British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Section Two: Specific metabolic roles of amino acids, and the paradigm of optimal, as opposed to minimal dietary protein and amino acid requirements for performance, long-term health and optimal organ function

Dietary protein – its role in satiety, energetics, weight loss and health

Margriet S. Westerterp-Plantengaa1 c1, Sofie G. Lemmensa1 and Klaas R. Westerterpa1

a1 Human Biology, Nutrim, MUMC, Maastricht University, PO Box 616, 6200 MD, The Netherlands


Obesity is a serious health problem because of its co-morbidities. The solution, implying weight loss and long-term weight maintenance, is conditional on: (i) sustained satiety despite negative energy balance, (ii) sustained basal energy expenditure despite BW loss due to (iii) a sparing of fat-free mass (FFM), being the main determinant of basal energy expenditure. Dietary protein has been shown to assist with meeting these conditions, since amino acids act on the relevant metabolic targets. This review deals with the effects of different protein diets during BW loss and BW maintenance thereafter. Potential risks of a high protein diet are dealt with. The required daily intake is 0·8–1·2 g/kg BW, implying sustaining the original absolute protein intake and carbohydrate and fat restriction during an energy-restricted diet. The intake of 1·2 g/kg BW is beneficial to body composition and improves blood pressure. A too low absolute protein content of the diet contributes to the risk of BW regain. The success of the so-called ‘low carb’ diet that is usually high in protein can be attributed to the relatively high-protein content per se and not to the relatively lower carbohydrate content. Metabolic syndrome parameters restore, mainly due to BW loss. With the indicated dosage, no kidney problems have been shown in healthy individuals. In conclusion, dietary protein contributes to the treatment of obesity and the metabolic syndrome, by acting on the relevant metabolic targets of satiety and energy expenditure in negative energy balance, thereby preventing a weight cycling effect.

(Received July 27 2011)

(Revised September 29 2011)

(Accepted November 18 2011)

Key Words:

  • protein-diet;
  • satiety;
  • energy expenditure;
  • sparing fat-free-mass;
  • obesity;
  • metabolic syndrome


c1 Corresponding author: Prof. Dr M. S. Westerterp-Plantenga, fax +31433670976, email