Spacing Protein Intake – Can it Help with Weight Loss and Maintenance?

Protein Foods

Featured article in the Winter 2018 Issue of Nutrition Close-Up; written by Apeksha Gulvady, PhD

Over 36% of adults and approximately 17% of children and adolescents in the United States are obese, and among the adults in particular, obesity prevalence is higher in women (38.3%) than in men (34.3%).¹ While both diet and lifestyle changes are important weight management strategies, both successful weight loss and maintaining weight loss over ti me can be challenging.

One nutrient that has come to the forefront as a dietary strategy for weight loss is protein, with researchers extensively exploring how the adjustment of quantity, quality and frequency of eating of this macronutrient may bring about small yet meaningful improvements in metabolic parameters and body composition. In studying the effect of both quantity and frequency of protein intake, Arciero et al. previously compared the effects of increasing dietary protein to approximately 35% of energy and spacing it over six meals throughout the day, versus a traditional intake of 15% protein and 3 meals per day. They found that the higher protein, spaced throughout the day resulted in a decreased total and abdominal body fat while increasing the percentage of lean body mass and enhancing postprandial thermogenesis.²

In a more recent study,³ Arciero et al. examined gender-specific responses of obese men and women to a short-term weight loss diet comprised of a hypocaloric diet with more than 30% energy from protein over 6 meals per day. At the end of the 12-week intervention, they observed similar improvements in body composition in both men and women with the test diet. This included a 10% reduction in body weight, lower total-, abdominal-, and visceral fat, and a 9% increase in lean body mass. This was in addition to favorable alterations in plasma biomarkers (insulin, glucose, and leptin) and metabolism. Furthermore, they also found that long term (52 weeks) protein-spacing with calorie restriction was more efficacious than the traditional dietary intervention in helping maintain body weight and composition, thereby implying a role for protein pacing in preventing weight relapse.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2011–2014. November 2015. Available at: Accessed September 15, 2016.
2. Arciero PJ, et al. Increased protein intake and meal frequency reduces abdominal fat during energy balance and energy deficit. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013; 21:1357-66.
3. Arciero PJ, et al. Protein-Pacing Caloric-Restriction Enhances Body Composition Similarly in Obese Men and Women During Weight Loss and Sustains Efficacy During Long-Term Weight Maintenance. Nutrients. 2016; 8:E476.