Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fat Loss Principles That Work: 10g+ of EAAs W/ Every Meal. Do Energetic Costs of Protein Synthesis Trigger This Effect?

EAAs beyond whey: It may not necessarily look like this, but this salad (repicecorner) is an EAA power horse with cheddar cheese (25% protein, 0.49 EAA / P ratio), tuna (in oil, 29%,  0.45) and kidney beans (9%, 0.45). You see, it does not always have to be chicken breasts or whey to get beyond the 10g+ EAA threshold, I have repeatedly suggested as one of the fundamental rules of dieting for weight loss, maintenance and muscle gain.
Many people take it for granted that you become fat, when you get old. If you look at the statistics, you could even make a point that obesity has some protective effects with esp. with respect to CVD mortality. Scientists call this the "obesity paradox" (Kastorini. 2012). What's particularly paradox, at least in my humble opinion, is yet not the phenomenon itself, but rather the fact that it gets smart scientists derailed from working on useful dietary and exercise interventions to prevent the development of heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome etc. in early years. Instead, they argue ex-post, i.e. when the baby has already been thrown out with the bathtub by comparing sick lean (in parts even cachectic) and sick "obese" people, why their statistical shenanigan that's based on the useless BMI produces paradoxical results. And that, when studies such as the one Jacobs et al. did in 2010 clearly show that 50+ year old men and women with waist circumference >120cm and >110cm, respectively, have 2x higher all-cause mortality risk than their lean peers - irrespective of BMI (Jacobs. 2010)!

To get lean and stay lean, yet not thin and skinny fat is therefore a challenge everyone...

... from the child in the Kindergarten to the obese granny in the nursing home is facing. Against that background a previous study by Loenneke et al. comes to mind. The results of their analysis, which were published in Nutrition and Metabolism in January 2012 clearly show that the amount of times people eat meals with a 10g+ EAA content per day was inversely related to percent central abdominal fat (Loenneke. 2012). In previous studies EAAs have also been shown to improve glucose clearance without increases in insulin and in the absence of effects on the fat burnin and health promoting expresion of AMPK-alpha2 in skeletal muscle tissue (see "EAAs Stimulate Muscle Glucose Uptake by Exponentiating Insulin's Effect on GLUT4 Expression"). With the advanced publication of a study by Coker, Miller, Schutzler, Deutz and Wolfe in the online verison of the Nutrition Journal a couple of days ago, the notion that EAAs have a particularly beneficial effect on fat loss - in this case in obese elderly individuals - gets further support from a well-controlled randomized trial (Cooker. 2012).

EAA-rich protein increases fat loss to a greater extent than low EAA protein

The researchers from the Center for Translational Research in Aging and Longevity and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, AR, USA randomized 12 elderly individuals (mean age 69 years) to an 8 week, caloric restriction diet utilizing equivalent caloric meal replacements (~850 kcal/day; the exact nutrient composition can be found in figure 1) + ~400kcal from solid foods (total intake: ~1,250kcal/day; the subjects were free to chose their solid meals but were provided with a list of examples the should pick from, if possible).
Figure 1: Macronutrient composition of the meal replacements used in the study (Cooker. 2012)
The diet was designed to induce a 7% weight loss in two months. And while both,  the rate of weight loss (~1.6lbs per week), as well as the relatively high caloric deficit are certainly appropriate for someone with a 30+ BMI and ~40% body fat, leaner people will fare better with a less pronounced kcal deficit or (alternatively) have to add some strategically planned refeeds to the equation in order to minimize the loss of lean mass and, more importantly, avoid the ensuing reduction in energy expenditure (for the obese, the latter is actually less of the problem, because the downsides of being calorically deprived are at least partly counglucose tolerance and leptin sensitivity with every gram of body can actually help the body recognize that there is still plenty of energy that has just not been available (glucose) or "visible" (fat) before).
Figure 2: Changes in lean and fat mass (kg, left) and fractional protein synthesis rates (FSR) in participants receiving iso-caloric meal replacements with identical macronutrient compositions (see figure 1), but different amounts of essential amino acids (EAAs) content (Coker. 2012)
As the data in figure 2 goes to show you even the obese individuals in the study at hand lost a non-negligible amount of lean mass - unfortunately the body composition was measure with a sophisticated, but still body impedance based device, the trends are still accurate, but it is questionable in how much we are actually talking about ~2 and 2.5kg of muscle mass (figure 2, left), because somebody's "lean body mass" does obviously include more than just skeletal muscle.

