Protein Pacing Diet: Guidelines, Benefits, Risks

Protein Pacing Diet: Guidelines, Benefits, Risks

The Protein Pacing diet is a diet designed around the idea of “protein pacing”, which consists of eating several high-protein meals throughout the day.

This way of eating may benefit health in several ways, from promoting fat loss to supporting healthy blood sugar levels.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Protein Pacing Diet, including how it works, foods to eat, potential benefits, and downsides.

The Protein Pacing Diet was created by nutrition and performance scientist Dr. Paul Arciero, who published a book outlining the diet in 2019.

The diet is designed to support fat loss, increase muscle mass, and improve cardiovascular and metabolic health. Arciero created Protein Pacing as an alternative to overly restrictive fad diets.

According to Arciero, Protein Pacing is effective, easy to follow, and appropriate for people leading busy lives who want to lose weight and improve their health.

Although the diet focuses on protein, Arciero explained that the Protein Pacing Diet is not a high-protein diet. Rather, the Protein Pacing Diet should be thought of as a diet that encourages taking in protein at the right times throughout the day to support overall health and help you reach your weight loss goals.

When following the Protein Pacing Diet, you’ll follow these rules:

  • Eat four to six protein-rich meals per day
  • Eat your first meal within one hour of waking
  • Evenly space your meals to every three hours
  • Consume 20-40 grams (g) of protein at each meal
  • Eat your last meal within two hours of going to sleep at night

In addition to these rules, the diet emphasizes the importance of choosing high-quality protein sources, such as cottage cheese, eggs, grass-fed yogurt, whey protein, wild-caught fish, and legumes.

When following the Protein Pacing Diet, it’s recommended to avoid highly-processed foods as well as foods and drinks high in added sugar.

When following the Protein Pacing Diet, you’ll focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods, especially those that are rich in protein.

Here are foods that are encouraged on the Protein Pacing Diet:

  • Grass-fed dairy products like cottage cheese and Greek yogurt
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Free-range eggs
  • Wild-caught fish
  • Poultry, such as chicken and turkey
  • Protein powders, such as whey protein and pea protein
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes, like chickpeas and lentils

Though the diet emphasizes protein-rich foods, those following the Protein Pacing diet are also encouraged to consume other nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables.

Proteins To Avoid

While increasing your protein intake could support weight loss and improve many other aspects of health, such as blood sugar regulation and blood lipid levels, choosing the right kinds of proteins is important.

Studies show that eating certain protein sources too often can harm health and increase disease risk. For example, research shows that people who follow diets high in red and processed meats are more likely to develop certain cancers and heart disease.

Eating red and processed meats, like grilled steak and bacon, can increase disease risk through several mechanisms. For example, certain compounds formed when cooking red meat, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs), are highly inflammatory and cause cellular damage that can promote the development of cancer and other health conditions.

In addition to red and processed meats, other protein-rich products can also lead to health issues if over-consumed. Protein bars and protein-rich snacks often contain artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols that may harm health and trigger digestive symptoms. Consuming a diet rich in the artificial sweetener aspartame may increase your risk of developing cancer.

Sugar alcohols, like sorbitol and mannitol, which are often used in low-carb, high-protein products like protein bars, are poorly absorbed in the digestive system and can cause symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, and gas in sensitive people.

The Protein Pacing Diet has been shown to be effective for promoting fat loss.

A 2016 study led by Arciero that included 40 people who were considered obese found that following a calorie-restricted Protein Pacing diet for 12 weeks led to significant reductions in body weight and total body fat. The men and women included in the study lost an average of 10% of their body weight and 19% of their total body fat.

The study also showed that the participants who continued the Protein Pacing Diet for 64 weeks gained back significantly less body weight and body fat than those who transitioned to a lower-protein heart healthy diet.

The Protein Pacing Diet may be more effective for weight loss than traditional moderate-protein diets because protein is the most filling macronutrient and increasing your protein intake helps you feel fuller after eating, which can help you eat fewer calories throughout the day. Increasing your protein intake can also help you maintain your muscle mass during weight loss, which can prevent the drop in your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or the calories you burn while at rest, that often occurs with traditional diets.

In addition to boosting weight and fat loss, the Protein Pacing Diet has also been shown to improve other aspects of health, including reducing blood sugar and insulin levels, decreasing heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure and blood lipids, and supporting digestive health.

In the 2016 study mentioned above, the participants who followed the Protein Pacing Diet experienced an average 7%–12% reduction in their blood sugar levels and a 40% average reduction in their insulin levels compared to baseline. This suggests that the Protein Pacing Diet may be an effective way for people to manage their blood sugar levels.

A 2022 study that included 20 people found that a Protein Pacing Diet combined with intermittent fasting (IF) for either one day or two consecutive days was effective for reducing blood pressure and blood lipid levels.

Lastly, a 2024 study found that a calorie-restricted Protein Pacing Diet combined with IF increased gut microbes associated with a lean body type, reduced levels of inflammatory proteins, and significantly reduced gut symptoms, like acid reflux, nausea, and bloating in people considered overweight or obese, suggesting that Protein Pacing may be helpful for boosting gut health.

Unlike many other fad diets, the Protein Pacing Diet is relatively easy to follow and isn’t linked to major health concerns. That said, because it encourages the consumption of specific proteins, such as grass-fed dairy and wild-caught fish, this diet may be more expensive to follow than other protein diets.

Additionally, while the Protein Pacing Diet has been shown to be effective for supporting weight loss and improving other aspects of health, it’s unclear if it’s more effective than diets focusing on increasing overall dietary protein without the specific rules required when following the Protein Pacing Diet.

Lastly, some people may not want to eat the four to six meals required when following the Protein Pacing diet, as it may not work with their schedule.

If you’re looking for an easier way to support your health and lose excess body fat, research shows that simply increasing your overall protein intake to 0.68-0.9 g of protein per pound (1.5 to 2.0 g per kg) of body weight is an effective way to to boost weight loss, improve blood sugar, and support a healthy body composition.

The Protein Pacing Diet is a way of eating that recommends consuming four to six protein-rich meals per day.

Though this diet has been shown to improve several aspects of health, including encouraging fat loss and reducing blood sugar levels, it’s unclear if this diet is more effective than traditional high-protein diets that don’t involve as many rules.

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