What is Protein, Really?
If you’ve been following fitness accounts and keeping up with gym lingo, it’s safe to say that you’ve heard the word, “macros” right? Macros, (also known as macronutrients) are the nutrients we need in order to fuel our bodies. There are three sources of macronutrients which include protein, fat and carbohydrates.
More specifically, protein is an essential dietary nutrient involved in nearly all bodily functions and plays a key role in exercise recovery. Now, allow us to put on our science hat for a second. The elements hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon and oxygen combine to form amino acids (also known as the building blocks of protein). What’s more? The primary use of both amino acids and protein are to create bodily tissues, maintain fluid balance, form cellular transporters and enzymes and more.
Ok cool, we get it. Protein is important. But why?
Our bodies are as complex as they are beautiful. Always adapting to environmental stressors and internal conditions with one goal in mind: to keep us alive and thriving.
When it comes to protein, our bodies use this essential nutrient to do a myriad of things that help us survive and thrive. This includes building and repairing muscle tissue, supporting hair, skin and nail growth, contributing to construction of bones, blood, cartilage and much more.
As stated before, protein is made up of amino acids which is essential for every cell in your body. If you don’t get enough protein through foods, your body is then forced to “borrow” amino acids from your main source of protein storage, your muscles. This creates a problem because it can result in a loss of lean tissue and strength. And we know you don’t work out as hard as you do only to lose it, right?
And in the context of this blog post, protein can play another important role if you’re on a weight loss or fat-loss diet by keeping you fuller longer with fewer calories. Let’s talk about some more health benefits of protein when it comes to weight loss.
How Much Protein Do I Need To Eat Each Day?
Now that you know why protein is important, how much should you eat each day in order to maintain muscle and lose body fat? The annoying answer: it depends. There is no one hard and fast rule that will 100% work for every single person out there. The actual amount can vary from person to person.
But, in general, for people who are attempting to lose weight it’s widely recommended that you eat between 1.2 and 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of weight or aim for 25g at each meal. You can find protein intake calculators online to help you closely pinpoint how much you should consume in a day.
If your goal is to maintain muscle mass, you have to have it to begin with, right? So it goes without saying that you may want to consider adding weight lifting or bodyweight exercises to your fitness routine.
It’s obviously important to note that not all protein sources are created equal. Quality matters. So, later in this post, we’ll be covering just how you can increase your protein intake the healthy way. For now, let’s talk about the benefits of protein in the context of weight-loss.
The Benefits of Protein for Weight Loss
As you may know by now, protein can play a vital role in a diet with weight-loss as its number one goal. And while there are a number of benefits of protein in general, when it comes to weight-loss, there are four main key points that have direct effects on losing weight.
Before we get started though, it’s important to note that protein alone will not be the magic thing that will promote weight loss. There are, of course, other factors involved like cardio-based and resistance-based exercise, a caloric deficit, keeping hydrated and so on. Think of protein as an aid in weight loss in addition to these things. Cool?
1. Protein Keeps You Feel Full Longer
Picture this: it’s early January (but not so early you’re not sure what day it is anymore) and you’re beyond excited to start your “new year, new me” meal plan. You bought the ingredients and cooked your first dinner only to sit there, staring at the empty plate, feeling like you could eat that whole serving again. The absolute worst. How are you supposed to keep this up if you’re hungry all the time? Surely there’s a better way?
Chances are, your new year, new me meal didn’t include sufficient amounts of protein. How do we know? Protein is the most satiating of all the macronutrients and thus, research has shown that higher protein intakes tend to provide more satiety and less hunger.
In fact, one study showed that high protein snacks allowed participants to go longer between eating, while another study showed that including protein into a glass of water decreased hunger compared to hunger alone. Woah, that got our attention!
2. Protein Ramps Up The Thermic Effect of Food
Ramps up the… huh? Essentially, it takes energy to digest your delicious food. And the thermic effect is basically the “cost” of digesting your food. Each macronutrient requires a certain amount of energy to digest. Can you guess which one of the three macros is thought to be the most thermogenic? Yes, it is protein!
Why is this important? As protein is the most thermogenic, it causes a small spike in your metabolism in order to digest it compared to the other two macros, carbs and fat. In other words, eating more protein overall could lead to incremental spikes in your daily metabolism and energy expenditure. While this is a minor effect on metabolism (about 10% of your total energy expenditure) it is important to consider as dieting is associated with decreases in metabolism over time.
3. Protein Preserves Lean Body Mass
One of the biggest struggles when on a weight-loss plan is maintaining lean body mass (muscle mass) while losing body-fat. That’s where protein comes in. It helps preserve lean body mass during periods of caloric restriction. So, if you’re undergoing a fitness routine, you must be sure you’re getting adequate protein (mentioned earlier in this post) if you want to keep lean muscle mass.
4. Protein is Hard to Store As Body Fat
In order for protein to be stored as fat, the biochemical process involved is much different than that of carbs and fat. The bottomline is that this process makes protein to be stored as fat much harder. This means that overeating protein, compared to overeating carbs or fat for example, would result in much less stored body fat.
How To Increase Your Protein Intake
As we stated earlier, not all protein sources are created equal and you may want to consider thinking about the quality. You can enjoy quality protein sources from a variety of foods but we’ll always maintain that whole, high quality food sources are going to be your best choice. Things like animal-based options like meat, fish, dairy, or plant-based proteins like lentils, nuts, seeds and beans.
But sometimes, life gets in the way and you’re strapped for time. Or, as previously mentioned, protein makes you fuller longer so some people struggle with fulfilling their macro goals everyday. In this case, it can be super helpful to introduce protein supplements like Bright Whey or Bright Vegan into your diet.
We want to know, how will you introduce protein into your diet? What are your favorite sources? Spill the tea in the comments below.