Egg Nutrition Center Blog

Physiological Impacts of Protein and Effects on Weight Management

ENC likes to provide the opportunity for up and coming investigators to showcase their research, and today’s post comes from a student of Jamie I. Baum, PhD, Assistant Professor of Nutrition at the University of Arkansas. Dallas Johnson is a graduate of the University of Arkansas receiving a B. S. in Biology. He now works as a research associate in Dr. Jamie Baum’s lab conducting projects focusing role of dietary protein on energy metabolism and metabolic health. Dallas has recently been accepted in to medical school and will be starting in the fall of 2015.

lab-scientist-stock-photoMore than one third of Americans are obese, making obesity a very real public health concern (1). Obesity comes with a multitude of health issues including cardiovascular disease, elevated risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome. While individual situations can vary greatly, increasing protein levels in the diet has been shown to be an effective way to help combat obesity (2).

One of the ways protein can affect daily calorie intake is through its ability to increase satiety. Although high carbohydrate meals can increase satiety acutely, meals higher in protein (20-30% of the total energy provided by the meal) have been shown to have a more prolonged effect on satiety.  According to a study by Westerterp-Plantenga et al., published in the British Journal of Nutrition, this feeling of satiety is attributed to the ability of protein to stimulate the release of glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). Specifically, GLP-1 mediates the so-called “ileal brake”, an inhibitory feedback mechanism which controls the motility of a meal through the gastrointestinal system, and thus slows gastric emptying (3), thus leading to the feeling of being “full.” Moreover, free amino acids are released into the bloodstream following a high protein meal, which can also enhance the feeling of fullness (4).

In addition to inducing satiety, a high protein diet has also been found to impact the body’s daily energy expenditure. Daily energy expenditure can be broken down into different categories.  Active expenditure is the most variable form and results from physical activity. Resting metabolic ratecomprises around 70% of one’s daily calorie use and doesn’t vary much. One of the variants in resting metabolic rate is the total weight of lean tissue (e.g. muscle) in the body (4). Lean tissue can be increased or maintained by engaging in regular resistance exercise and a consistent intake of protein and calories in daily meals (4).

Protein not only has the potential to affect long-term energy expenditure but can also affect calories burned directly after a meal (diet-induced thermogenesis), even more so than other macronutrients (5). This increase in diet-induced thermogenesis is partly due to an enhanced protein turnover rate.  When the body is flooded with more protein than it can handle, it actively oxidizes and eliminates the excess amino acids. This leads to an increase in thermogenesis and the resultant up-regulation of uncoupled protein-2 (UCP2) in the liver and uncoupled protein-1 (UCP1) in brown adipose tissue, in turn, leads to higher energy expenditure (5).  Protein is also an inefficient source of ATP compared to fat and carbohydrate, requiring several stages of metabolism, including urea synthesis, before becoming available for energy production. According to a recent study, up to forty-two percent of the observed increase in energy expenditure following a high-protein, carbohydrate-free meal can be explained by these additional steps and the increase in gluconeogenesis that follows (4).

The battle against obesity is a very complex, multi-faceted issue that includes hormonal balance, genetic makeup and metabolic processes, but evidence from recent and ongoing studies suggests that protein can play an important role in body weight management.



1. Ogden C. L., Carroll, M. D., Kit, B.K., & Flegal K. M. (2014). Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. Journal of the American Medical Association, 311(8), 806-814.

2. Rodriguez, N., & Garlick, P. (2008). Introduction to protein summit 2007: Exploring the impact of high-quality protein on optimal health. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87, 1551-3.

3. Marathe CS, Rayner CK, Jones KL, Horowitz M. Effects of GLP-1 and incretin-based therapies on gastrointestinal motor function. Exp Diabetes Res. 2011;2011:279530.

4. Westerterp-Plantenga, M., Lemmens, S., & Westerterp, K. (2012). Dietary protein- its role in satiety energetics, weight loss and health. British Journal of Nutrition, 108, S105-S112.

5. Paddon-Jones, D., Matters, R., Wolfe, R., Astrup, A., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2008). Protein, weight management, and satiety. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87.

Author: Guest Blogger