Higher-protein, lower-carb diet with resistance exercise best for fat loss

I am not an out-and-out fan of aerobic exercise for weight loss, on account of the fact that, well, it doesn’t work so well for this (though it is good for general health). In recent years I’ve grown more interested in resistance exercise, at least in part because it can make a big difference to the shape and overall look of the body. Also, resistance exercise helps preserve of even improve muscle strength, which is hugely useful in life, particularly as we age.

I came across a study recently where resistance exercise was applied alongside dietary changes in a group of overweight and obese women (average age 46, average BMI 33) [1].

The exercise intervention was the same for all women: it entailed three, 30-minute resistance-based circuit classes each week. This intervention lasted 10 weeks. All of the women were put on a low-fat, calorie controlled diet. 1,200 calories per day were permitted in week one, rising to 1,600 calories per day for the rest of the study.

Half the women ate a high carbohydrate diet, while the other half ate a lower carbohydrate diet somewhat richer in protein.

Taking all the women as a whole, the interventions led to significant improvements in weight, fat mass, blood glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, systolic blood pressure (the higher of the two blood pressure readings), waist circumference and fitness.

Interestingly though, the women eating the lower-carb, higher-protein diet did better in terms of:

Weight loss (4.4 kg v 2.6 kg)

Fat loss (3.4 kg v 1.7 kg)

The results of this study are reminiscent of another study [2] I reported on here.

Two diets (one higher in protein and lower in carbohydrate than the other) were tested alongside resistance training (or no exercise) in a group of overweight and obese Type 2 diabetics. The breakdown of these two diets in terms of calories contributed by carbohydrate, protein and fat, respectively were:

Conventional diet – 53:19:26

Higher-protein diet – 43:33:22

Each of these groups was also split into two, with only one of these groups engaging in resistance exercise 3 times a week. The study lasted 16 weeks.

Those who did the best were those who ate the higher-protein, lower-carb diet and did resistance exercise too. These individuals lost an average of 11.1 kg of fat and 13.7 cm off their waists. (In comparison, non-exercising individuals eating a lower protein diet lost an average of 6.4 kg of fat and 8.2 cm off their waists).

For those seeking to shed fat and inches of their waist, some resistance exercise coupled with a relatively protein-rich and low-carb diet looks like a good way to go.


1. Kreider RB, et al. A carbohydrate-restricted diet during resistance training promotes more favourable changes in body composition and markers of health in obese women with and without insulin resistance. Physician and Sports Medicine. 2011;39(2):27-40.

2. Wycherley TP, et al. A High-Protein Diet With Resistance Exercise Training Improves Weight Loss and Body Composition in Overweight and Obese Patients With Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care 2010;33(5):969-976

28 Responses to Higher-protein, lower-carb diet with resistance exercise best for fat loss

  1. A.B. Dada 23 June 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    Love the footnote references!

    As someone who has spent the last 6 years seeking out the healthiest way of life possible, it’s important for me to not just focus on weight loss, but on lean muscle growth and an overall healthy status.

    When my friends say they want to lose weight, I tell them that weight loss goals are admirable, but body fat is just a symptom of deeper health concerns that take years to fully develop. For me, if I even THINK of cheating and eating something bad for me, I just have to remember how unhappy I was when I was unhealthy (and fat).

  2. Andy 23 June 2011 at 9:54 pm #

    Would have liked to see longer term studies that shows what happens after the diet period is over.

    How many of them regain all the weight? how many of them keep the weight off permanently? How many of them actually gain weight?

    I think that would really show what is the best “diet”.

    I have read pretty convincing articles that say that diets are failures for the majority of people in the long-term. They either gain or the weight back or end up being heavier that before, Unless they remain on restrictive diets.

  3. John 23 June 2011 at 11:17 pm #

    I’m finding that a higher-fat diet (based on Waist Disposal principles), reduced carbs, resistance band training and regular cycling is working for me and I feel and look better for it.

