Why You Probably Need To Eat More Protein While Taking Ozempic

For the past year, buzzy weight-loss medications like Ozempic and Wegovy have dominated headlines, prescription slips, and dinner conversations. Celebs like Sharon Osbourne and Oprah have talked openly about using them to jumpstart their weight-loss journeys. And some of these semaglutide drugs are so popular that they continue to be in shortage. Right now, almost 2 percent of people in the U.S. have been prescribed semaglutide, according to data shared with CNN.

Of course, with this surge in popularity comes a lot of queries, like how these medications work, what to expect when taking them, who might benefit from them, and how to take care of your overall health. If you start taking a semaglutide medication like Ozempic, doctors stress that the medications are meant to be one tool you can use, alongside other healthy lifestyle changes. Chief among them: your nutrition.

“Diet is still important,” says Kunal Shah, MD, an assistant professor in the division of endocrinology at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center. Even if you’re losing weight with Ozempic or Mounjaro, you should be doing your best to also follow a healthy eating plan, which experts say includes plenty of fruits, veggies, and, most importantly, protein.

“A higher-protein diet is preferred, especially if patients are on these medications long-term,” Dr. Shah says. (These medications are generally considered to be long-term use drugs.) In fact, a growing number of companies like WeightWatchers, Nestle, and Abbott Laboratories seem to have noted this growing need for protein, and in response, have launched everything from special programs to ensure people taking weight-loss medications get enough protein, to new protein-rich drinks and products.

Mir Ali, MD, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., agrees. In fact, Dr. Ali says that he would emphasize the need to reduce carbs and sugar while increasing protein intake.

You’ve probably heard before that protein is important for everyone and particularly for people trying to lose weight. But why is this the case? Here’s what the experts have to say about all of this.

Meet the experts: Kunal Shah, MD, is an assistant professor in the division of endocrinology at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center. Mir Ali, MD, is a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. Scott Keatley, RD, is the co-owner of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy. Deborah Cohen, RDN, DCN, is an associate professor in the department of clinical and preventive nutrition sciences at Rutgers University School of Health Professions.

Why is protein so important when you’re taking weight-loss drugs?

The appetite-suppressant properties of semaglutide medications mean you’re likely eating less, and consuming fewer calories than before, which means the foods and macronutrients you *do* consume become that much more important. In fact, experts have pointed out that people taking Ozempic, Wegovy, and other drugs like them might not be getting the nutrients they need to keep their bodies healthy.

So, there are a few reasons why doctors and nutritionists recommend focusing on protein when you’re on a weight-loss journey—and this holds true whether you’re taking medication or not. Protein, which is made up of amino acids, is responsible for the health of many different body functions and structures. It helps build and repair muscles, and keep your bones healthy.

When you’re watching the numbers on the scale drop, you’re not just losing fat, Dr. Shah explains. “You’re also losing connective tissue and muscle mass—those are things we don’t want to lose.”

Adding in more protein will not only support your muscle mass and metabolism, but these protein-rich foods can also help you to feel fuller, longer, he points out. Plus, when you lose that lean muscle mass, it can slow down your metabolism, explains Scott Keatley, RD, co-owner of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy.

“Any muscle you can hang onto while dieting will help keep weight off long-term,” he says.

Of course, protein also has a lower glycemic index, explains Dr. Ali. That means it’s less likely to increase your blood sugar. “It stimulates insulin secretion less and push[es] the body more toward burning rather than depositing fat,” he says.

How much protein should I be consuming in general?

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein involves a little math on your part. It’s generally considered to be about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams of protein per pound, but newer research suggests you may need closer to around 1 gram per kilogram. When breaking that down, it should come out to about 30 to 35 grams per meal.

Dr. Shah notes that 1 gram generally works for most people, but a person’s protein needs may vary depending on other factors in your life, including how active you are and any medications you’re on. As a result, it’s really best to check in with your doctor to see what your ideal protein intake should be.

“Proteins are usually calorie dense, so people tend to avoid that when they’re trying to lose weight,” Dr. Shah says. “But protein can help.”

There are ways you can supplement your protein intake.

Doctors and nutritionists recommend doing what you can to hit your protein goals from your normal meals first, before turning to supplements and protein-heavy snacks.

“Eating a variety of foods is one way to ensure you get enough protein, but also enough nutrients,” says Deborah Cohen, RDN, DCN, an associate professor in the department of clinical and preventive nutrition sciences at Rutgers University School of Health Professions. She recommends fueling up on ingredients like a 3-ounce lean hamburger (21 grams of protein), a chicken breast (30 grams), an egg (6 grams), 1 ounce of cheese (7 grams), and a cup of milk (8 grams).

“I recommend people get as much protein as they can from food sources,” Dr. Ali says. “But if they feel they’re not getting enough protein or are having difficulty getting it from food, they can supplement it with a sugar-free protein shake.”

Dr. Shah says protein powders are “virtually all the same,” so to focus on one that has fewer grams of sugar and carbs.

If you’re on a weight-loss medication, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your dietary needs, as well as anything else you should be doing to ensure you’re as healthy as possible on your journey. “Protein is the building block,” Dr. Shah says. “But exercise puts it to good use.”

How can I determine if I’m getting enough protein?

If you’re taking a weight-loss medication and need help figuring out *exactly* how much protein you should be consuming each day, try reaching out to a registered dietitian or specialized nutrition coach. While each person might require something different, based on lifestyle and exercise, experts have also previously told Women’s Health that if you aim to hit around 25 to 30 grams of protein during each meal, you’ll easily boost your protein quota.

Once you’ve set a target, using an app like MyFitnessPal or MyPlate to keep track of your protein intake (and how much protein is in each of your meals) can be helpful.

“Your daily macro intake may be quite different from what you estimate in your head,” Franziska Spritzler, RD, the author of The Low Carb Dietitian’s Guide to Health & Beauty previously told Women’s Health. “User-friendly tracking phone apps can help you stay accountable at all times—even if you’re traveling, dining out, or having dinner at a friend’s home.”

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Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives by the beach, and hopes to own a teacup pig and taco truck one day.

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