The Protein-First Eating Strategy – T Nation Content – COMMUNITY

The Diet That’s Not a Diet

One simple eating strategy changes everything. Here’s how to lose fat, build muscle, and easily take control of your eating habits.

The protein-first eating strategy is simple: Focus on protein. Prioritize protein in every meal and snack, and the rest of your diet naturally autoregulates and takes care of itself, almost effortlessly. Consuming more protein sets a cascade of positive effects into motion, leading to improved body composition: less fat and more muscle. Protein-first eating is science-backed and works for everyone, every single time.

Here’s a quick summary and an easy way to make it work for you:

1. The Protein Leverage Effect

A low-protein diet triggers overeating and uncontrollable cravings. Protein has “leverage” over your eating habits. Protein controls your intake of carbs and fats and, therefore, your overall caloric intake. In short, a low-protein diet triggers you to consume more carbs, fats, and total calories.

Your body has a protein threshold that must be met every day. If you don’t eat enough protein, various bodily mechanisms drive you to keep eating. Studies show that this threshold is between 85 and 138 grams per day. The average person consumes far less, and the “average” person today is a chonk.

The protein-first eating strategy helps you meet and exceed this protein threshold, which kills cravings and puts you back in control of your eating habits.

2. Protein is a Natural Fat Burner

Protein is thermogenic – it boosts your metabolism. Scientists call this diet-induced thermogenesis.

In one study, men and women consuming 50 grams of protein in a meal experienced a powerful boost in metabolic rate. The thermic effect was 34% higher than that of the subjects eating just 30 grams of protein.

In short, the first 25-40 grams of protein in a meal is used for muscle protein synthesis – building or maintaining lean muscle. Anything over that creates a potent thermogenic effect, helping you lose fat and keep it off.

Protein also has a much higher thermic effect than other macronutrients. Digesting and assimilating protein generates more heat and burns more calories than eating carbs or fats. Eating a protein-first diet is a lot like getting in an extra workout every day.

3. Protein Fills You Up

Protein is the most satiating macronutrient. It naturally suppresses hunger and keeps you full longer than carbs or fats.

Protein reduces your level of ghrelin, the hunger hormone. It also boosts the levels of peptide YY, a hormone that makes you feel full. Additionally, certain amino acids protein provides trigger the feeling of being full. These amino acids basically “tell” certain brain cells (called tanycytes) to control your appetite.

4. Protein Protects Muscle and Metabolism

Protein prevents muscle loss when dieting. Muscle is the primary driver of your metabolism. Losing muscle while dieting causes you to quickly regain the lost weight and impairs your metabolic rate.

In one study on women, dieters consumed either 58 or 79 grams of protein daily. They lost the same amount of scale weight, but the women eating 79 grams retained more lean muscle and lost more body fat.

In a study on dieting men, half consumed 90 grams of protein daily and half consumed 207. The lower-protein dieters lost just as much muscle as they did body fat, even though they were lifting weights. The higher-protein group lost pure fat and virtually no muscle.

Following the protein-first eating strategy while dieting preserves muscle, keeps your metabolism healthy, and prevents fat gain after the diet.

5. Extra Protein is Not Stored as Body Fat

Even in large amounts, it’s very difficult for your body to store protein as body fat. However, the body easily stores excess carbohydrates and dietary fats as body fat.

In one study, weight-lifting men consuming 800 extra calories per day from protein didn’t gain any fat over eight weeks. In another study, one group of women added 250 calories to their daily diets, all from protein, while another group dropped 300 calories. The group that consumed more calories from protein lost more fat than those that dieted more strictly without extra protein.

Turning protein into body fat takes several biochemical and hormonal steps, and it’s monitored closely by the liver, which metes out amino acids according to the body’s metabolic needs (tissue breakdown and synthesis, catabolism, anabolism, etc.) On the other hand, it’s easy for your body to store excess carb and fat calories. Protein protects against fat gain in times of caloric surplus, particularly when combined with resistance training.

In a nutshell, eating more calories than you need in a day doesn’t lead to body fat storage as long as those extra calories come from protein.

6. The Protein Preloading Effect

Multiple studies show that consuming just 20 grams of protein 20-30 minutes before meals increases satiety, controls blood sugar, and keeps you from overeating at mealtime. This is called calorie offsetting, and protein is the key.

7. Protein and Healthy Aging

As you age, your body becomes less efficient at utilizing protein. This can eventually cause sarcopenia – the loss of muscle. Muscle mass decreases about 3-8% per decade after age 30 and even faster after age 60, leading to a loss of strength, function, and mobility.

While this hasn’t been studied in depth, most agree that keeping protein intake high prevents or slows this muscle decline. And some experts propose that we may need even more protein as we enter middle age and beyond to compensate for the body’s decreased ability to put protein to work.

Protein-First, Made Easy

Everyone should get at least 100 grams of protein per day. If you’re lifting weights, shoot for a gram of protein per pound of body weight. To make it easy, drink one or two 2-scoop MD Protein (on Amazon) shakes every day.



  1. Gosby, et al. Testing Protein Leverage in Lean Humans: A Randomized Controlled Experimental Study, Plos One.

  2. Jassis, et al. Effects of protein quantity and type on diet induced thermogenesis in overweight adults: A randomized controlled trial. Clin Nutr. 2019 Aug;38(4):1570-1580.

  3. Lazutkaite G et al. Amino acid sensing in hypothalamic tanycytes via umami taste receptors. Molecular Metabolism, 2017.

  4. Ogilvie, et al. Higher protein intake during caloric restriction improves diet quality and attenuates loss of lean body mass. Obesity, May 2022.

  5. Mettler S et al. Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Feb;42(2):326-37. PubMed.

  6. Antonio J et al. The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 May 12;11:19. PubMed 25.

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