How many times have you heard that weight loss is merely a matter of calories in vs calories out?
Probably more than you care to remember.
The reality is that from a pure weight loss, weight gain, or maintenance point of view, calories are king at the end of the day.
But, just because you technically can lose weight eating nothing but bananas or meat or twinkies, should you?
Moreover, what is the “quality” of your weight loss?
You see, when someone says that he/she wants to lose weight, what he/she really means (most of the time) is that he/she wants to lose fat. “Weight” can include body fat, muscle mass, water, bone mineral density, and other factors.
In reality, if you want to maximize fat loss and retain/build muscle mass while dieting, then calories aren’t the only thing that matters -- the types of food you eat also matter.
In other words, quality and quantity are both important.
Food Quality & Weight Loss: Ultra-Processed vs Minimally Processed
Hyper-processed foods (aka junk food -- candy, chips, fried foods, etc.) are high in calories, carbohydrates and fat and low in protein, fiber and essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It’s much easier to hit your calorie intake goals for the day (or exceed them) and still feel hungry.
On the flip side, less processed (“whole”) foods are lower in calories for the volume of food you eat, and they are generally higher in protein, fiber, and micronutrients. This allows you to feel fuller for longer (making it less likely that you’ll overeat), which supports fat loss.
Does this mean that you should only eat whole foods?
Not necessarily. There’s nothing wrong with having a bit of “junk” in your diet, so long as it isn’t the majority of your diet.
Moreover, just because something is “processed” doesn’t mean it’s necessarily “junk.” Protein powder, for instance, is processed, yet it is backed by hundreds of studies showing its benefits in muscle gain, fat loss, and cardiometabolic health.[1,2,3,4,5]
The main takeaway here is that the bulk of your daily food intake should be comprised of whole foods (fruits, veggies, lean proteins, whole grains, nuts, seeds, etc.) if you want to maximize the “quality” of your fat loss. A little “junk” in your diet (10-15% of calories) is fine and won’t hurt your results so long as you stay within your calorie goals.
Low-Carb vs Low-Fat Diets and Weight Loss
The debate between low-carb vs low-fat diets for weight loss is neverending. Which diet is unvague seems to change as frequently as the seasons at times.
Both sides have their advocates and can cherry-pick studies to support his/her respective side. But, the truth is that both diets can work for weight loss.
In fact, research comparing the two diets head-to-head shows that over the long-term, they can both be effective and produce similar results.
The real key is finding the type of diet that works best for you.
Some individuals perform better and experience less feelings of hunger on a lower carbohydrate, higher fat diet, while others are just the opposite (higher carb, lower fat). Still others may prefer a more balanced split of macronutrients, such as the 40/30/30 mix (aka the “South Beach Diet”).
Whether you choose low-carb or low-fat diets for weight loss, protein intake should remain relatively consistent.
How Much Protein Should I Eat for Weight Loss?
A good rule of thumb is 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
You’ll find some sources recommending that protein intake can be much lower (0.8 grams per kilogram, for instance). This level of protein intake is enough to ensure basic survival functions are satisfied, but it is insufficient for individuals who are physically active and train intensely multiple times per week.
Furthermore, higher protein intakes have been shown to be better for weight loss compared to lower protein diets. This occurs for several reasons, including that protein is the most thermogenic macronutrient, meaning your body has to expend more calories to digest it than either carbohydrates or fat, and it’s also the most satiating macronutrient -- protein leaves you feeling fuller for longer, which ultimately helps you to feel less hungry and, thus, less likely to overeat.
During dieting, it may also be helpful to eat slightly more than 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight since the body is more at risk for protein breakdown and muscle loss when faced with a prolonged calorie deficit (such as the kind implemented when trying to lose body fat).
If you’re not sure how much protein to consume, or if you’re consuming enough each day, the 1UP Fitness App makes it quick and easy. Not only do we provide custom calorie intake and macronutrient suggestions based on your goals and preferences, but you’re also able to track your nutrition intake as well as your workouts!
So, what’s more important: quality or quantity of calories for weight loss?
At the end of the day, how many calories you eat ultimately affects whether you lose/gain weight. However, the quality (type) of foods you eat can have a significant impact on the quantity of foods you consume.
Minimally processed foods tend to be more filling, and by making them the bulk of your daily nutrition intake, you’ll be more likely to stick to your calorie goals and less likely to overeat.
A little “junk” in your diet is fine, just make sure the rest of your “essentials” are covered.
- Pal S, Radavelli-Bagatini S. The effects of whey protein on cardiometabolic risk factors. Obes Rev. 2013 Apr;14(4):324-43. doi: 10.1111/obr.12005. Epub 2012 Nov 20. PMID: 23167434.
- Fekete ÁA, Giromini C, Chatzidiakou Y, Givens DI, Lovegrove JA. Whey protein lowers blood pressure and improves endothelial function and lipid biomarkers in adults with prehypertension and mild hypertension: results from the chronic Whey2Go randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Dec;104(6):1534-1544. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.137919. Epub 2016 Oct 26. PMID: 27797709; PMCID: PMC5118733.
- Price, D., Jackson, K.G., Lovegrove, J.A. & Givens, D.I. (2022) The effects of whey proteins, their peptides and amino acids on vascular function. Nutrition Bulletin, 47, 9–26. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1111/nbu.12543
- Frestedt JL, Zenk JL, Kuskowski MA, Ward LS, Bastian ED. A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: a randomized human clinical study. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2008 Mar 27;5:8. doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-5-8. PMID: 18371214; PMCID: PMC2289832.
- Sepandi, M., Samadi, M., Shirvani, H., Alimohamadi, Y., Taghdir, M., Goudarzi, F., & Akbarzadeh, I. (2022). Effect of whey protein supplementation on weight and body composition indicators: A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, 50, 74–83. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnesp.2022.05.020
- Gardner CD, Trepanowski JF, Del Gobbo LC, et al. Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion: The DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2018;319(7):667–679. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.0245
- Wolfe RR, Cifelli AM, Kostas G, Kim IY. Optimizing Protein Intake in Adults: Interpretation and Application of the Recommended Dietary Allowance Compared with the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range. Adv Nutr. 2017 Mar 15;8(2):266-275. doi: 10.3945/an.116.013821. PMID: 28298271; PMCID: PMC5347101.