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There are many, many trainers out there, all with different techniques, views and opinions in training and nutrition but one thing that is synonymous with pretty much all of us is that we believe the majority of people need to eat more protein. So in this post, were going to explain why.
Why do we need it?
Protein is often referred to as the bodies “building blocks” as its main function is to build and repair muscle but also serves other vital functions such as the creation of enzymes and hormones.
Protein is made up of amino acids, some of which the body is able to produce and some of which we need to obtain from our diet, also known as the “essential amino acids”.
Some proteins such as animal proteins contain all the amino acids whereas as some proteins from plant based sources such as lentils and legumes don’t which means if you are a vegetarian, you’ll need to eat a wider variety of food to make sure you are getting all of the essential amino acids.
Protein is an essential macronutrient we need to live, so don’t think it’s just for building muscle.
If you participate in regular exercise, particularly resistance training, and lead an active lifestyle it’s even more important to have a sufficient protein intake, as your body is breaking down muscle tissue on a regular basis.
1) It increases your energy expenditure
Eating protein can both boost your metabolic rate AND reduce your appetite (1), a double whammy for fat loss.
It has also been shown to increase your calorie expenditure (calories out) by 80 to 100 calories per day (2, 3). This is down to the metabolic “cost” of breaking down protein into amino acids, also known as thermogenesis.
To put it into simple terms, if you were to eat 100 calories worth of protein, your body would effectively use some calories breaking it down (roughly 20-30%) which would result in a lower net calorie intake.
Looking to gain weight? This is exactly why more protein isn’t necessarily better. Overshoot your protein and it may fill you up so much you can’t stomach the extra calories needed to add muscle.
2) It stops you getting hungry
Do you ever get “hangry”?
If you don’t know what hangry is, it’s when you get so hungry you become angry and irritable. No doubt if you’ve ever tried to diet before, you’ve had this at some point.
In which case, increasing your protein may be the answer, as it has been shown in research to be the most satiating of all the macronutrients, meaning it makes you feel fuller for longer.
You may have even noticed foods on supermarket shelves claiming increased and longer lasting fullness, that’s due to a higher protein content.
As you won’t be a hungry (or hangry) it can also help to reduce cravings and eat fewer calories per day without you even realising simply because you won’t feel like you need the extra calories (4, 5).
3) It preserves muscle mass during weight loss
You don’t just want to lose weight. You might want to look lean, strong and “toned” if you’re a girl or “ripped” if you’re a guy and you can’t do that without muscle.
It’s very difficult to build muscle with a reduced energy intake, in which case the next best thing you can do is to keep hold of the muscle you already have, which means doing 2 things:
- Lifting heavy
- Eating enough protein
If you start to lose muscle mass, you’ll only end up looking like a skinnier version of your previous self. This might suit some but not most.
One study for example showed a protein intake of roughly 2.3g/kg compared to 1g/kg made a significant difference to the preservation of muscle whilst dieting (6).
Another showed how a reduced carbohydrate to protein ratio lead to greater improvements in body composition and better ratio of fat/muscle loss (7).
4) It builds lean muscle mass and strength
When you lift weights, you break down muscle, if you want to build and repair that muscle it’s pretty obvious that you’ll need to get enough protein to facilitate muscle growth.
Insufficient protein, also known as negative nitrogen balance, means your body is breaking down muscle quicker than it can repair and build it. Not ideal.
Sufficient protein on the other hand also known as a positive nitrogen balance means your body not only has enough protein to repair broken down muscle but also a surplus to begin building new muscle as well as strength (8).
So how much protein do you actually need?
Protein should ideally be calculated based on your current body weight or lean body weight. As protein needs are determined by muscle mass, it makes sense to base your intake on your lean muscle mass as opposed to total mass. Particularly if you’re carrying a bit too much fluff.
Research is still trying to determine what is an “optimal” amount but there is conflicting data. Some studies suggest 0.8g per lb to be the upper end to maximise muscle protein synthesis (9) whereas others claim a little over 1g per lb is more optimal (10).
Unless you are a professional athlete or dieting to very low levels of body fat, we typically recommend somewhere in the middle at 1g/lb of lean bodyweight with 0.8g/lb as a minimum.
What are good sources of Protein?
Animal proteins are considered some of the best sources of protein. Which isn’t surprising considering animal tissue is very similar to our own. However, providing you are getting an adequate protein intake from a wide variety of sources, it’s likely you’ll see no discernible difference.
If you’re a vegetarian, it makes it slightly more difficult but not impossible to get enough quality protein. As vegetarian protein sources have different types of amino acids and not ALL of the essential amino acids, you’ll need to get plenty of variety to make sure you are getting a good ratio.
Popular Protein Sources
- Greek Yogurt
- Cottage Cheese
- Whey Protein
Do you need to supplement with protein?
Protein supplementation really depends on how much protein you are getting in your diet already. It’s not compulsory but if you find yourself regularly hitting your protein targets with whole foods then supplementing with a protein powder can help.
Bottom line – If you’re getting enough protein from whole foods, you don’t need to take any protein supplements.
We want this to be your go to article for protein so we’ll add more relevant information as new science arises but in order to serve you best we need to know, what do you want to know about protein? Leave a comment below!
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