Protein

Protein has a higher thermic effect than the other two macronutrients. Different studies show different results, but I think it's safe to say that about 20 to 25 percent of protein calories are burned during digestion.

So let's say you have 3.5 ounces of chicken breast, which is roughly 200 calories. It has about 30 grams of protein. Each gram is 4 calories, so the chicken breast has 120 protein calories. If you assume 25 percent of those are burned during digestion, that means you burn 30 protein calories while leaving your body with 90 to use for muscle repair and other functions.

Joe Workingstiff, described above, needs about 3,000 calories a day to maintain his weight. If 15 percent of those come from protein (as they would in a typical "healthy" American diet), he's getting 112 grams a day, or about 450 protein calories. Assuming the thermic effect of that protein is 25 percent, he's burning about 112 calories a day because of it.

Now, let's look at that same diet with 200 protein grams a day, or 800 calories. (That's 1 protein gram per pound of Joe.) Now he's burning 200 calories a day because of the thermic effect of protein, an extra 88 calories a day. That's more than 600 bonus calories a week. The classic equation says that a pound of body fat contains 3,500 calories, so we can look at these numbers and speculate that he'll burn off an extra pound of fat every six weeks or so, just because of the added protein in his diet.

Does it work like that in the real world? No one knows; human diet and activity patterns are too complex to quantify with simple "do this, not that" formulas.

Still, I don't think anyone would argue against the bottom-line idea that more protein means more calories burned during digestion, which gives you a higher energy flux. And I've already shown that a higher energy flux means a higher resting metabolism. What's not to like?

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