More Thoughts on High Volume or High Protein For Fat Loss

This is a continuation of my last post High Volume or High Protein Foods For Fat Loss, which made the case that high protein becomes a better strategy for fat loss than high volume as one gets leaner. If you haven’t read that post yet, do so now. At the end of that post, I stated:

…if you have a lot of weight to lose, use both high volume and high protein strategies.

Even though I am lean and don’t have to decide between high volume or high protein, I began rethinking that sentence. Are the strategies equal for the obese person? I don’t know. Perhaps each individual diet would respond more favorably to one strategy than the other? If I had to answer this question for myself or advise someone with significant weight to lose, I would cycle between the two approaches with most of the time favoring high volume over high protein.

Photo by Diana Robinson

In March 2017, Robb Wolf was a guest on the Joe Rogan podcast. Near the end of the show (2:46:10), we hear the story of an obese man who went on a medically supervised fast for 382 days. His weight dropped from 456 to 180 pounds. As interesting as that story is, the part I found fascinating was the fact he didn’t have extra skin at the end of the diet. At (2:49:22) Robb explains why fasting might prevent the excess skin folds we see on people who lose lots of weight.

If the protein is still being supplied in the diet, then even though the fat goes away, you still have the protein matrix of the skin and the interstitial connective issue that isn’t going to go away. But when we are in that fasted state or intermittent fasted or maybe ketosis, the body is turning over that protein base and that is really important. That is this apoptotic process. But you could potentially have a scenario where people that are losing a lot of weight that use these fasting protocols aren’t going to need that cosmetic surgery to get rid of these sails of skin.

Robb goes on to say this is anecdotal at this point, but his explanation makes perfect sense.

Joe Rogan Experience #935 – Robb Wolf

The Fat Loss Journey From Peasant to Bodybuilder

My hypothesis now, if I am connecting these different sources correctly, is that if one has a lot of weight to lose to start their journey eating more Peasant-like (plus fasting) and as they get within striking range of lean begin shifting to Bodybuilder. Start with a low-protein diet that relies on high-volume foods like potatoes to kill hunger. Do some fasting. Get leaner. Then begin shifting to higher protein.

Does this sound correct?


Add yours

  1. Did you read/skim Penn Jillette’s book “Presto”? I wrote my own little review of it ( He did a 3-month crash diet to lose 100 pounds, and avoided the ‘stomach sleeve’ operation.

    You won’t get much scientific info from the book, but it’s a quick read if you skim and some of the anecdotes are interesting.

    Of tangential relevance to this post: his weight-loss guru told him to lose weight first and add muscle only after hitting his loss target. Those are two different processes and it’s easier on the body to focus on one rather than both, accd to his guru. Penn ate only plain baked potatoes the first month, and then I think vegetables and seasonings were added. He now follows Dr Furhman’s eating plan.

    I was struck by Penn’s observation that the muscle he gained after losing the weight felt stronger than the marbled fat and muscle he had before.

  2. Hi Mike, this makes good sense if one’s baseline state is very overweight, but for many moderately fit individuals looking to lose 10-201b, the concept of losing too much hard earned muscle on a diet will remain hard to stomach (excuse the pun!). Hence the interest in protocols which try to minimise muscle loss. I think the bodybuilding community (always ahead of the curve!) have long used bulking and cutting phases, acknowledging that building muscle and losing fat simultaneously remains for now out of reach for most

  3. @Mike – Nice post!

    I was able to see Penn Jillette speak about his fat loss when he visited Seattle last September. Looks like the audio of the talk has been uploaded to this server:

    His plan of focusing on diet first makes perfect sense. It is hard to lose weight and it is hard to exercise. Doing both at the same time would be doubly hard. Get the diet going. Build habits. Make some progress and then add in exercise later.

  4. @Ritesh – What I gathered from Lyle’s comments in my previous blog was that losing fat and gaining muscle is possible in the obese, but once a male is down to 12% body fat, he doesn’t think it is likely.

  5. I’d vote for high protein for anyone. A) It’s very hard to gain fat from protein, as I believe only one amino acid out of 21 is easily transferred to fat. B) It’s the most satiating macronutrient. C) It shifts the muscle to fat lost ratio in positive direction, sometimes drastically so. D) Highest thermic effect.

