Protein pacing combined with intermittent fasting could change weight loss, study claims

Woman eating a healthy meal. (Getty Images)
Protein pacing and intermittent fasting is better for gut health and weight loss than just restricting calories, new research has found. (Getty Images)

Protein pacing, when combined with intermittent fasting, has been found to be better for gut health and weight loss than merely restricting calories, a new study has suggested.

The research, by Arizona State University and published in the journal Nature Communications, found that participants following an intermittent fasting and protein-pacing routine, which involves evenly spaced protein intake throughout the day, saw better gut health, weight loss and metabolic responses than those seen with simple calorie restriction.

Researchers divided 27 women and 14 men who were overweight or obese into two groups: one ate a heart-healthy, calorie-restricted diet, while the other followed a calorie-restricted plan incorporating intermittent fasting and protein pacing.

Both groups were monitored over eight weeks for changes in their weight, body composition, gut bacteria, and metabolic health.

Individuals in the intermittent fasting and protein-pacing group showed a decrease in symptoms of gastrointestinal problems and an increase in diversity of the gut microbiota compared with those in the calorie-restriction group.

They also lost more weight, and lost more body fat.

The team hope the findings could improve the understanding of the relationship between the gut microbiome and metabolism and improve strategies for tackling obesity.

"Overall, these findings provide insight into the relationship between the gut microbiome and metabolism and could inform approaches for managing obesity," explains Dr Nabeetha Nagalingam, gut microbiologist and lead scientist at OMED Health. "However, there are some limitations - study size, duration, participants all being overweight or obese etc - that would warrant follow-up studies to better understand these interactions.

"Nevertheless, this study represents a step forward in better understanding gut health and the role of the gut microbiome in facilitating weight loss in overweight/obese individuals."

Woman making a healthy breakfast. (Getty Images)
Participants following the intermittent fasting and protein-pacing diet significantly reduced their gut symptoms, increased their beneficial gut bacteria, lost more weight, and shed more body fat. (Getty Images)

According to Bex Prade, functional medicine practitioner and clinical nutritionist protein pacing involves four meals containing 30-50 g of protein each day, 3.5-4 hours apart at the right quality.

Prade says high quality protein is essential. "It needs to contain the right ratio of amino acids," she explains. "The best forms come in the form of animal protein – fish, meat, eggs, whey protein.

"There are some good plant-based sources but it is harder to achieve the same high quality because plant based protein sources need to be combined to achieve the right amino acids profile/ratio and consumed in greater quantities and this comes with a much higher carbohydrate load."

While the total amount of protein consumed matter, Prade says timing across the day is also very important.

"Correct dosing of protein impacts blood sugar regulation, mood, energy and skeletal muscle," she explains.

"Breakfast is the most important and most well studied time of day to optimise protein intake as is the first meal of the day - aim to get 30-50g of protein (depending on age, activity) – coming out of the overnight fasted state in the morning is when skeletal muscle is primed for nutrients."

The last meal before going into an overnight fast is just as important, however.

"Having the right balance of amino acids circulating in your blood overnight helps with body composition, hormonal balance and metabolism," Prade adds.

Intermittent fasting method. (Getty Images)
Combining intermittent fasting with protein-pacing could be better for weight loss than calorie restriction. (Getty Images)

Many diets focus on what to eat, but intermittent fasting is all about when you eat.

"With intermittent fasting, you only eat during a specific time," Prade explains. "Research shows fasting for a certain number of hours each day, or eating just one meal a couple days a week, may have many health benefits from weight loss to blood sugar balance, reduced inflammation to improved brain function."

However, Prade warns that most research into IF is conducted on men and post-menopausal women.

"This is because of the influence of women’s hormones," she explains. "It is well known in my field that cycling women should be a bit more careful of IF – the length they do it and when in their cycle."

Prade says during the follicular phase when oestrogen is circulating at higher levels is the best time for cycling women to fast with the luteal phase, specifically the week before a woman’s period, being a time to be more careful as the decline in oestrogen can be stressful on the body, leading to higher cortisol levels, so this is not the optimal time to fast.

Woman mixing healthy ingredients with wooden spoons in kitchen. (Getty Images)
Protein pacing involves evenly spacing protein consumption throughout the day. (Getty Images)

According to Prade the in the study the IF-P way of eating helped people lose more weight:

  • They ate 40% less of things like overall fat, carbs, salt, sugar, and calories.

  • They ate more protein than people who just cut calories (CR).

  • This combo helped them lose more total body weight, belly fat (abdominal fat), and the deeper fat around their organs (visceral fat).

  • They also kept more muscle (fat-free mass) compared to the group just cutting calories.

  • Interestingly, the IF-P group specifically lost 33% of their visceral fat!

If you want to try IF-P mixed with intermittent fasting Prade suggests working with a qualified, registered practitioner as every body is different and there are caveats for fasting such as age, sex, activity and health goals.

"Starting with some gentle daily intermittent fasting of 12-14 hours is a safe and good recommendation for most," she adds.

"If you are a woman who has menstrual cycles be mindful of the time in your cycle that you choose to fast focus on the follicular phase only as this causes less stress to your body than fasting during the luteal phase."

Ovrall, Prade says protein pacing is safe and an effective way to help lose weight and change body composition.

"Focus on optimising protein at each meal and aim for at least 30g per meal, 4hrs apart across the day," she recommends. "Animal protein is the best source as it provides the correct ratio of amino acids needed for the body to maintain skeletal muscle, balance blood sugar, mood, energy, keep you satiated and balance hormones."