    Given the evidence, why are we suddenly seeing the appearance of high-carb diet books and plans again? I know this stuff sells, and every year there is some new “revolutionary” approach to weight loss – but surely either carbs are fattening or they’re not. Aren’t people being mis-lead if the evidence supports your theories?

  4. Daisy 24 June 2011 at 8:58 am #

    Does Pilates count as resistance training? As a woman in my early 50s, I find gyms very intimidating & can’t work the machines. Are you thinking of bringing out a DVD to demonstrate how to use resistance bands? Old-fashioned, I suppose, but I think it would help a lot of people who can’t face gyms or exercise classes.

  5. Guy Hayward 24 June 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    I’m worried by your advocacy for a low-carb diet because it is high in meat and fish. There is so much wrong with intensively-farmed meat and fish that most of us are not aware about.
    First of all, there is the huge environmental cost.
    Secondly, there is the dubious philosophical justification for treating animals like that.
    Thirdly, there is the possibility of a huge pandemic that kills in the millions coming straight out of intensive-farming. We’ve already had avian flu, swine flu (chickens and pigs). What next?
    Fourthly, whilst a low-carb, high protein diet will work for some, a high-carb, low-protein will work for others (especially high-histamine individuals). Surely, it is the ‘quality’ of the carbs that counts not merely the quantity. Meat is not without it’s health concerns too.

    Why is your dietary advice not tailored to the individual? We all instinctively know that what works for one person may not work for another, so why have you developed a ‘one-size-fits-all’ diet?

    If any readers want to check up on intensive farming, watch this video:

  6. jillyg 24 June 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    Iam female aged 75 with underactive thyroid and osteoarthritis, not overweight but at the upper limit for my height etc.I do eat a lot of carbs but cannot face protein at breakfast time in fact don’t eat main meal till evening, with toast for breakfast and sandwich or soup for lunch with the odd carb snack in between.
    I have a lot of pain from arthritis but try to keep mobile most of the day, would pilates be a suitable form of resistance exercise for me? and any advice on cutting carbs would be welcome

  7. John Briffa 24 June 2011 at 4:17 pm #


    You’re making the assumption that all meat and fish must be intensively farmed.

    And don’t forget mass agriculture has a huge environmental cost too (it’s amazing how often this is forgotten or ignored).

    I am with you re animal welfare (but have no personal issues regarding eating them).

    Yes, quality of carbs counts. I’m talking here mainly about refined sugar and grain. And yes, we do have different propensities to handle carbs, but my experience is people rarely thrive on a grain-based or even carb-based diet.

    What you choose to eat, Guy, is obviously entirely up to you.

  8. D. 24 June 2011 at 11:34 pm #

    Low fat diets should not be advised. Carbs should be a personal choice because by the time you reach a certain age, you’ll know if carbs are a problem for you. For me, if I don’t get a certain amount of carbs every day, I feel sluggish and after a few weeks my adrenals are in peril.

    Eat the way the French eat and you’ll do better than most at losing excess weight, but it is a slow process because it’s not really “dieting” (I hate that word) it’s re-learning and re-training yourself to eat properly and make good choices. Also the REAL mediterranean diet (not the one promoted for that past 20 years) is the other good choice. Stanley Fishman’s blog at tendergrassfedmeat.com has an article titled “Call it Medical, not Mediterranean” which describes this in an excellent fashion. He has lots of good articles on food and cooking methods. Wonderful stuff. Also, check out http://www.westonaprice.org and http://www.realmilk.com for more great nutritional advice from birth to the grave.

  9. Diana 25 June 2011 at 1:41 pm #


    A couple of years ago I found I was getting some inflammation and pain in a couple of joints, as well as general aches and pains all over. I was also suffering from bloating as the day went on, and quietly putting on weight, mainly round my middle. Food intolerance testing had shown I had a problem with wheat, so I decided to give it up in all foods, not just bread, for a couple of weeks to see what happened. I also cut out sugar, apart from a couple of squares of dark chocolate at night.

    Within a couple of days the bloating had stopped, my face looked less puffy and my rings felt looser. After a couple of weeks I’d lost five pounds even though I was eating well, my energy was great, and to my surprise the painful joints and general aches and pains had gone.

