Written by Ben Carlisle
Last updated on: Sep 18, 2022
Kimura Athletic may earn a small commission through our links. Learn more.
Whey protein is a good to help with losing belly fat and unwanted weight. Weight loss is achieved by maintaining a calorie deficit. Whey protein allows you to control the fats, calories and carbohydrates you consume. High protein intake will also increase satiety assisting with calorie deficit maintenance.
To understand how whey protein helps combat belly fat first we need to understand what belly fat is. And what causes it to develop. Once we understand this, we can look at how to lose belly fat and the role whey protein can play in the process.
Belly fat is excess abdominal fat. With belly fat, there are two types of fat.
1. Subcutaneous Fat: This is fat directly under the skins surface.
2. Visceral Fat: This is fat stored deeper inside the body and closer to your organs (1).
Visceral fat is widely acknowledged to be more dangerous than subcutaneous fat. When there is too much visceral fat serious health problems can develop. These problems include heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and strokes. Some recent studies have also suggested a link with belly fat and cancer (2).
Excessive belly fat is normally caused by either a combination or one of the 7 reasons listed below:
A bad diet can lead to the accumulation of abdominal fat. Including too much of the following food types in diet have been found in studies to cause belly fat.
a) High Consumption of Sugary Foods and Beverages
A lot of people consume significantly more sugar than they realise. This normally comes in the form of sweets, cakes, soft drinks and fruit juice. Studies have shown a correlation between a high sugar intake and an excess of belly fat (3). The cause of this excessive body fat may not be directly from the sugar, but from the fructose consumed.
Regular sugar and high fructose corn syrup (this is found in processed foods, cereals and soft drinks). High fructose diets have also been found to reduce fat burning and the metabolic rate of the subjects analysed (4).
The consumption of soft drinks can be especially problematic when it comes to the accumulation of unwanted weight and belly fat. The reason for this is because they contain large amounts of sugar and liquid calories do not provide the same satiety as solid foods. This means more calories need to be consumed to feel full meaning it is more likely you will go into a calorie surplus (5).
b) Low Protein Intake
Protein is proven to help improve satiety (6). By not having enough protein in your diet you may eat more food overall, resulting in a calorie surplus. And a calorie surplus over time, will lead to weight gain and possibly unwanted belly fat. Additionally, several observation studies have indicated, subjects who consume the most protein are the least likely to have excess belly fat (7, 8, 9).
c) Low Fibre Intake
Fibre is an important dietary requirement when it comes to both weight management and health. Some fibre even increase satiety and reduces calorie absorption from food (10). Of the fibre found to increase satiety and reduce calorie absorption viscous fibres (found exclusively in plant-based food) performed best. Recording 59% v 14% reduced appetite when compared to less viscous fibre. And 69% v 30% in acute energy intake reduction. A low level of fibre especially plant-based fibre may lead to gaining weight more easily. And the accumulation of unwanted belly fat.
d) High Intake Of Refined Carbohydrates
Refined carbohydrates have almost no fibre, vitamins or minerals after processing. When consumed they are digested rapidly, and possess a high glycemic index. This high glycemic index causes blood sugar spikes after meals. Subsequently this causes insulin levels to increase. Foods with high glycemic indexes have been found to be linked to overeating (11). Overeating of course can lead to a calorie surplus, weight gain and the accumulation of abdominal fat.
Furthermore, studies have shown eating a high amount of refined carbohydrates is positively correlated with the accumulation of abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue (belly fat) (12).
e) Consuming Trans Fats
Trans fat are used to extend the shelf life of certain goods such a cake mixes, cookies and frozen pizza. These fats, are the worst type you can consume. Researchers have found trans-fats cause inflammation. Inflammation can lead to health problems such as insulin resistance and heart disease (13, 14). There has also been research to indicate inflammation when already possessing excess belly fat can lead to a vicious cycle where more belly fat accumulates, then more inflammation and then even more belly fat (15).
Some animal studies have shown the consumption of these fats may cause excess abdominal fat. The monkeys in the study which were fed a trans-fat diet of 8% against a group fed a monounsaturated fat diet accumulated 33% more abdominal fat (16).
Exercise is an important part of living a healthy life. And when it comes to managing the accumulation of belly fat, it helps expend extra calories. These extra calories burnt make it more likely you will be able to maintain a calorie deficit. Regular moderate intensity activity of between 30 and 60 minutes a day has been found to be a good starting point for brining weight under control and combating abdominal fat (17). By not participating in any exercise you will have to consume less calories to hit a calorie deficit. This makes it more difficult to lose weight and belly fat.
