Folks like to argue about fat and carbohydrates in the diet, yet protein is the macronutrient golden boy that everyone agrees we require to be healthy.
There are a lot of benefits to be derived from protein consumption, but we rarely hear about some of the more interesting ones that contribute to health.
When I recommend protein levels the goal is to get someone to eat enough to aid in the growth, repair and maintenance of the body. 0.8- 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight daily will be sufficient to reap the benefits we will be discussing in this blog.
Proteins are chains of amino acids, which are the building blocks for tissues in the body. However protein plays a much larger role in our health than it normally gets credit for.
Proteins are used in the body to make muscle, bone, skin, nails, hair and also make up our bodies enzymes, which are the catalyst for just about every action that takes place inside us.
When protein is consumed, broken down and absorbed it builds muscle tissues through a process named protein synthesis.
Because eating protein helps to build lean muscle mass it is helpful in body recomposition, fat loss and even helps eliminate hunger too and snack cravings too.
In this blog I am going to be explaining some of the lesser known, and spoken about benefits of adequate protein intake.
1. Increased Muscle and Lean Tissue
An increase in protein synthesis due to greater protein consumption, and strength training helps to prevent muscle from being broken down, over time this leads to an increase in muscle mass.
The body is usually between a state of muscle loss or muscle gain depending on the amino acids that are available to the body, and the stresses that have changed the need for proteins.
When it comes to protein the highest quality sources come from animals. The best sources of animal protein are; pasture raised chicken, grass fed beef, pastured eggs, wild caught salmon and any kind of game meat as well.
2. Less Hunger
Diets that are sufficient in protein have proven to reduce body fat. Protein is one of the highest satiety food meaning it will keep you feeling fuller for much longer, and naturally fewer calories will be consumed.
Manipulating macronutrients can be frustrating for many people to achieve the body they want. As you get lower in body fat and closer to your goals your approach to nutrition and your breakdown of the macronutrients becomes more important.
Most people will benefit from a little higher protein intake, moderate to high fat intake and a low to moderate carbohydrate intake. Your context and goals will change this equation, and you will need to experiment to find what works best for you.
3. Bone Density and Decreased Risk of Osteoporosis
Our bones contain calcium and phosphate, but they are also made of a protein matrix; mainly a protein called collagen. Collagen helps to give bones a flexible framework while calcium and phosphate make our bones hard and strong.
The amino acids from proteins are used to build bones, by consuming more protein you help to up regulate the hormones that manage bone metabolism and rebuilding.
Our bones are in a state of constant remodeling, and making sure that you have enough raw materials in the for of protein to rebuild bones is important.
Protein is an important part of the diet for people who are looking to gain muscle, and over time the more muscle you gain the more dense your bones will need to become to support the added muscle weight.
4. Boost Metabolism
Certain foods can actually boost your metabolic rate allowing you to burn more calories for a short period of time. The body will use energy in the form of calories to break foods down into smaller molecules the body can use. This is the the Thermic Effect of Food.
Not all macronutrients are created equal in how many calories they require to be burned. Protein has the highest thermic effect of foods in the 25-30% range.
This means when you consume adequate protein you will burn 25-30% more calories to digest and break protein down into amino acids and polypeptides, than you would proteins or fats!
5. Mood and Brain Power
Protein is a crucial nutrient when it comes to regulating our mood and also our brain function. By providing the body with enough protein we have the necessary precursors to make enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters, that control just about every function in our body.
These protein precursors are responsible for regulating hunger, motivation, generating energy, maintaining focus and motivation, mood and overall cognition.
6. Lower Blood Pressure
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a major cause of strokes, heart attacks and kidney disease. Interestingly a higher protein diet has shown to help reduce blood pressure in those with hypertension.
A four week study showed that by increasing the the protein intake of these subjects by 60 grams a day, raising their overall intake to 25% of their calories and were compared to another group that did not increase their protein intake. The group that consumed more protein reduced their overall blood pressure by a clinically significant amount.
Other studies have shown reductions in LDL and triglycerides associated with higher protein intake as well.
7. Reduction In Snacking and Cravings
The fact is that a craving and hunger are two very different things. When you are hungry the body is telling you that it needs energy or nutrients. when we experience cravings it has far more to do with our brain wanting a reward, than a physical need.
Cravings can be so strong for certain people that they feel powerless once they have a strong hold on them.
One of the most effective ways to vanquish food cravings to prevent them from happening to begin with.
Many times when the brain is craving a food or snacking out of boredom, it is looking for a little dopamine to elevate mood and trigger those feel good hormones.
By consuming protein you are supplying the amino acids allowing the body to make dopamine on its own. Not to mention that protein is a high satiety food that helps people feel fuller for much longer, and lets them feel well nourished.
There are a lot of benefits for health, athletic performance and body composition that come from getting an adequate amount of protein in the diet, there is no need to go overboard but somewhere in the range of 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight will be good for most people.
An easy way to make sure you are getting enough without the hassle of weighing and measuring food is to have a palm or deck of cards sized portion of protein at each of you meals throughout the day.
You also want to make sure that you cycle the the different sources of protein that you eat throughout the week because they all have different amino acid and mineral content.
By only consuming limited sources of protein you could end up missing some essential amino acids. I like to have clients get at least five different forms of protein throughout the week this could look like: eggs, ground beef, chicken, fish, greek yogurt or cottage cheese.
Ideally animal products you eat would come from pasture raised or grass fed as much as possible. Focus on eating a variety of healthy protein sources throughout the week, and each meal and you will be in a good place.
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