When it comes to supplements, we are often like children on Christmas eve. About all the new stuff we get we tend to forget our former favorite and often way more fun to play with toys. Don't make this mistake and ditch your PWO whey (personally, I like a ~1.5:1 whey + micellar casein mixture) for EAAs, they don't come close... read more
Be that as it may - since the before and after values were taken with the same device the changes should be correct, so that both the slightly yet not statistically significantly ameliorated loss of lean body mass and, more importantly, the significantly higher degree of body fat loss in the EAA meal replacement (EAAMR) group speak in favor of the 5 servings of a the 170 kcal, 6g EAA per day. Moreover, "the sparing influence of muscle loss might have been demonstrated with a larger sample size", so that you can take it for granted that the preservation of precious muscle mass is an advantage of being choosy with your protein sources and preferring those with higher over those with lower essential amino acid contents.

On a related note: I don't know if you noticed, but with a total energy content of 850kcal and 30g EAA these 5 meal replacements did in fact have exactly those 10g+ of essential amino acids, I have repeatedly recommended to have with each of the 3 meals most people consume in the course of the day.

In all fairness, it should also be mentioned that despite not being significantly different at baseline, the body fat percentage of the subjects in the EAA meal replacement group was ~3% higher to begin with.This may seem irrelevant, since figure 2 compares lean mass and fat mass as absolute changes and not their percentages, but in the end, the amount of fat you you can drop within a given time-frame decreases with lower body fat percentages.

Do the energetic costs of protein synthesis drive fat loss?

Another interesting observation Coker et al. made is the close association between fat loss, on the one hand, and increased protein synthesis (55%), on the other hand. The researchers take this as an incentive to do one of the of the much loved calories in vs. calories out calculation and come up with the following hypothesis:
"Acute administration of EAAMR did promote a significant increase in skeletal muscle protein FSR compared to CMR. Assuming that the energy cost of protein synthesis is 3.6 kJ/g and the baseline GAIA-derived lean tissue mass was 56.4 kg for EAAMR and 54.4 kg for the CMR, we can extrapolate that the overall energy discrepancy between the two groups was roughly equivalent to 27,170 kcal or 3.5 kg of weight loss across the entire caloric restriction-based weight loss paradigm. Based on the amount of total lean mass in each group, this value takes into account a consistent intervention structure of five servings/day across an eight week period. In short, these calculations suggest that differences in the source of intact protein/formulation of EAA may have a significant influence on diet-induced energy expenditure that coincides closely with the greater reduction of adipose tissue in EAAMR compared to CMR." (my emphasis in Coker. 2012)
I usually discard fallacious calculations like this one if they are not highlight the stupidity of trying to eat exactly as much as some funky formula + the figure on your treadmill, pedometer, heart rate monitor or whatever fancy tool you may use to "measure" your energy expenditure suggest you would have burned in the last 24h. In this case, however, I made an exception, because I feel that the notion that protein quality is one of the myriad of parameters that are missing from this foolish calculation is important, for lean and obese people from all age groups who are trying to shed body fat.

Bottom line: The take away message of the study is in the end identical to the previously mentioned study by Loenneke et al.: Make sure you hit the 10g EAA threshold with each and every of your meals, if being lean and muscular not skinny yet fat is your goal.

  • Coker RH, Miller S, Schutlzer S, Deutz N, Wolfe RR. Whey protein and essential amino acids promote the reduction of adipose tissue and increased muscle protein synthesis during caloric restriction-induced weight loss in elderly, obese individuals. Nutr J. 2012 Dec 11;11(1):105. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Jacobs EJ, Newton CC, Wang Y, Patel AV, McCullough ML, Campbell PT, Thun MJ, Gapstur SM. Waist circumference and all-cause mortality in a large US cohort. Arch Intern Med. 2010 Aug 9;170(15):1293-301.
  • Kastorini CM, Panagiotakos DB. The obesity paradox: methodological considerations based on epidemiological and clinical evidence--new insights. Maturitas. 2012 Jul;72(3):220-4.
  • Loenneke JP, Wilson JM, Manninen AH, Wray ME, Barnes JT, Pujol TJ. Quality protein intake is inversely related with abdominal fat. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 Jan 27;9(1):5.


  1. Good post. I've been trying to convince a couple of women I know to eat more protein recently without making them feel like bros. Anti-lean mass, low-calorie malnutrition diets are seriously ingrained into their mindset. The number on the scales is more important than anything, even if your belly feels like a big lump of dough.

    1. I know what you mean Javeux. I just started working with my mom to get her into better shape, and when I was figuring out her macros, she was astonished at the amount of protein she needed to eat, which made me realize how little she was actually eating beforehand.

