The latest on protein

Can protein help you prevent weight gain or stay active as you age? Here are a few of the latest studies—and what to do about them (if anything).

Can whey or soy protein powder help your waistline?

Not the key to preventing weight gain.

Researchers studied roughly 150 overweight or obese people who had lost an average of 28 pounds over two months on a low-calorie diet. Each participant was then randomly assigned to take one of three protein powders—whey, whey plus calcium, or soy—or a control powder (maltodextrin) to dissolve in water and drink with meals. The protein powders supplied about 45 grams of protein a day.

The volunteers reported feeling more full or satiated after a meal with the whey (with or without calcium) than after a meal with the soy or control powder. However, after six months there was no difference in how much weight the participants had regained (4½ pounds, on average) or in how much lean body mass (mostly muscle) they had.1

The study was funded by Arla Foods, one of the largest producers of dairy foods in the world.

What to do: If higher-protein foods curb your appetite, be our guest. Just remember that powders, bars, shakes, or other protein-fortified foods aren’t magic…or calorie-free.

Does timing matter?

Meat, cheese, and eggs for breakfast? Not necessary.

Would dieters lose less muscle if they spread their protein evenly over breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as some studies have suggested?

Researchers randomly assigned 41 overweight or obese people in their 30s to eat 90 grams of protein a day in either an “even” pattern (30 grams at each meal) or a “skewed” pattern (10 grams at breakfast, 20 grams at lunch, and 60 grams at dinner). Each also cut 750 calories a day and did strength training three days a week.

After four months, there was no difference in how much muscle or fat each group had lost (which may have disappointed the funders, which included the meat, egg, and dairy industries).2

What to do: Until these results are confirmed by other studies, especially in older people and non-dieters, aim for getting some—but not necessarily a third—of your protein at every meal.

What about getting too little protein?

Getting enough protein may help preserve mobility.

Eating too little protein may make you less mobile as you age. Researchers tracked roughly 2,000 participants aged 70 to 79 in the Health ABC study. All were able to walk and climb stairs and lived at home when the study began.

After six years, those who consumed the least protein were nearly twice as likely to have trouble walking a quarter mile or up 10 stairs than those who ate the most protein.3

What to do: Although this study can’t prove that protein slows muscle loss and protects mobility, to play it safe, aim for a protein intake (in grams) equal to about half your body weight (in pounds), as some experts recommend. That’s equal to what the “most” group in this study got. So if you weigh 120 pounds, for example, shoot for getting 60 grams of protein a day.


1 Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 106: 684, 2017.
2 Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 106: 1190, 2017.
3 J. Am. Geriatr. Soc. 65: 1705, 2017.

Photos: © 9dreamstudio/ (protein powder), © dreambigphotos/ (breakfast sandwich), © michaeljung/ (people).

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5 Replies to “The latest on protein”

  1. Are there healthier proteins than others? I’m not a vegetarian but I try not to eat much meat. I’ve been using protein powders with pea & other plant-based proteins

  2. I’m a 57yo 120 lb hypoglycemic woman with soy intolerance who went vegetarian in Jan 2017. I’ve been struggling with meals that satisfy mouth texture (daily veggie salad, yawn) and nutrition/protein. How do I fulfill 60 grams of daily protein to fight muscle loss and combat fatigue? Help!

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