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Protein Pacing... What it is, what it's not.

Look I'm not trying to bore you with all of the science information, but this one is actually pretty cool.

Wish you could lose weight and fat quickly without a significant loss of lean body mass? That’s what a diet called the Protein Pacing Diet claims to accomplish.

Dr. Paul Arciero, a well-known nutrition researcher, is both a professor and director of the Health & Human Physiological Sciences Department at Skidmore College. But what he’s become best known for his is program called the Protein Pacing Diet, which he has studied extensively for many years.

But what is “protein pacing?” and is this dietary change worth considering? Let’s take a closer look!

There are 5 “rules” to the protein pacing

  1. Eat 4-6 high-quality protein-based meals per day

  2. Space these meals evenly, eating every 3 hours

  3. Consume 20-40 grams of protein at each meal*

  4. Eat 1st meal within 1 hour of waking in the morning

  5. Have your last meal within 2 hours of going to sleep at night

The exercise component is referred to as RISE:

  1. Resistance training: 1 hour of strength training/week with 2-3 sets of each exercise. Should be able to complete 10-15 reps per set.

  2. Interval high intensity training: similar to a HIIT workout, this includes 35 minutes of high intensity cardio intervals 1 day per week.

  3. Stretching: 1 hour of yoga or pilates per week.

  4. Endurance training: 1 hour of moderate intensity cardio, such as running, cycling, swimming, or hiking 1 day per week.

While the program calls for 4 days of exercise, for those looking to workout 5 or 6 days a week, you can simply do one or two of these workouts twice a week on non-consecutive days.

As mentioned in the beginning, there have been several PRISE studies, each looking at different populations.


The original PRISE study included 79 healthy, middle-aged adults who were overweight or obese. Over 16 weeks, the participants were all instructed to continue their normal diets, but with the addition of 20 grams of whey protein powder 3x/day. Calories were not restricted.

There were three groups:

  1. Whey-only

  2. Whey plus high-intensity resistance training for 1 hour, 4 days per week

  3. Whey plus 4-day per week RISE program

While all groups los weight and fat mass over the 16 weeks, only the two groups that combined protein pacing with exercise had significant losses in visceral adipose tissue (VAT). VAT is a type of fat found deep in the abdominal region and high amounts of it has been associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases, especially metabolic syndrome.

The major findings of this study were:

The PRISE group lost significantly more body weight and fat mass and gained more lean muscle than the other two groups. 0 The PRISE group also showed significant improvements in insulin resistance.


The PRISE 2 study included 30 overweight or obese adults. The purpose of this study was to see if there’s a difference in weight loss and body composition between protein pacing using whey supplements and protein pacing using only whole food sources.

Both groups followed the RISE exercise regimen and consumed 5-6 meals per day, with 20-25 grams of protein at each meal (the goal was about 1.4 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day). Calories again were not restricted, but they were calculated based on each individuals’ needs.

After 16 weeks, both groups lost weight and showed significant improvements in muscle strength, flexibility, fat mass, lean body mass, and waist circumference.

However, there were no significant differences between groups, meaning that the PRISE protocol was effective regardless of getting protein from whey supplements or whole food sources.


The PRISE 3 study was different in that it looked at the effect of the PRISE diet on physically-active women looking to simply improve athletic performance and muscle mass. The study included 30 healthy-weight women, aged 25-55, who regularly exercise for at least 30 minutes 4 days per week.

Participants were randomized to either the PRISE group (with 2.0 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day) or a “normal” protein intake (1.0 grams/kg body weight/day) with the RISE exercise regimen.

After 12 weeks, participants in the PRISE group had significantly greater improvements in muscle gain, strength, power, and blood pressure. And both groups, regardless of protein intake, had improvements in fat mass and lean body mass.

Effect of calorie restriction with protein pacing and long-term effects:

Finally, another study on the PRISE diet looked at both calorie restriction and the long-term effects of protein pacing in 43 overweight and obese adults.

During the initial weight loss phase of the trial, all participants were given the same diet:

  • 1200 calories/day for women and 1500 calories/day for men.

  • 30% protein, 45% carb, 25% fat.

  • Diet included meal-replacement bars and shakes to ensure consumption of about 20-25 grams of protein at each meal.

  • One intermittent fasting day per week where participants consumed 350-450 calories/day from high protein, low-carb snacks and beverages.

After the initial phase, participants then had the option to either move onto a modified protein pacing diet or transition to a hearty healthy diet regimen for the remaining 52 weeks. The modified protein pacing diet did not restrict calories but had to replace 2 of their 5 or 6 meals with high-protein supplement shakes or bars.

They were also instructed to do intermittent fasting 1-2 times per month.

So what did the study find?

For the initial 12-week phase, combining protein pacing with calorie restriction resulted in an average 10% weight loss for both genders, with an average 23 pounds weight loss in women and 28 lb weight loss in men.

Additionally, participants lost an average 19% body fat, 25% abdominal fat, and 33% VAT. After 52 weeks, participants who chose to continue with protein pacing regained significantly less fat and body weight than those on the heart healthy diet.


Essentially, the PRISE studies found that with or without calorie restriction, spacing protein out evenly throughout the day and combining a higher protein diet with a RISE-style exercise regimen can result in significant improvements in body composition, weight, and athletic performance.

The idea of protein pacing isn’t anything new, especially in the sports world.

In fact, the International Society of Sports Nutrition also recommends 20-40 grams of protein every 3-4 hours to stimulate protein muscle synthesis. It also concluded that spacing out protein is associated with improvements in body composition and athletic performance.

But even for non-athletes, studies have shown improvements in muscle synthesis and reductions in body fat with increases in muscle mass when consuming a higher protein diet with protein spread out evenly throughout the day.

The Bottom Line

The Protein Pacing diet was developed based on research that found improved weight loss, changes in body composition, and improvements in muscle strength with a high protein intake that’s spread out between 4-6 small meals/day. Whether you choose to do this with whole foods or supplement a couple of meals with clean protein/ meal replacement shakes or bars, the results are relatively the same!

As the diet combines exercise and whole foods, it may be a good option for some individuals who are looking specifically to lose fat mass while maintaining lean body mass. However, before trying any dietary changes, it’s always important to speak with your doctor or dietitian as the level of activity or amount of protein may be too much for some individuals.

Is protein pacing something you would try?

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