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Protein May Help Improve Muscle Mass When Dieting

An often unconsidered side effect of weight loss is muscle loss, which can affect strength and balance. A recent study suggests that adding protein to your daily diet not only can aid weight loss but also limit the loss of muscle mass as you shed the weight.

The research was conducted at the University of Illinois and was published online ahead of print in The Journals of Gerontology on July 27, 2011.

The researchers conducted a six month, double-blind study that included 31 obese postmenopausal women. The women were divided into two groups, with one group consuming a powdered whey supplement once in the morning and once in the afternoon and the other group consuming a carbohydrate placebo. Both groups maintained a 1,400 calorie weight-loss diet, and were encouraged to engage in light exercise consisting of stretching and walking.

At the onset of the study, all of the participants were tested in strength, balance, and their ability to walk 50 feet, stand up from a chair five times, and lift a book 12 inches above their shoulders. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was also used to measure muscle volume of the right thigh, the amount of fat around the thigh, and the amount of fat within the thigh muscle. The scientists repeated the same tests at the conclusion of the study.

While both groups of women lost muscle mass over the course of the study, the protein group lost 3.9% more weight and gained 5.8% more thigh muscle when compared to the placebo group. The researchers believe that more vigorous exercise than the recommended light stretching and walking would result in greater gains in muscle mass.

Protein is easy to work into your daily diet. Try adding a low fat, low calorie protein shake in the morning, eating a high protein snack like unroasted nuts, or adding some protein powder to a smoothie.

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