If you’re considering a Very Low Carb (VLC) diet program to lose weight, if you’re to succeed, you will need to get “into the weeds” a little. So, first, a few definitions: Very Low Carb is usually defined as 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrate a day. Low Carb is frequently defined as 50 to 100 grams a day or 20 to 30 grams per meal. Low Carb is not what I am doing. This post is for serious Very Low Carbers who want to lose serious weight and do it in a healthy way and without hunger.
If you decide you want to try eating this way, you will also need to accept that it is also a limited-calorie diet program. If you haven’t tried this before, that’s not going to be as difficult as it sounds because you won’t mind eating less if you aren’t hungry between meals. And you will not be hungry between meals, I promise. In fact, after a few days you will stop thinking about food. You will not be interested in eating snacks, and you will forget it’s time to eat lunch. Really.
So, after deciding to eat VLC, the next thing you need to decide is how much protein should you eat? The answer is: it depends. It is different for everyone because it depends on your weight (not your current weight but your ideal “lean body weight”), your muscular development, your age, your exercise regimen, and your general level of activity. These are some of the variables, but there is also a constant: your basic need for protein for countless bodily activities. Protein’s component amino acids are necessary and even essential for life. Everybody needs to eat protein. In fact everybody needs to eat a variety of protein (with fat) to get “essential” amino acids that the body cannot make itself.
The easiest way to get all 22 amino acids, including all the essential ones, is to eat a variety of animal proteins. That isn’t the only way, but the main reason it is easier is the amount of protein that is needed at each meal. I have been successful following the advice of Richard K. Bernstein, MD, himself a life-long type 1 diabetic and author of “Diabetes Solution .” He is a pioneer in “eating-to-the-meter” – in fact, he could fairly be described as THE pioneer.
Dr. Bernstein advises his readers to eat equal portions of protein in three small meals every day that are equally spaced about five hours apart. That allows the protein, which digests more slowly than carbohydrates or fat, to be absorbed and circulate (as amino acids) in the blood for 4 to 5 hours to replenish the cells and repair muscle tissue. That also allows a 14 hour fast between dinner and breakfast during which ketogenesis occurs, if there is no glycogen in storage in the liver (from eating carbohydrates). This means you will burn body fat during the night to supply your basal metabolic energy needs. So, to lose weight while you sleep, don’t eat too many carbs, or too much protein, at dinner.
How much protein should you eat at each meal? One widely used rule of thumb is 1.1 grams of protein per kilogram of “lean body weight.” You are not eating protein to feed your fat; the protein you eat is related to your lean body mass, that is, your body as configured with only the minimum amount of fat needed to cushion the body and supply energy stores. To most of us who have been overweight for as long as we can remember, this will look like an unattainable, even unimaginable ideal. Nevertheless, “lean body weight” is the measure you should use for protein calculations.
Converted to U.S. units, 1.1 grams per kilo is 0.5 grams of protein per pound of lean body weight. Now you have to pick your lean body weight. When I lost my first 60 pounds, I didn’t know about counting protein so I didn’t. When I started the Bernstein diet program (for diabetics), and lost 100 pounds in 50 weeks, my weight was 325 pounds (148kg.) So I fudged the number. Instead of “lean body weight,” which I thought was ridiculous, I substituted a still unrealistic “ideal” weight of 180 pounds. That worked out to 90 grams of protein a day, divided into 3 equal meals of 30 each.
More recently, after I lost that 100 pounds, the unimaginable became almost attainable. So, I changed my idea of “ideal” body weight to be what would be for me, I’m sure, truly an unattainable “lean body weight” of 150 pounds. That is in the middle of the “normal” weight range in the BMI table for a person 5’-11” tall. Based on this truly skeletal lean body weight, my protein intake should be 75 grams a day, divided into 3 equal meals of 25 grams each. So that’s what I use.
My regular breakfast (2 fried eggs, 2 strips of bacon, coffee with ghee) is 20 grams, and my regular lunch (a can of sardines in olive oil) is 15 grams. That leaves 40 grams to splurge on dinner. And if I eat that many grams of protein at dinner, I better remember to take my Metformin to suppress the gluconeogenesis! Or just eat 20 grams of protein with dinner. That’s 55g total, which is still 10% more than the 50g/day recommended in the HHS/USDA Nutrition Fact panel.
How many grams of protein do you have for breakfast?