Should You Go Over Calories To Hit Protein?: The Dieter's Dilemma
You're reading this article because you're confused. It's the end of the day, you've maxed out on calories, but not hit your protein target. And you've heard protein is important, so you're wondering should you go over calories to hit protein? It's a common question when trying to count calories for the first time.
But you've come to the right place. Because this article is going to answer all your questions.
Here's what you're going to find out.
- The definitive answer to the question, 'Should you go over calories to hit protein?'
- Why protein might not be that important for weight loss.
- The one exception to the rule.
So, let's get straight into it.
Should You Go Over Calories To Hit Protein? Let's Ask The Nutrition Pyramid
As with most things, the real answer to the question is "it depends".
Let me explain why using the Nutrition Pyramid.
Should You Go Over Calories To Hit Protein If You Want To Lose Fat?
Fat loss is underpinned by energy balance. Because if you eat too many calories, you won't lose fat, it's as simple as that. So if this is your goal, you should never go over calories to hit protein.
If you do, you'll undermine your overall goal and halt progress. And you don't want that, right?
So if the goal is fat loss calories are always more important than protein.
Should You Go Over Calories To Hit Protein If You Want To Build Muscle?
Building muscle is also underpinned by calories. But for a slightly different reason. The optimal environment for building muscle is consuming enough calories (and training your ass off). Even though you can still build muscle in a calorie deficit, a surplus will provide the greatest opportunity to build as much as possible.
With that said, eating endless amounts of food doesn't lead to more muscle. Essentially, that's called "getting fat". So you have to keep things under control. Typically, a surplus of 10% is a good place to start.
Other than training, the frequency and amount of protein feedings is a critical factor in maximising your gains.
Optimal Protein For Building Muscle
Over the course of the day you need to be consuming c.1.8-2.2g or protein per kg of total bodyweight. And you ideally want to do that across 4-6 servings per day. Which might look like this:
- 2-3 mixed protein meals (ie breakfast, lunch, and dinner with different ingredients providing different protein sources)
- Each meal should be 0.3-0.5g/kg of protein
- 1 recovery shake (because I'm guessing you have a post-workout protein shake, right?)
- 0.2-0.3g/kg of protein
- 1 large serving of protein before bed
- 0.5-0.6g/kg of protein
Because protein matters for muscle growth, going a little over calories to support building muscle and preventing muscle breakdown, maybe worth doing.
Although, you wouldn't want to do it all the time. Because consuming too many excess calories all the time, leads to getting unnecessarily fat. And that wasn't on your list of goals, right?
Protein Is Important But Not THAT Important
But this protein craze can lead to a distorted view of how important protein really is for fat loss.
In reality, if all you're interested in is weight and fat loss then the amount of protein you need is not as strict as you might think. Truth is, it's anywhere between 1.2-2.7g/kg. To put that in context, a person weighing 70kg would have a protein range between 84g-189g per day. Which is pretty broad.
However, you might want to aim towards the high end of the scale (c.1.8-2.0g/kg) for three reasons:
- Protein helps you stay fuller for longer, therefore helping alleviate hunger and cravings.
- Your body burns more energy digesting protein, so there's a slight metabolic advantage.
- Protein helps build and preserve muscle in a calorie deficit.
So you can see, protein is beneficial. But missing your optimal protein target is not the end of the world. In fact, for most people the affect would be undetectable. Obviously, if you're a pro bodybuilder or advanced athlete, being more meticulous with protein is probably necessary. But you and I aren't pro bodybuilders, right?
So if you miss your optimal target should you go over calories to hit protein? Hell no!
Where Are You Starting From?
When clients join my online coaching programme, they often do so with very little knowledge of nutrition. And that usually means their protein intake is naturally low.
So trying to change everything about their diet, potentially doubling their protein intake overnight is a behavioural change that can feel overwhelming and daunting. And this might be the exact position you're in right now.
My advice is to start small and build. Try to increase protein by 20g to start. Get that habit nailed and move on. Ok, you won't be "optimal" to start with, but that's cool. You don't need to be. Remember, this is a long-term lifestyle change, not a 2 week quick fix. So take the time to do things the right way.
Focus on calories above all else. Over time you can refine what you at as you get more confident with nutrition to increase your protein.
Should You Go Over Calories To Hit Protein?: The Bottom Line
Energy balance and therefore calories are the most important part of losing weigh and fat. Missing your optimal protein target doesn't really matter that much.
High protein diets are great and I'm a big advocate of them. But that doesn't mean you have to obsess over hitting your protein target to the gram. In reality, you have a much broader range to work with. Of course, you want your diet to be optimal. But sometimes life gets in the way.
In fact, sub-optimal is probably the norm. And that's ok.
So the bottom line is this. Your calorie deficit is the most important aspect of your weight loss journey. It has the biggest impact on determining whether or not you achieve your goal. So if you're under protein but maxed out on calories, don't fret. Simply move on to the next day.
Because remember, you can keep improving and working on your diet step by step. You don't have to be perfect fro day one (or ever) to build a leaner, healthier, stronger body.
And if you want some free help getting started on sculpting a leaner, healthier, sexy AF body, just scroll down.
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