    Now I rarely eat wheat and avoid sugar as much as possible. I also drink more water than I used to. I’ve read a lot about this and I’m convinced wheat causes inflammation (though I’m not sure if that applies to all body types) and certainly sugar is acidic which affects the joints.

    I’ve met people who are convinced they’ve improved their arthritis, or at the least limited it’s progress, by diet. Cutting out wheat, cutting down on carbs generally, and eliminating sugar seems to stop the inflammatory response in the body. Aiming to eat mainly alkaline foods appears to be the answer, and that means lots of fish and vegetables. Hope this is helpful.

  10. Daisy 25 June 2011 at 6:52 pm #

    Can anyone answer our questions regarding Pilates? Thanks

  11. Kate 25 June 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    ‘why are we suddenly seeing the appearance of high-carb diet books and plans again?’

    Duh. Because ‘eat less, move more’ always works. And however you cut calories, the first part of that adage will be accomplished!

  12. John Briffa 26 June 2011 at 12:17 am #


    Duh. Because ‘eat less, move more’ always works.

    Except, of course, when it doesn’t (which, in the long term, if for practically everyone that tries it). Duh.

  13. Daisy 26 June 2011 at 12:25 am #

    Hi Dr Briffa,

    I would love to hear your opinion on Pilates…is it just a gimmick, do you think? And if you know of any DVDs that show how to use resistance bands – I’m very bad at following instructions in print!

    Many thanks

  14. Jenny 26 June 2011 at 1:58 am #

    When I bought my Dyna-Band there was an option to buy a DVD with it – which I did. It looks pretty good to me. Check out the website.

  15. jillyg 26 June 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    Good Morning Diana, thank you for your reply it’s very helpful. I would like to mention that over the years as my arthritis has been getting worse I have asked my GP several times if I might have an intolerance to wheat but was told ….NO…. this is a new idea that everybody is referring to for lots of health problems and it’s more or less just a fad it is extremely uncommon….so no more was done about my query, I also sent away for a kit to test yourself for celiac disease but it was negative, so I just soldiered on thinking well it can’t be wheat etc that’s my problem however I still had niggly doubts, because as I said in my first post I do eat a lot of wheat etc and it is mostly bread and wholemeal at that…so I am going to eliminate wheat as much as possible and see if it helps, I have started to do without bread but am still eating rye vita and oatcakes (wheat free) so if there is no improvement I will then eliminate them one by one
    I am also trying some gluten free foods one at a time and more or less just doing a trial and error type assesment of what I eat…it is hard because by my age you have spent a lifetime of eating certain foods and it is a bit foreign to you to suddenly change all at once.
    I would like to say that I do not take much in the way of medication for my arthrits since all I was offered like vioxx and codeine and NSAID products made me ill so I am left with paracetamol which does not really help vey much so I am really keen to find something that does not involve drugs that might help me.

    I would also like to hear from Dr Briffa or anyone else who has information on the Pilates question
    Many Thanks

  16. Daisy 27 June 2011 at 8:04 am #

    Is Pilates a taboo subject? (It’s true it’s extraordinarliy expensive and a tad sectish) I have often asked questions on this blog regarding its effectiveness as a form of resistance exercise (as a menopausal woman, I have a vested interest in this) and have NEVER had an answer! Strange…

    Anyone out there can help? Dr. Briffa?!

  17. John Briffa 27 June 2011 at 8:09 am #

    Hi Daisy

    There’s no conspiracy here – it’s just not something I know much about. I’ve never done it, never studied it, never even had a proper conversation with someone who practices or teaches it.

    I was hoping someone less ignorant than me on the subject would chime in…


  18. Linda Collier 27 June 2011 at 8:36 pm #

    I have done Pilates. It’s aim is to strengthen the core muscles so as to support the back. ‘To build a second spine at the front’. I don’t reckon it is much good as a resistance exercise as you do actions slowly and gently build up strength. I have read that it’s not a good form of exercise for building up bones as it is too gentle.

