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Maybe all the crunches in the world won’t get you a flat belly, but a diet rich in dairy could. Following a weight-loss plan that’s high in protein -- especially dairy -- may help dieters preserve more muscle and lose more belly flab, says a new study in the Journal of Nutrition.
For 16 weeks, researchers at McMaster University put three groups of obese or overweight women on diets with varying amounts of protein and dairy to find out if which amounts improved weight loss. What they found was, all of the women lost the same amount of weight, regardless of how much protein and dairy they ate. However, those who consumed the largest portions of protein (about 30 percent of their total calories) and several servings of dairy a day built more lean muscle and shed more belly fat than dieters who consumed less animal protein.
Just how much of a difference did it have on their body fat? According to Andrea Josse, lead author of the study and a graduate student at McMaster University, 100 percent of the weight they lost was fat. Not a single pound of shed weight was lean muscle mass. Those in the high-protein, high-dairy group also lost twice as much belly fat as the lower-protein, lower-dairy group.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can sit on your duff and eat ice cream all day while your body miraculously melts away fat. The dieters also exercised seven days a week. As bodybuilders already know, this isn’t the first study to link protein to muscles. Previous research indicates that supplementing your workout routine with extra protein helps build muscle faster. When you exercise, muscle gets broken down and then rebuilt. Protein enhances this process of re-growth, so muscles get buff fast. Another recent study found that eating protein before pumping iron could boost the amount of calories you burn by eight percent for 24 hours after the workout. What’s more, skipping out on protein could have the opposite effect: some research suggests that a high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet may actually reduce the benefits of exercise. To boost the effects of your workout, try drinking a glass of milk after you exercise.
Most Americans already get plenty of protein in their diets, so chances are, you don’t have to add much more to get the amounts used in this study. One of the easiest ways to pack your diet full of protein and dairy without taking in a lot of cholesterol or saturated fat is to eat low-fat cottage cheese. One cup of this waistline-friendly snack boasts 28 grams of protein and just 160 calories. Eating more protein when exercising daily may, however, be a good way to see results sooner. Just be sure not to skimp on all the other components of a healthful diet, like fruits and veggies.