      Personally, I don't understand how some people can't seem to stomach a couple chicken breasts or a big steak. I could literally live off meat alone. I love animal flesh ;)

    2. Kid, you seem very well acquainted with these types of things, but have you seen the reports from meat-eater "Bear" Owsley:

      Now, I'm not personally taken with that approach (it's not for my system) and I do note that he didn't know about insulinogenic proteins (maybe he was a fan of that boob Taubes), but it is of interest.

    3. As soon as I saw the title "The real human diet is a totally carnivorous one" I discredited the author. However, I will keep reading and update you with my thoughts as I go.

      "No carbs = no insulin." You are right, he is unaware of insulinogenic proteins. But the effect they exert is minimal unless he is pounding milk or whey.

      "At this point I would like to point out that a zero carb diet does NOT cause ketosis. The body rapidly adapts within a few weeks and begins consuming the ketones from fat metabolism. A fully keto-adapted body excretes no ketones in the urine. A metabolic by product, 'ketone bodies' are actually a special kind of carb, and they substitute for glucose at the structures which use it."

      "The body cannot store dietary fat, there is no mechanism for transport across the adipose cell's wall, nor can it 'burn' carbs, which actually are toxic in more than the tiny amount required by the brain and a few other structures. The body converts dietary carbs (all convert to glucose as they are absorbed) into body fat. The conversion mechanism requires insulin which is very tissue-damaging. It is correct to say that dietary carbs are the base cause of both heart blockage and diabetes, (not a disease)."

      Don't even get me started on the above two quotes. Clearly this person has never taken a course in human metabolism or physiology.

      "The so called Nearthin and Paleodiet thus are both nonsense, true paleolithic people were total carnivores and ate no veggies whatsoever.

      In the relatively short evolutionary period since the consumption of vegetables as food there has not been any real adaptation to such low grade low energy, difficult to digest foods. Because we have no adaptation to digesting or processing vegetables as food, they are all basically very bad for us."


    4. I wonder how much this guy spending on hemorrhoid meds.

  2. So...sprinkle some BCAAs on my food instead of salt? ;)

    1. Oh taste will be amazing.
      Also amazing how people always tend to substitute awesome whole foods for powders which are unbearable to swallow on their own.

      EAA =/= BCAA

    2. So the irony went missing, huh?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. >amount of times people eat meals with a 10g+ EAA content per day
    So? technically if you take same amount of calories and macronutrients - 5-6 meals with 10+ EAA would be better than two meals with 10+++ EAA? Honestly, I don't feel satisfied if meal is containing <800 kcal.

    But if you don't have to go outside you can just set up IV rig to gradually infuse amino acids all day long. Some fat-wallet mr.olympia wannabees probably already doing that on their rest days.

    1. no possible to make that conclusion based on an epidemiological studies done in normalos, of which 50% won' hit the 10g mark once! So, no these results are significant only for 3x max 4x meals

    2. I think my previous answer here did not really match your comment, I will still leave it there and say: There is much to support the notion that you better eat to satiety once than graze for 20 meals regardless of whether you want to build muscle or lose body fat

    3. Really interesting article here regarding meals versus grazing.

  5. ...comparing sick lean (in parts even cachetic) and...


  6. I tried searching for some figures on EAA content for various types of meat and dairy but had no luck. Does anybody have an idea about that?

    If I eat 6 OZ of your average cut of steak or package of ground beef, would I hit the 10g EAA mark?

    Thank you.

    1. According to USDA 300g of 95\5% RAW ground beef we have:
      Histidine: 2.14g
      Isoleucine: 2.82g
      Leucine: 5.01g
      Lisyne: 5.36g
      Methionine: 1.36g
      Phenylalanine: 2.47g
      Threonine: 2.54g
      Tryptophan: 0.38g
      Valine: 3.15g
      TOTAL: 25.23g

      Cooked (broiled) it will be ~33 grams of EAAs.
      I hope you understand that these digits may vary on your ability to digest, cooking method and another numerous factors. It is just obvious that with any sensible amount of meat you will hit 10g mark.

    2. Excellent, that's alot higher than your average protein powder!

      Guess I didn't look hard enough...

      Thank you!

  7. What does EAA stand for?

  8. Thank you. which are they? Presumably we need them in certain proportions?

    1. I don't want to sound rude, but these questions are great for google. The nine essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Proportions are overthinking it. Just eat meat.

  9. Thanks primalkid. I googled EAA but did not find Essential Amino Acids. Best wishes with your studies.