The importance of protein
It’s a topic I get asked about every single week by followers on instagram or facebook or clients especially my nutrition clients because they realize how hard it is to hit their daily protein amounts. It’s such an important macronutrient that it’s pretty easy to talk about.
But before we get into all that, here’s what you need to know:
- Protein is critical for many human processes, so neglecting it can be detrimental to your health and physical progress.
- Not all proteins are created equal, so the type you consume actually is important to consider when focusing on body composition changes.
- Eating 0.7g/lb. is enough but most likely subpar or less than ideal.
- Eating above 1.2g/lb. is not dangerous but doesn’t show much added benefits by any means.
- When dieting (in a caloric deficit) you may benefit from raising protein higher than your normal intake.
- When massing (in a caloric surplus) it makes sense to bring protein down to the lower end of the range, because carbs/fats will be set higher.
Let’s start this off by defining what protein actually is, because I think it’s important to truly understand what you’re consuming as a human being – be that you’re a mom of 3, an athlete, over the age of 40m (listen up I am talking to you) or just the garage gym meathead looking to lose his beer belly.
No matter who you are, if you’re reading this or participating in any nutritional protocol, you should be educating yourself on the what, why and how’s of everything. Without educating yourself, you will not understand how this will work for you long-term and more importantly you will not be as consistent in the short term (this is why inside our nutrition coaching, we prioritize client education.)
“Any of a class of nitrogenous organic compounds that consist of large molecules composed of one or more long chains of amino acids and are an essential part of all living organisms, especially as structural components of body tissues such as muscle, hair, collagen, etc., and as enzymes and antibodies.”
Ok – now, for all the people reading this who are not scientists or nutrition geeks like me.
Protein is essential for building, repairing and preserving muscle. It also helps us feel full throughout the day.
However, since it’s not as accessible as carbohydrate and fat sources, many people find it challenging to hit daily protein goals consistently.
Protein is a macronutrient that contains 4 calories per gram, meaning if you consume 100 grams of protein – you’ve consume 400 calories.
Protein is an essential nutrient, which means we cannot survive without consumption of it on a daily basis for extended periods of time. This is why it’s glamorized so much, rightfully so, and people tend to lean on it as the crux in any nutritional protocol.
It’s primarily found in animal sources (more advice on where to find it later in the article) but can also be found inside other sources, like nuts and legumes.
Protein as a molecule is made up of amino acids, which are known as the building blocks of protein. They literally make up protein; you can look at it just like macros make calories – because within calories, there are macronutrients. Although it’s different, this may help you understand that you can’t really have one without the other.
There are 21 amino acids in total, but only 9 are essential. It doesn’t mean that the rest aren’t important, this just means they’re essential for consumption because your body and cells cannot produce them – so we must consume them.
Within the essential amino acids (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine), there are 3 very common ones sold inside BCAA supplementation – these are isoleucine, leucine, and valine. The reason these are often secluded for supplementation is because these 3 have the greatest effect on muscle protein synthesis, specifically leucine.
Only issue here is that many studies allude to the fact that even these “BCAA’s” work much better when in combination with all the essential 9 amino acids, which makes consuming EAA’s or whey protein possibly more advantageous. It’s up for debate but my opinion is of the later or even better… EAT REAL FOOD!
What can Protein do for you?
Protein is the foundation for muscle tissue, in fact muscle tissue, in a way, IS protein – literally. Muscles are made up of two types of filaments, actin and myosin – which are both proteins. I could go into detail on all of these reasons but I’ll just hight light these as there are thousands of articles that you can google…
Science-Backed Reasons to Eat More Protein
- Reduces Appetite and Hunger Levels. …
- Increases Muscle Mass and Strength. …
- Good for Your Bones. …
- Reduces Cravings and Desire for Late-Night Snacking. …
- Boosts Metabolism and Increases Fat Burning. …
- Lowers Your Blood Pressure. …
- Helps Maintain Weight Loss. …
- Does Not Harm Healthy Kidneys.
Meat? Fish? Dairy? Plant-Based? What actually works…?!
This is a controversial topic, simply because my recommendations are not going to abide by the guidelines of a vegan or vegetarian but I will include them as they are still important.
So I must start this by saying, we work with both vegans and vegetarians and have for years now. So in saying what follows, it does not mean results are impossible if you’re not consuming animal products.
But what the literature shows us is that plant based proteins are less bioavailable and therefore do not have the same MPS/Anabolic effect that animal sources tend to have. So when targeting body composition changes and performance enhancement, it is advantageous to consume animal based proteins.
There are ways around this as a vegan or vegetarian, however. Things like supplementation, nutrient timing, and aiming for specific plant based foods to be the majority of your protein intake.
The main reason why animal based proteins tend to be more advantageous to body composition changes is because their amino acid profile is better than that of plant based sources.
Sources of Lean Protein
Lean Protein Sources (* Fattier Sources)
- Chicken Breast
- Lean Cuts of Steak
- Turkey Breasts
- Ground Turkey
- Low-Fat and Non-Fat Dairy
- Egg Whites
- Protein Powder
- Whole Eggs*
- Rib Eye, NY Strip, Etc.*
- Grass Fed Beef*
- Wild Game*
Plant versus animal protein
Protein is made up of chains of molecules known as amino acids.
There are 20 amino acids found in nature that your body can use to build protein. Out of these 20 amino acids, 9 are considered essential, which means that your body cannot produce them itself, so you need to get them from your diet.
The remaining 11 are considered non-essential, as your body can produce them from the 9 essential amino acids.
Animal protein contains all nine essential amino acids in sufficient amounts. Plants also contain all nine essential amino acids — however, besides a few exceptions, most typically offer a limited amount of at least one essential amino acid.
For instance, beans, lentils, peas, and many vegetables tend to contain low amounts of cysteine and methionine. On the other hand, grains, nuts, and seeds tend to be low in lysine
Because of this, many people refer to plant foods as “incomplete” sources of protein
However, as long as you eat a variety of plant-based proteins, this shouldn’t pose a problem. You can still get sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids your body needs.
- Nutritional yeast
- Spelt and teff
- Hemp seeds
- Sprouted grains
- Soy milk
- Wild rice
- Chia seeds
- Fruits and veg
So how much should I be consuming?
As we go into a caloric deficit, protein intake becomes not only more critical for muscle and performance maintenance but also for satiety, which is a big factor inside dietary consistency and adherence. Therefore at times, going over the “needed” protein target is safe and recommended (1.0-1.2g/lb.)
As we become older or more advanced in our training, protein may become more critical because our sensitization and processes become dampened.
As our caloric intake increases and we lean more towards a mass building phase, protein needs lower because we are taking in more carbohydrates and fats – which serve as fuel and protein sparing nutrients. In other words, our bodies become less dependent or scarce for protein.
Protein may be one of the most influential and critical nutrients when it comes to changing your body composition.
So it’s important for you to track, measure and be aware of how much you’re taking in. We work with many of our clients on not only this, but all of the macronutrients – so that they have a completely individualized nutritional intake that supports their lifestyle, energy demands, training recovery needs, and body composition goals.
But there are many times where we simply prioritize calories and protein, leaving carbs and fats to land wherever the individual please. We do this because that is what works for THAT specific individual in the long run.
Grab my PROTEIN PACKED BREAKFAST RECIPES HERE!
Sign up for my FREE 5 Day Masterclass Repair your Metabolism