction than lower-protein diets, and improved dietary compliance means better fat loss results in the end.
YOU FEEL FULLER ON A HIGH-PROTEIN DIET
One of the biggest dietary obstacles people run into is plain old hunger, especially when restricting calories for fat loss. It can be incredibly hard to regulate food intake when your stomach feels like a grumbling pit all day, and a high-protein diet can help. Specifically, research shows that increasing protein intake decreases appetite through
several mechanisms, including favorably altering hormones related to hunger and fullness. This satiating effect not only applies to a high-protein diet in general but to individual meals as well: research shows that high-protein meals are more satiating than high-fat meals, which means you feel fuller longer, making you less likely to overeat.