  19. Daisy 27 June 2011 at 11:12 pm #

    Thanks, Linda, I suspected as much. It doesn’t feel that gentle when you’re doing it one-to-one with an instructor, but you just don’t see results. Very frustrating!

    So, John (if I may) you needed put yourself through it!

    I’ll give the bands a go from now on.

    Many thanks to both.

  20. Sandra 29 June 2011 at 12:08 am #

    Hey Daisy, I’ve done many years of Pilates as well as Yoga, but I’ve ditched it all and found that weightlifting will give me the results I’m looking for. yes, pilates will strengthen the “core” and support your posture, etc. but if you are looking to lean out, you need to do something different. Weightlifting, push ups, pull ups, squats and sit-ups will is the way to go for fat loss. If you can find a trainer at a gym like crossfit or someplace that offers olympic weightlifting, you will probably save money too since pilates is so overpriced. Hope this helps! good luck 🙂

  21. Daisy 29 June 2011 at 9:05 am #

    Hi Sandra,

    Thank you so much for this sound advice.

    Do you think it’s possible to do this kind of work at home with only bands and small dumbbells? I’ve tried gyms and feel somewhat intimidated by the big muscley lads & the unhelpful staff…

  22. John Briffa 29 June 2011 at 9:14 am #


    The answer is ‘yes’. In my last book (Waist Disposal) I included a 12-minute routine that requires nothing more than dumbbells or a Dynaband (giant elastic band) that can be performed at home in a very confined space (if necessary). No gym necessary. Other alternatives exist that you can perhaps find on-line.

  23. Daisy 29 June 2011 at 11:40 pm #


    I’ve got the book, the bands & the dumbbells, now all I need is the willpower!

  24. Shane Doll 1 July 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    John, I couldn’t agree more with your assessment. I’ve been in the fitness training industry for over 20 years and there’s no question this is what produces the best results with body transformations. A lot of people will try and pick apart a low-carb approach for whatever reason but the truth is it just works best. I’m not an Atkins kind of low-carb promoter but follow more of a Primal Blueprint type diet with fruits and veggies making up the majority of carbs. We just don’t need the extra starches in our diets. The proof is in the pudding I say when you look at the people who are lean, strong, and healthy.

  25. Jill H 4 July 2011 at 12:35 am #

    My grandmother was a ballroom dancer in the 1950’s and as a small girl I used to watch her dance. She was a large lady but had such grace and elegance. She always said to me ‘ shoulders back, chest out, tummy in and squeeze those cheeks (sorry if that is too much info for the guys out there) but she gave me a life long love of dancing. I have tried pilates and it was not for me, but perhaps for ladies as we age, along with resistance exercises to keep bones strong, finding an exercise to enjoy is also important. So many forms of dancing – at the moment I dance Afro Brazilian – all ages and abilities at a good class and music – music to connect with as much as the dance. But also the flexiblity, posture, and ‘core strength’ important to keeping the body in shape.

  26. Guy Hayward 9 August 2011 at 2:10 am #

    I would like to respond to John Briffa’s response to my post.

    You are right that mass agriculture has a huge environmental cost. But your argument ignores the fact that by eating meat one is, in effect, not just eating the meat but all the plant (or animal) feed that we feed the animals with. This is clearly inefficient. If we were just to eat plant matter we would be ‘cutting out the middleman’ and thereby significantly reducing the amount of land (+ water + oil) we need to feed us.

    Actually, most meat we buy in England is intensively farmed because it is cheap. Most people cannot afford high-quality, well-farmed organic meat (or do not choose to buy it). And, in the case of fish, even if they are caught in the wild seas (i.e. not farmed) we are still doing unknowable damage to our oceans.

    You say that you agree with me about animal welfare. Can you please explain to me how it is in the interests of animal welfare that we kill animals?

    p.s. despite all your odds, I am personally thriving on a plant-based diet. Please make your diet more flexible and less ‘one size fits all’ – I am asking because I went through a lot of discomfort eating your low-carb diet and I’m guessing other people have too.


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