Studies have shown sleep may influence the loss of belly fat by impacting the fraction of weight lost as fat and the calories consumed the next day. One study has shown a lack of sleep may compromise the efficacy of typical dietary interventions for weight loss and related metabolic risk reduction. In this study, sleep curtailment decreased the fraction of weight lost as fat by 55% and increased the loss of fat-free body mass by 60% (18).
Another study found that men who were restricted to 4 hours’ sleep consumed an extra 559 calories the next day in comparison to those who had slept 8 hours. Obviously, consuming more calories will mean more calories will need to be burnt to achieve a calorie deficit. And this will make it harder to lose weight and body fat (19). If you are not sleeping enough this could be contributing to any unwanted weight gain and belly fat you may have.
Cortisol is a hormone which is produced when you are stressed. Unfortunately, excessive cortisol can lead to weight gain. This weight gain is often disproportionately stored in the abdominal region. Many people respond to stress by over-eating, this is often referred to as comfort eating. Unfortunately, the cortisol promotes these excess calories to be stored as belly fat (20, 21). For this reason people who have suffered from high stress for prolonged periods may find they have accumulated excess belly fat.
Alcohol has shown to have both negative and beneficial impacts on the body. Most people have heard the term “beer belly” which insinuates the consumption of beer causes a large belly. Some studies support this. One study showed alcohol enhances a positive fat balance where the fat is preferentially deposited in the abdominal region (22).
Another study showed how drinking a high volume of alcohol (more than 20 grams per day) can make excess belly fat 80% more likely (23). Drinking alcohol especially high volumes of over 20 grams per day can contribute to the accumulation of belly fat. If you are doing this reducing the amount you consume or cutting it out completely will greatly assist you in your attempts to lose belly fat.
Excess belly fat can be caused by genetic factors. Even in non-obese individuals of the same weight the different amounts of belly fat have been put down to genetic variances (24). The risk of obesity in an individual is largely influenced by an individual’s genetic makeup (25).
One study has also indicated genetics influence a person’s hip to waist ratio and where body fat is stored. With some body types being more predisposed to belly fat accumulation (26).
During the menopause women frequently see increase in fat around the abdomen. The reason for this is a significant drop in estrogen levels. This causes the body to start storing fat in the abdomen rather than the hips and thighs (27). The amount of fat stored around the abdomen will vary between women. This may be influenced in part by the genetic makeup of the individual (28).
To lose any unwanted body fat including belly fat you must lose weight. And to do this you must consume less calories than you expend. This is called a calorie deficit. The low hanging fruit here is to start exercising, sleeping properly, and reduce your intake of unhealthy parts of your diet (sugars, trans-fats and alcohol).
Fortunately, whey protein supplements (and plant based) can play there part in helping you maintain a calorie deficit and lose unwanted fat. Whey protein can make you feel fuller. Additionally there is some evidence to suggest protein intake may boost your metabolism, and help reduce weight (including abdominal fat).
Protein is known for its ability to increase satiety (29). This makes it less likely you will give in and binge eat when on a diet. It also makes it easier to maintain the all-important calorie deficit you need to lose weight. Researchers have found increased protein intake has generated results such as a reduction in calorie intake throughout the day (30). 50% less late-night snacking and a craving reduction of 60% (31). And an average of 5kgs (11 pounds) weight loss over a 12-week period (32).
By taking whey protein, the extra protein will also help reduce appetite and hunger. This is done by increasing the levels of appetite reducing hormones (33), while decreasing the level of the hunger producing hormone ghrelin (34).
Whey protein shakes which contain at least 20 grams of protein in a serving have been found to decrease hunger by between 50-65% (35). This means a whey protein supplement is both a convenient and effective way of getting the benefits of protein into your diet. And help you progress towards your weight loss goals.
Quality protein intake is inversely related with abdominal fat. This means people's whose diet contained a high amount of protein displayed less abdominal fat (36). A study carried out on two groups of obese people found those provided with a whey-protein supplement showed both a greater preservation of lean muscle. And a significantly greater reduction in body fat (37). This loss of 6.1% of their body fat mass has real practical significance has a 5% reduction of body fat mass has been shown to reduce the risk of obesity related diseases (38).
A side effect of weight loss diet is they calorie deficit often leads to a loss of some of the body’s muscle mass. The loss of any muscle mass can result in metabolic slowdown. The danger of metabolic slowdown is once any weight loss diet ends, you can easily gain back all the weight you had successfully lost.
A study has shown by keeping protein intake high (this can be done with a whey protein powder). And including strength training as a part of your weight loss program. Any muscle loss can be minimised, consequently reducing any metabolic slowdown (39).
Whey protein is a great supplement to assist in the loss of unwanted belly fat. However, without a good diet and a calorie deficit losing weight will not be possible. It is also important to exercise, get enough sleep, manage stress levels and reduce or cut out completely the consumption of alcohol.