Protein is something you need to have in your diet but many people don‘t eat enough of it, this could be due to the misconception that protein is high in calories but this isn‘t always the case. Another reason to ensure you eat enough protein is that it can also help you with your weight loss.
Low protein diets used to be popular because people would see results on the scales but the difference was that people on these diets would store more energy as fat and lose muscle mass where as the people on a high protein diet gained lean body mass, burned more calories at rest, and stored only half the excess calories as fat. This is why measuring your weight loss should not be based on what the scales say but body composition, being slim doesn not mean you have a low body fat percentage, that’s why some slim people can have cellulite.
What is protein
Proteins are chains made up amino acids linked together by peptide bonds. They provide essential amino acids to the body which cannot be made by the body itself. The human body needs protein for growth and maintenance and it is the major structural component of all cells in the body. So it is needed not only for muscle but also for your organs, skin, hair etc.
How protein works
I am not going to go into the specifics of how protein is broken down in the stomach, intestine etc but I will explain how protein can help you with weight loss.
High quality protein foods that are rich in leucine help activate your metabolism and in return can aid in weight loss. By eating a high protein diet most of the weight that you lose is going to be fat not muscle. High protein foods use more calories in the digestion process than other food types and your body has to work harder to digest, metabolize and use protein. As the protein stays in your stomach for longer due to the slow digestion process, it leaves you feeling fuller for longer.
So in short if you eat protein you are less likely to snack between meals as you wont get those hunger feelings like you would if you ate something high in carbs, plus the digestion of protein burns more calories than digesting carbs or fat.
Protein helps you build lean muscle, muscle burns calories, the more muscle mass you have the more calories you will burn even when you aren‘t doing anything.
What the experts say
There have been various studies conducted regarding protein and specifically on whether people who are on high protein diets lose more weight than those who eat less protein. A study published in the Americal Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that participants who ate a high protein and low carb diet felt significantly less hungry and lost more weight than those on a lower protein medium carb diet.
The Nutrition & Metabolism have said that studies have demonstrated that the consumption of dietary protein above the daily recommended intake has been associated with favourable changes in body composition. Proposed mechanisms include the maintenance or accretion of lean mass and/or increased thermogenesis and satiety.
Where to get your protein
Not all protein is created equal, look for protein sources that are nutrient-rich and lower in fat and calories, such as lean meats, beans, soy, and low-fat dairy.
Cottage cheese and lean red meat top the list; other sources include chicken, fish milk, eggs, pork, legumes, peanuts, nuts, and seeds
As protein typically needs to be cooked it doesn’t make it a very easy thing to be able to pick up and snack on or as you are running out the door so if you don’t have the time and need something quick try one of these:
- Beef Jerky – The amount of protein in beef jerky varies depending on the brand for instance a Myprotein 50 grams packet of beef jerky contains 25 grams of protein where as a brand sold in the supermarket may haveonly 15 grams of protein – be careful of your sodium intake as beef jerky is high in salt.
- Protein Drinks – Protein shakes can be bought either ready to drink or you can buy whey protein powder and they can come in different flavours. The powder can be mixed with water or milk, almond milk, coconut milk etc depending on your preference. Approx 23 grams of protein per drink (depending on the brand, type of protein powder and how much you are adding (scoops). Not all protein drinks are equal, ready made drinks can be high in calories, choose the plain whey protein powder with no sweeteners or flavourings if you are trying to lose weight.
- Protein or Energy Bars – depending on the brand will depend on how much protein, some may have 13grams others 32 grams. Beware of added sugars and sweeteners, always check the labels.
- Roasted Soy Nuts ¼ cup is 17 grams
- Hard boiled eggs – 1 egg is 6 grams, this is only a quick alternative if you have already boiled the eggs so think ahead.
- Tuna – 25 grams per can
- Peanut butter – approx 4 grams per tablespoon
How much protein
Experts recommend between 0.5g and 1g of protein per pound of your bodyweight per day. If you are very active you will need to be at the higher end of this, if losing weight go for the lower end, if you are very active and want to lose weight then go for somewhere in the middle.
Times when protein can be extra beneficial
Breakfast – 30grams of protein for breakfast. You haven’t had anything to eat for 8 hours so start your day feeling energised by having a high protein breakfast. It will also help you to control your appetite throughout the day.
Post work out – If you want to build lean muscle mass you need to have protein within 10mins-1hr after you have worked out, you may notice people at the gym have a protein shake with hem that they drink straight after working out, some gyms sell protein shakes, a shake is the quickest way to get your protein unless you are able to get home and eat a high protein meal within 1hr of finishing your workout. Adding a banana to your protein shake is a popular choice to help restore glycogen levels. Remember that protein is just part of your daily diet, in order to be healthy your diet needs to include fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as healthy fats like nuts, seeds, olives, oils, fish, and avocado. If you are trying to lose weight eating the right foods and the right amount of food and incorporating exercise is key to reaching your goals.