    Also, case in point, my father had maybe 80g protein a day diet, very low carb, and out of 14 kg, he lost 6kg muscle. So I guess the protein was still low for his frame in calorie deficit, and he was 127kg to begin with. Also, he doesn’t lift, although he swims.

  6. @Ondrej – What are your thoughts on what Robb Wolf was saying in the video about how protein restriction could address the loose skin issues in the obese? Is that a “good to have problem” in your view?

  7. Robb Wolf wants the nareative that keto/IF is good. And if we take this to it’s conclusion, wouldn’t low protein, possibly negatively, affect all organs in the body? Smaller liver, less mass? Why would it be selective to skin?

  8. fascinating! the Spud Fit dude who ate nothing but potatoes for a year and lost over a hundred pounds also ended his diet with no extra skin.

  9. Ondrej,
    The body (innate intelligence) will catabolize excess skin through autophagic processes — homeostatic processes/balance. It’s not going to catabolize lean mass.

    “Smaller liver?” Is the body going to catabolize it’s most important metabolic organ?

    I’m aware of the Spud Fit story cited by norlee and the study Robb Wolf mentioned. Both had solid health markers at the end of their diets. They retained LBM and no reports of a shrunken liver.

  10. Well, if obese people lose at least 25% muscle/75% fat on moderate protein diet and close to 0% Muscle/100% fat on a high protein diet, it seems to me body will happily get rid of “excess” muscle.
    I don’t believe I’ll magically keep the same lean body mass on potato diet of 14g/day vs high protein diet of 18″g/day when in caloric deficit just because Robb Wolf wishes me luck;-)

  11. “The body” is far from perfect does a lot of stupid stuff as well. Excessive destruction of it’s own precious tissue in tuberculosis, damaging the heart in rheumatic fever just because it has similar antigens as the pathogen etc.
    Even breathing itself is a system that comes with a price of damage accumulation and death, mitochondrial DNA has laughable repair ability etc.
    Even us having these discussions shows how body weight, mass and fat regulation systems are imperfect in modern environment.

  12. @Ondrej – Where did you get the 25% number (LBM lost in the obese during dieting under moderate protein)?

    Lyle didn’t state a number in the interview, but I believe he said the obese lost very little muscle. The P-Ratio works in their favor at first. But that number isn’t static as the weight comes off.

    I don’t know what the P-Ratio ranges are for various levels of weights, but I find the topic interesting.

  13. MAS,

    Good day to you. Your ideas of the peasant diet and fasting resonate with me. I have the “potato” books, by Steele and McDougall which have increased my knowledge on starch based diets. I’ve become an expert at cooking rice in a pressure cooker along with incorporating a cooling phase to decrease caloric content. Ditto beans and peas and potatoes. I would like to experiment with corn, as corn can be frozen readily in order to increase resistant starch.

    In contrast, I’m not excited about increasing dietary protein. Inevitably, increasing dietary protein increases fat and saturated fat. Furthermore, vitamins, minerals and fiber will be decreased with increasing dietary protein.

    All urologists’ offices are full of patients all the time in the U.S. The dialysis centers have the same problem. Emergency rooms across the country regularly treat many kidney stones. Obese persons already stress their kidneys. Ditto diabetics.

    Dr. Valter Longo has stressed the importance of low IGF-1 levels if longevity is important to you. Low protein diets do just that. How much muscle can a person gain after the 1st year of hard training???? not much…and certainly not enough to increase dietary protein. Protein needs can easily be met with potatoes for all but outliers in my opinion.


  14. @Marc – To be honest, I’m not excited to go high protein either. It is a less compelling story to me (at this time) than the peasant diet. But my levels are probably a little too low now and I don’t want to lose muscle. So, for now, I’m just going to have a few more high protein meals a week. Still mostly peasant.

    Longevity at this time is not my primary goal. Being lean and staying there is first. Whenever I have competing health goals, I lose progress.

    I heard an interview with Dr. Longo. I recall he mentioned going very low in protein for 4 days, but then spiking protein for a period. Maybe I heard him wrong. I don’t remember the details.

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