Protein consumption is a priority in the fitness industry and a necessity within a lifestyle dedicated to building muscle tone and keeping fit, but what’s the big deal? Why is it the talk of the gym, and what makes it the master of the macronutrients?
Well, apart from the obvious benefits of protein consumption for general bodily health and wellbeing – the growth and repair of cells and tissues, the normal functioning of the heart and the strengthening of bones, skin, hair and nails – there are additional advantages of consuming a sufficient amount of protein. We can definitively say protein is essential for anybody looking to live a healthy life or hoping to achieve fat-loss goals. While the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that protein should account for around 15% of daily calories for the average person, when gym is life, strength is challenged and changing our body shape is vital (glutes, say what?), it’s recommended we push the boundaries to aid recovery and maximise our ability to build muscle. Regular intense weight training sessions or highly active lifestyles could require 1–1.5g of protein per pound of bodyweight. For example, this would be 130g daily for the 130lb individual and should come from a variety of sources including meat, eggs, yogurt, legumes, grains, nuts/seeds or protein powder.
1) Satiety and appetite suppression – Protein could be an ideal food source to ensure we feel full after our meals. Milk proteins in particular contain something called glycomacropeptide which promotes CCK production. CCK is a hormone that is released in the intestine after eating which indicates that feeling of satiety. Eating a protein-rich meal could mean we are less likely to get the munchies again within the following few hours.
2) Muscle retention – It helps to retain lean muscle mass whilst on a calorie-restrictive diet. Muscle tissue is the first tissue your body will break down for the release of energy when calories are limited when, ideally, you want the fat stores to be broken down first. Some studies have suggested that eating more protein helps to retain lean muscle mass which in turn encourages a higher rate of fat loss.
3) Speeds metabolism – Protein consumption has been proven to increase thermogenesis (the body’s ability to turn heat into energy) which means an increase in calorie-burning. Protein is also a food source which takes more work for the body to break down so more energy is used for its digestion and thus keeps that calorie-burning process alive. Recent studies have concluded that the high thermic effect of food (TEF) is caused due to necessary deamination, gluconeogenesis, and urea synthesis caused by high-protein diets.
4) Fat loss – Aside from the discussed benefits: satiety, appetite suppression and muscle retention which all aid fat loss, numerous researchers have suggested that increased protein consumption within a hypo-caloric diet (eating below your calories baseline) is particularly effective for fat loss when coupled with regular exercise. It has been found that not only does protein enhance exercise performance but when consumed in greater amounts alongside regular strength training, it can help to provide adequate recovery of muscle cells to retain lean mass and ultimately totally change your physique.
You can see many of these points cross over or processes work synergistically in relation to losing body fat. Of course, not all protein sources are made equal and there are factors which could be considered in order to analyse how ‘good’ each source really is. However, it can get incredibly complex when delving deeply into topics such as amino acid profiles, digestibility and biological values, mainly because these depend on external factors too. For this reason, let’s keep it simple – here are five pointers to help you choose the best sources for you:
- Be Aware of Aminos
You often hear people talk about protein source being ‘complete’ or ‘incomplete’. Complete is best as this means it contains adequate proportions of all nine of the essential amino acids needed within our diet. All animal-based proteins are considered complete (including milk, eggs, whey and some plant-based protein powder blends).
- Mix It Up
Varying your sources and combining them could be particularly beneficial especially if we consider the amino acid profile as outlined above. Like with anything, if we include a wider variety, we’re more likely to reap the benefits – the body is able to take the good things from each source. Vegetarians and vegans can also combine incomplete sources to form a complete protein.
- Note the Nutrients
Choose plenty of nutrient-dense protein sources and those dairy proteins that contain live cultures of stomach-settling good bacteria. For example, eggs, beef, wild salmon, nuts, lentils and seeds are preferable due to their nutrient content e.g. iron, zinc, potassium, B vitamins and dietary fibre.
- Calories Count
Just because we’re told to eat lots of protein, it doesn’t mean it’s calorie-free. If you are looking to maintain or lose weight, you still need to make sure you aren’t exceeding your calorie intake. By choosing leaner proteins most of the time, we can cut calories more easily and still hit weight-loss goals.
- Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
There’s so much to consider when it comes to protein that you can’t possibly cover everything all the time. Although it’s very beneficial to understand protein sources and what makes them good, sometimes it’s best to keep it simple and choose those foods which you feel good on and you actually enjoy eating! Sustained weight loss comes from an ability to stay consistent over a period of time so make it easier for yourself where you can!
Here’s a protein reference table showing a small selection of animal and plant protein sources. Check out the protein contents and consider these options when choosing your meals.
|Animal & Dairy Protein||Approx. Amount per 100g (g)||Plant Protein||Approx. Amount per 100g (g)|
|Lean Beef Steak||31.06||Pumpkin Seeds||32.97|
|Bluefin Tuna||29.91||Peanut Butter||25.09|
|Greek Yogurt (e.g. Fage)||9.0||Spinach||2.90|
|Skimmed Milk||3.37||Brown Rice||2.58|
As you can see from the table, it’s clear why we choose certain foods over others when considering protein content. Bear in mind that these are just values for protein content and don’t show the other factors which would give a clearer picture of the protein quality. Amounts can also change slightly depending on differences in products (rearing of meat sources, processing of packaged products etc) but it gives you a good idea.
It’s also clear why we choose to supplement with protein powder – my only real advice here – food first and then whey (or a vegan blend) used as a top up, particularly post-training. I will do a separate blog post on protein powders, the different types and how best to incorporate them into your diet and around training windows.
Anyway, hopefully you find this mini guide to protein useful – it’s certainly an important factor to consider to ensure optimal results. Don’t bust your booty in the gym and miss a trick outside of it.