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Combining intermittent fasting with protein pacing may be more effective for weight loss than calorie restriction, according to new research. Grace Cary/Getty Images
  • New research suggests that intermittent fasting combined with protein pacing may be more beneficial for weight loss and gut health than calorie restriction.
  • Participants who followed intermittent fasting with protein pacing lost more body weight and abdominal and visceral fat mass and had a higher fat-free mass percentage.
  • Experts say this may be due to the thermogenic effect of protein and metabolic flexibility.
  • If you’re interested in protein pacing, you should consider spacing meals by 3 to 5 hours and aim to spread your protein intake evenly across each meal.

New research has found that intermittent fasting with protein pacing is more effective than calorie restriction for gut health and weight loss.

The study published in the journal Nature Communications compared the effects of intermittent fasting and protein pacing with heart-healthy calorie restriction on gut microbiota remodeling and metabolomic profiles.

Intermittent fasting with protein pacing involves limiting meals to certain times and evenly spacing protein intake throughout the eating window.

For eight weeks, participants were divided into two groups. One group followed intermittent fasting with protein pacing, while the others simply restricted their calories.

The calorie intake and expenditure of both groups were matched.

The intermittent fasting and protein pacing group ate four meals containing 25-50 g of protein per day. Their total macronutrient composition was 35% carbohydrate, 30% fat, and 35% protein intake.

Intermittent fasting with protein pacing was found to enhance weight loss significantly. Study participants who followed intermittent fasting with protein pacing lost more body weight and abdominal and visceral fat mass. They also had an increase in fat-free mass percentage.

Intermittent fasting with protein pacing also showed a more profound impact on gut microbiota.

“Protein pacing involves eating four high protein meals, containing 25-50 grams of protein each, at regular intervals throughout the day, typically every three to four hours,” Marilia Chamon, a registered nutritional therapist and gut health expert, explains.

She said there’s a growing body of evidence supporting the use of protein pacing as an effective strategy for weight loss and metabolic health.

“Protein pacing – distributing protein intake evenly throughout the day – can help maintain muscle mass and promote satiety,” she says.

This can be a good approach to weight loss as it typically makes you feel fuller for longer, reduces cravings, and, in the long term, can contribute to the development of muscle mass.

There are several reasons why intermittent fasting and protein pacing may be a more effective weight loss tool than simply following a calorie deficit.

“Intermittent fasting promotes periods of low insulin levels, which can enhance fat burning,” Chamon notes.

It may also, as the study suggests, positively impact gut microbial diversity.

“A diverse gut microbiome is associated with better digestive health, reduced inflammation, and improved metabolic function, all of which can contribute to more effective weight loss,” Chamon explains.

There are also metabolic improvements to consider. The study found that intermittent fasting with protein pacing influenced circulating metabolites (small molecules involved in metabolism) to a greater extent than calorie restriction.

Chamon says better metabolic health can enhance the body’s ability to manage weight, process nutrients, and reduce fat storage.

Kelsey Costa, a registered dietitian and science communications officer at Examine, describes the combo of intermittent fasting and protein pacing as having a “synergistic” effect on weight loss.

“Participants in the intermittent fasting with protein pacing group consumed significantly more protein daily per kilogram of body weight than the control group,” she points out.

“This potentially led to a greater energy deficit due to protein’s thermogenic properties and its role in preserving lean muscle mass, which burns more energy than fat.”

Costa says the significant difference in average protein intake overall may have been more influential on the study’s results than the spaced timing of protein intake.

She adds that intermittent fasting, specifically, may improve metabolic flexibility, allowing the body to more efficiently switch between using carbohydrates and fats for energy.

“This may lead to greater fat loss during fasting periods and potentially contribute to weight loss,” she explains.

In contrast, Costa says calorie restriction alone may result in loss of fat, but also a greater loss in lean muscle mass, leading to a slower metabolism and higher potential weight regain once regular eating habits are resumed.

If protein pacing seems like the right weight loss tactic for you, you might be wondering how to get started.

“To effectively implement protein pacing for weight loss, consider spacing meals by 3 to 5 hours and aim to spread your protein intake evenly across each meal,” advises Costa.

She says specific protein goals are individual depending on factors such as body weight, health conditions, and physical activity levels. You might like to look at how much protein you’re already consuming and aim to increase it.

Foods to eat include:

Chamon says it’s important to ensure your overall diet is balanced while protein pacing.

“While focusing on protein, ensure you are also consuming a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats to meet your overall nutritional needs,” she advises.

Costa agrees. She says you should focus on consuming whole, minimally processed foods.

“Whole foods are typically richer in nutrients and free from added sugars, unhealthy fats, and artificial additives, thereby promoting overall health and well-being,” she explains.

Finally, if you’re protein pacing, Chamon says to make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. She says staying hydrated is essential to overall health and can help control hunger.

Intermittent fasting used together with protein pacing may be more beneficial for weight loss and gut health than calorie restriction alone, according to new research.

Participants who followed intermittent fasting with protein pacing lost more body weight and abdominal and visceral fat mass. They also had a higher fat-free mass percentage.

Experts say this may be due to the thermogenic effect of protein and metabolic flexibility.