- Protein is a macronutrient whose main job is to provide signalling to build and repair lean tissue.
- Our bodies use more calories to process protein than we do carbohydrates or fats.
- It’s ideal for blunting hunger hence making fat loss less difficult.
- It’s dose dependent and more is not better.
- Foods that contain protein are not necessarily good sources to choose from!
Protein has become a trendy word among nutrition circles now for quite awhile. It’s the flashiest of the 3 main macronutrients (fat and carbohydrates are macronutrients as well!) Protein represents the big picture for “amino acids” which is what our muscle mass and other lean tissues are made of. When you see how much protein is in a food on a label, it’s an accumulation of all the amino acids.
It’s also unique in it’s own way, due to it being the only one to have nitrogen (you needing to know that is basically nil but for the sake of my article it just sounds really cool!). Protein provides the signalling and material needed to build and repair lean tissue. Our bodies lean tissue, so bone, muscle, organs, etc that contain minimal fat need protein in order to build and repair due to the external stresses we apply to it along with its vital functions of maintaining our structure.
Relevance To Strength Training
So when we strength train we are breaking down the body’s muscle tissue and nervous system. In order for us to make progress something must first be broken down in order to be built back up. So protein comes into play here nicely.
If you strength train, run, light saber duel, or perform anything in order to STRESS the body to change, the protein will allow for one to build and repair itself to be BETTER at the same stress for the next time. So short changing your protein will be short changing your ability to recover from the stress. You want to provide your body with enough protein in order to recover adequately and push forward with progress. Inadequate nutrition will mean either you don’t recover OR you recover back to baseline! Who wants to stay at baseline though?
Relevance to Fat Loss
Increased muscle mass means you have an increased metabolic rate. Muscle mass uses fat while at rest. Muscles primarily use carbohydrates in times of intense bouts of exercise. But during times of low intensity exercise and resting, we primarily use fat. So the one’s with more muscle will ultimately burn more calories while at rest since it takes more to keep their “furnace burning” per se. It’s not uncommon for a young male with above average muscle mass to lose body fat at over 3000 calories while the same person who weighs the same will need to be at 2500 calories to do so. Our body’s metabolism naturally slows down on its own as we age, but muscle mass plays a large role in that equation as well.
Thermic Effect From Food
So when we eat food our body needs to use energy in order to PROCESS this food. Did you know that? Yes, we use energy from the food we eat to process more food! This is why starvation diet strategies are merely short term solutions. Protein in this case takes MORE CALORIES to use than carbohydrates or fat. Protein has the highest thermic effect followed by fats. Carbohydrates come in last. Different types of proteins cause different thermic effects and the same goes with fats and carbs. BUT for simplicity sake, protein takes more calories to utilize than carbs or fat. Does that mean we don’t eat fats or carbs at all? No, and we’ll go over this later in the article!
So basically protein provides the building blocks for lean muscle mass, which in turn will increase your metabolic rate overtime, thus making it easier for us to keep excess body fat off. See what I mean by it being VERY important?!
Protein is also the most filling of it’s fat/carb equivalent after veggies (which are the king of the mountain top for the most part..article will be coming soon on why ;)). If you place an 8 oz steak in front of someone the chance of them staying full is far greater if you gave them that 8 oz equivalent in rice. So keeping your intake high, or higher than it is since reading this article should give hunger the kick in the ass it needs! The better hunger management stategies you have, the better you will be…plain and simple Hunger is the enemy of fat loss!
Rule Of Thumb
When it comes to planning meals. I always tell clients: “When in doubt…lean protein and veggies!” You will never go wrong with lean chicken breast and a huge bowl of spinach!
There Is Such A Thing As Too Much
If protein has so many benefits why don’t we just eat boatloads of it? Increased protein will benefit many populations but if too much is eaten it may cause digestion issues. Most protein sources, especially one’s from animals come with almost no fiber. So S****** bricks will become common if you over eat meat. Most protein sources are also terrible sources of micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Variety Still Reigns Supreme
So you still need to make sure you have variety within your plan. Fruits, veggies, and other sources of fiber are still needed. In fact, a higher protein intake will demand a higher fiber intake in order to promote healthy digestion! Plus, the fat found in meat is primarily saturated fat except for fat found in fish mainly. Saturated fat gets a bad rap as being “bad for us.” It is fine in reasonable amounts. And in fact it shouldn’t be avoided in a healthy, well-rounded diet. But if you go crazy with your protein intake it could shift the tides to not being in your favor! So the demand for healthy fats found in nuts, seeds, peanuts, avocados, olive oil, and other such foods is still very high for us to have well rounded nutrition!
As I discussed earlier, protein is an accumulation of amino acids. Each of these amino acids has a job. It is common for us to find protein in a variety of our foods and think “Hey! This must be good since it has protein!” Many foods that contain protein are what you would call an “incomplete protein.” And please note that food companies will do whatever the hell they need to do to get you to buy their product. So many foods such as nuts and peanut butter will claim they’re high protein…when in fact there’s only 8 grams a serving, which is a joke.
Foods that do not come from eggs, fish, meat, or dairy are usually “incomplete proteins.” Meaning that they contain an insufficient variety of amino acids to do what we want them to do…which is build and repair lean muscle mass.
The Better The Quality The Less You Need!
Piggy backing off the idea of there being good, bad, incomplete, and complete sources of protein. Remember, protein is DOSE DEPENDENT. So each meal you have should have ENOUGH protein to illict the affect of building and repairing from the stress you applied to it.
A general rule is try to have about a serving of protein that is about the size of your palm at every meal. This should yield anywhere between 18-30 grams of protein depending on how big one’s hand is. This of course assumes an average ADULT sized hand and ruling our functional outliers! 8 grams of protein in a sitting is far too little for you “peanut butter is a good source of protein” advocates out there!
I can hear the plant-based dieters now using my force senses. It’s okay, you’re still in the back of my head… I’ll get to that.
The Leaner The Protein… The Better
The less fat you can have with your protein selection the better. Fattier cuts of meat and lower grade ground meats such as 80% lean will create an issue where you will be taking in more added fat along with your protein. I suggest aiming for a ground meat that is more like 90% or higher as part of your regular diet.
Vegans have an added task of trying to get an ample supply of amino acids in their diet everyday since they opt out of eating animal products. This is a different topic for a different day. Especially if you’re a plant-based athlete!
Our protein intake should be one of the first areas we look to correct when it comes to changing up our eating habits. But in today’s high protein craze a lot of ridiculous stuff has been lost in the shuffle. Keep it simple, don’t cut corners. Make sure you’re resistance training and you’ll be in a good position to make a lot of amazing fat loss and muscle building progress down the road!
Stay tuned for a part 2 regarding HOW MUCH we should have in a day!
- Poortmans JR, Dellalieux O. Do regular high protein diets have potential health risks on kidney function in athletes . Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. (2000)