If you’re considering a Very Low Carb (VLC) diet to lose weight, it will help you to get “into the weeds” a little. So, first, a few definitions: Very Low Carb is usually defined as no more than 20 to 30 grams of carbs a day. Low Carb is defined as 50 to 100 grams a day or 20 to 30 grams per meal. And to be clear, Low Carb is not what I’m 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. That’s not going to be as difficult as it sounds because you won’t mind eating less if you aren’t hungry, and you are burning your body fat for energy. You will not be hungry at or between meals, I promise. In fact, after a few days you will stop thinking about food. You will not be interested snacks, and you will forget it’s lunchtime. Honestly.
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 all variables, but there is also a constant: your basic need for protein for countless bodily activities. Protein’s component amino acids are necessary – in fact, essential – for life. Everybody needs to eat protein. In fact, everybody needs to eat a variety of protein (with fat) to get all their amino acids, especially the “essential” amino acids that the body cannot make, or easily make, by itself.
The easiest way to get all 22 amino acids, including the essential ones, is to eat a variety of animal proteins. That isn’t the only way, but it’s the easiest way. During the years of my initial weight loss, I was successful following the advice of Richard K. Bernstein, MD, a life-long Type 1 diabetic and author of “Diabetes Solution,” the “bible” for diabetes health care. He is a pioneer in “eating-to-the-meter” – in fact, it could fairly be said he “invented” it.
As a Type 1, Dr. Bernstein advises his patients 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 carbs or fat, to be absorbed and circulate (as amino acids) in the blood for 4 to 5 hours. They replenish and repair muscle tissue and perform many complex cellular and hormonal activities. That also allows a 14 hour fast between supper and breakfast during which ketogenesis occurs. This means you burn body fat at 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 supper.
How much protein should you eat at each meal? You are not eating protein to feed your fat; the protein you eat is related to your lean body mass, that is, your body with only the minimum amount of fat needed to cushion the organs and supply energy stores. For people who have been overweight their entire lives, this will look like an unimaginable ideal. Nevertheless, “lean body weight” is the measure you should use for protein calculations.
Considering all the variables above, I chose 0.9 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body weight. Converted to U.S. units, 0.9 grams per kilo is roughly 0.4 grams of protein per pound of lean body weight. And using the truly unattainable “lean body weight” ideal, from the middle of the “normal” weight range in the BMI table for a person 5’-10” tall, my lean body weight should be 150 pounds. Based on this truly skeletal lean body weight, my protein intake should be 60 grams a day, divided per Bernstein into 3 equal meals of 20 grams each. So that’s what I use.
My regular breakfast (2 fried eggs, 2 strips of bacon, coffee with heavy cream) is 20 grams of protein, and my usual lunch (a can of sardines in EVOO) is 15 grams of protein. That leaves 25 grams to splurge on supper. And if I eat more protein than that at supper, I better remember to take my Metformin to suppress gluconeogenesis! Or, just eat 25 grams of protein with supper. That 60 grams of protein a day total, by the way, is still 20% more than the 50g/day Percent Daily Value (RDA) recommended in the HHS/USDA Nutrition Fact panel on processed food packages for women (on a 2,000 cal/day maintenance diet) or just about the 62.5g/day recommended for men.