protein-exampleEating more often and incorporating more protein into your diet helps you lose belly fat, even if you’re eating the same number of calories you burn, according to a study recently published in the journal Obesity.

A study conducted by researchers from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., found that eating a high protein diet (about 35 percent of daily calories from protein) and 6 meals a day helped boost lean body mass and cut abdominal fat, even if subjects didn’t eat at a caloric deficit. The same group, when eating at a caloric deficit, maintained more muscle than subjects eating fewer meals a day, even if they ate the same amount of protein.

The study participants consumed either a traditional diet (with about 15 percent protein, and consuming three meals a day) or a high-protein diet. The high-protein group was additionally broken into two groups, one eating three meals a day and the other eating six.

After a five-day baseline assessment, the groups ate randomly assigned diets for 56 days — for 28 days they ate the same number of calories their bodies burned, and for another 28 days  they consumed only 75 percent of their energy needs. At the end of each period, researchers measured their body fat, abdominal fat, body weight, and other biological assessments.

Not surprisingly, weight remained stable when the test subjects ate same number of calories they burned — however, body fat and abdominal fat dropped in both of the high protein groups. In the group that ate more frequently, lean body mass (the amount of muscle) increased, as did their leptin levels. The hormone leptin helps regulate hunger.

When all of the groups ate fewer calories than they burned, their body weight dropped. In the three-meal-a-day, high-protein group, subjects lost body fat, abdominal fat, and their leptin levels decreased. In the group that ate the high-protein diet six times a day, lean body mass remained higher, and their metabolism burned faster.

The researchers concluded that consuming more protein more frequently throughout the day decreases both body fat and abdominal fat, increases muscle and boosts the rate at which we burn calories over a traditional three-meal-a-day, low/moderate-protein diet.

What does this mean? Eating more often — and eating more protein — helps overweight individuals burn fat, maintain muscle and also helps with troublesome abdominal fat.