Everyone is under the impression that protein is only for budding bodybuilders, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyone should eat more protein.
Instead, protein is incredibly important for those looking to improve their health, lose weight and fat too.
Just to give you some insight into what protein is, protein is essentially a culmination of amino acids, which can either be produced by the body (non-essential) or consumed (essential).
Essential amino acids are involved in several important and varied processes in the body, including:
- tissue growth and repair
- energy production
- immune and enzyme function
- hormone production
- nutrient absorption.
I know the recent propaganda of ‘The Game Changers’ has tried to refute this, but the best sources of essential amino acids are animal-based proteins like meat, eggs and poultry.
Vegetarian sources and vegan sources contain less essential amino acids, but if you combine sources, it is possible to get the essential amounts. Disclaimer: it often comes at the cost of more calories and needing twice as much protein though!
Regardless, to put it simply, protein is essential for a healthy; nervous, reproductive, immune and digestive systems.
So, eating protein is clearly essential for the body to function, but how is it beneficial specifically concerning weight control, muscle gain and health?
Protein Isn’t Just For Big Muscles, But For Healthy Ageing
For the elderly, protein intake is incredibly important. As we get older, our response to the ingestion of amino acids (as well as resistance training) is diminished. It’s because of this reason why the elderly will require higher quantities of protein so that they can maintain and maybe even accrue muscle proteins.
You might be wondering why this is important, as we get older, we may experience something called sarcopenia.
“A syndrome characterised by progressive and generalised loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength with a risk of adverse outcomes such as physical disability, poor quality of life and death”Cruz-Jentoftet al. (2010)
Sarcopenia is essentially the loss of muscle mass as we age, and we lose ~1% each year from our ‘peak’. It’s a much sharper decline in women post-menopause too.
So why is this an issue?
Well, individuals with sarcopenia are over three times more likely to fall during a follow-up period of 2 years relative to non-sarcopenic individuals.
Falls are associated with:
- Greater functional decline
- Physical activity restriction
- Social withdrawal
- Anxiety and Depression
How can we attenuate this?
Increase protein intake and resistance training.
How do we ensure we get enough?
0.4-0.6g per kg of body weight in at least one meal to account for this anabolic resistance. More often, likely being more preferable (1).
So if you’re an individual weighing ~80kg, a protein intake of 32-48g of protein at each meal would be recommended to account for the reduced sensitivity of protein.
Or, if you’d prefer, one meal containing 1.3g of protein per kg of body weight has been shown to have a superior effect than splitting your protein intake evenly throughout the day, that’s 104g of protein coming from one meal if you’re ~80kg (2).
If you’re wondering how that may look in terms of real food.
150g Chicken = 32g Protein
470g Chicken = 104g Protein
That’s a lot of Chicken!
Note: if you’d like to see a blog on other nutrition considerations to maximise the quality of life as we get older, let us know!
Protein Is Really Good For Us
High protein diets have actually been shown to lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels, while also managing adiposity (body fat levels), all of which, are very important for our general health (3).
Dairy is one way of increasing our protein intake, and dairy, unfortunately, gets a bad rap.
The reality is that dairy consumption is actually associated with lower:
- Insulin resistance, presence of atherogenic dyslipidemia & incidence of diabetes (4)
- Risk of developing a first myocardial infarction, especially in women (5)
- Reduction in heart disease and stroke risk (6)
- Lower risk of cardiovascular death (7)
Protein Fills Us Up For Longer
Protein has been shown in research to be the most satiating of all the macronutrients (carbohydrates and fat), meaning it helps you feel fuller for longer.
If you’re dieting, sufficient protein intake can increase satiety in one meal (8) to over 24 hours (9). This is because it appears to decrease ghrelin secretion following a meal, Ghrelin is termed the ‘hunger hormone’ because it stimulates appetite, increases food intake and promotes fat storage.
So do you think you’d be more successful with your weight loss efforts following a higher protein diet than a lower one if it decreases the release of the ‘hunger hormone’?
While the research shows its effects on managing Grehlin, does that actually mean more weight loss?
An increase in dietary protein from 15% to 30% of energy at a constant carbohydrate intake produces a sustained decrease in ad libitum caloric intake that may be mediated by increased central nervous system leptin sensitivity and results in significant weight loss. This anorexic effect of protein may contribute to the weight loss produced by low-carbohydrate diets.Weigle et. 2005
And by ‘a sustained decrease in ad libitum calorie intake’, spontaneous energy intake decreased by ~441kcal per day (10).
That’s extremely significant in the real world, over a week that’s a calorie reduction of ~3087kcal, or in real-world fat loss terms, that could be a loss of ~0.88lb a week.
So go eat some more protein if you’re struggling to control your food intake!
A Higher Protein Diet Means More Weight Loss, Fat Loss & Better Muscle Retention
As already mentioned, increasing protein intake leads to a greater feeling of fullness and spontaneous lower energy intake, which will likely yield greater outcomes when it comes to weight and fat loss.
But does it really lead to better weight loss, fat loss and muscle retention?
It sure does!
When looking at diets comparing a high-protein diet (1.1g – 1.6g/kg) to a standard protein diet (0.6 – 0.9g/kg), the higher protein diet groups lost more weight and more body-fat than the standard protein diet groups.
Looking at the studies pooled together, over a twelve-week period, the high-protein diet group lost 1kg more in weight (~8.3kg vs ~7.3kg) and 0.72kg more in body fat (~6.21kg vs ~5.49kg).
They also lead to better muscle retention outcomes too! (11)
The last one is incredibly important, you don’t just want to lose weight, you want to lose fat.
Losing too much muscle mass while dieting, won’t aid you in getting more toned, defined or lean. If anything, you’ll look more or less the same but be a smaller version of yourself.
That might suit some, but not all.
Building muscle is incredibly hard, so you don’t want to lose the precious muscle you’ve already got.
One study showed that a protein intake of roughly 2.3g/kg compared to 1g/kg made a significant difference to the preservation of muscle whilst dieting, *whispers, the lower protein group lost ~1.3kg more muscle over 4 weeks* (12).
A Higher Protein Diet Augments Greater Gains in Strength, Fitness and Muscle
Exercise, especially weight training stresses and breaks down our muscles through micro-tears or micro-traumas. If we don’t provide ourselves with sufficient protein, it will lead to a ‘negative nitrogen balance’. This means our body will break down muscle quicker than it can repair and build it.
Sarcopenia, eat your heart out!
At the very least, we want to maintain a neutral nitrogen balance for the maintenance of muscle mass.
Or ideally, we want to aim for a positive nitrogen balance to assist us in facilitating further muscle gain and strength (13).
As protein is the building blocks of our muscles, we must eat an adequate amount in order to repair any muscle damage and build them (more on the ‘what and how’ on this soon).
Plus the better recovered you are, the better you’ll perform meaning you can showcase your fitness.
Protein Boosts Your Metabolism
That’s maybe a bit ‘clickbaity’ but now I’ve got your attention, keep on reading.
Basically, one part of our metabolism is called ‘The Thermic Effect of Food’, it actually requires energy for our body to digest and absorb our food.
Protein has the highest thermogenic effect where 20-30% of calories we consume from protein are burned off in its digestion (whereas for carbohydrates it’s 5-10% and for fat 0-3% – on the top of my head).
As 25g of protein provides 100kcal, that means 20-30kcal would be used to digest it.
So if you’re following a high protein diet (90 – 180g), you could increase your calorie expenditure or ‘metabolism’ by 72-216kcal per day (14, 15). This would result in a lower net calorie intake, which would support your weight loss efforts.
This doesn’t mean that foods high in protein are free foods though, so let’s not get silly.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
The amount of protein you need depends on your current body weight, goals, and dieting considerations.
Currently, the Government guidelines recommend an intake of 0.8g/kg per day to avoid conditions associated with a protein deficiency, such as Anaemia or Kwashiorkor.
That’s around 62g of protein for a ~80kg individual, which isn’t optimal to all populations.
It’s more of a recommendation to survive, not to neccessarily ‘thrive’.
Higher protein intakes will help maintain healthy hair, skin, and immune function, promote weight loss and retain muscle mass.
So how much protein do I actually need?
- General weight loss/health clients – 0.8g/kg – 1.2g/kg per day is the minimum recommended amount, but the research does support intakes of 1.6 – 2.2g/kg for its satiety benefits.
- Endurance athletes – 1.2g-1.7g/kg per day is recommended.
- Muscle gain clients / body-builders – 1.8-2.7g/kg per day is recommended.
How Can I Get Enough Protein In My Diet?
A simple way to ensure you’re getting enough protein is to aim for a serving three to five times each day.
A visual serving of protein would be one palm-sized portion of meat or fish for women, and a 1.5-2 palm-sized portion for men. That’s around 20-30g of protein per portion if you’re a woman, and 30-40g of protein per portion if you’re a man.
What Are Good Sources Of Protein?
Animal-based sources of protein contain all the essential amino acids in adequate amounts – these are known as ‘complete’ protein sources. However, plant-based sources of protein are deficient in at least 1 of the 9 essential amino acids – and are known as ‘incomplete’ protein sources.
This is why vegans and vegetarians need to combine and eat a wide variety of plant-based protein sources to make sure they are getting all of their essential amino acids through their diet.
Popular protein sources include:
- Beef (extra lean mince, steak, burgers, meatballs)
- Chicken (fillets, sausages, burgers)
- Turkey (fillets, mince, steaks, bacon rashers)
- Fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel, haddock, pollock, sea bream, prawns)
- Dairy (milk, greek yoghurt, quark, cottage cheese, kefir)
- Whey protein powders
Here are some vegetarian/vegan-friendly sources:
- Soy or Pea Protein Powder
Do You Need To Supplement With Protein?
Protein supplementation depends on how much protein you are getting in your diet already. If you eat enough protein from whole foods, you don’t need to take any protein supplements.
However, many don’t eat enough protein. So I’d personally recommend supplementing. Protein powder is a cheap and convenient way to eat more protein and hit your protein targets.
A 2.5kg tub from MyProtein costs £44.99, and would provide around ~100 servings, which works out to ~£0.45p per serving!
There are lots on the market and choosing the right one for you comes down to personal taste, lifestyle, budget and allergies.
We recommend this one, and we like Vanilla!
Protein provides the building blocks for healthy bones, muscles, hair, teeth, cartilage, skin and blood. It is an important macronutrient as it contains essential amino acids that the body needs but cannot produce itself for use in many vital processes.
Protein is particularly important if your goal is fat loss or toning up related as it helps build and repair muscle, and it preserves muscle during weight loss. If you exercise regularly, it is crucial to make sure you get enough protein in your diet, especially if you are weight training and trying to build lean muscle mass and strength.
So eat some protein!