Protein, along with carbohydrate and fat, is a macronutrient found in foods. Protein-containing foods provide you with amino acids, which are the building blocks for your body proteins and the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters (1). When you eat protein, it is broken down into these amino acids, which are then used to help build muscle tissue and can also play a role in regulating our immune function (2). There are essential and non-essential amino acids, essential amino acids need to be consumed through your diet, because they cannot be made by your body. Whilst there are 20 amino acids, the 9 essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Some foods contain significantly more protein than others, so when we are looking to increase our protein intake, we can look to increase specific foods. Foods such as meat, fish and eggs are generally known to be the highest available sources of protein.
Whilst this is a bit of a hot topic for debate, research suggests active people should consume between 1.6-2.2g/kg of body weight of protein for optimal body composition improvements (3, 4). Whilst not everyone’s the same, it is unlikely that eating higher levels of protein will give you a greater metabolic advantage. Some people will fair well on less protein, and genetics, personal circumstances and preferences will affect intake. Those consuming substantially lower amounts, could potentially notice significant improvements in body composition such as fat loss, and in training performance, by increasing their intake closer to this reference range. This equates to consuming around 25-35% of your calories from protein (5), and most studies suggest spreading this intake across the meals of the day.
Check out these 3 great reasons to eat more protein:
Improves body composition
Protein containing foods are satiating (6), meaning they will keep you feeling fuller for longer. Protein can help to reduce a hormone called Ghrelin, which is also known as the “hunger hormone” and hence you may eat fewer calories. In addition, it can assist in reducing appetite, and also cravings for processed foods. By choosing a protein-rich diet you can help build and maintain lean muscle mass. Ultimately, most people will be leaner and healthier on a moderate to high protein diet.
Makes you stronger
Alongside resistance training, and because quality protein intake can help you build and maintain lean muscle mass (7), you can and will get stronger in the gym. In addition, amino acids from the proteins in foods are involved in building and maintaining healthy bones and tissues as you age (8).
Improves clarity and focus
Somewhat indirectly, higher protein diets can help with blood sugar control and stability. When you ensure your meals contain quality proteins, more often than not, the processed carbohydrates that wreak havoc with blood sugar control, are reduced or displaced. Blood sugar instability is often associated with something described as “brain fog” that can affect your concentration at work. Combining quality proteins with healthy fats and wholesome carbohydrates, can not only improve your body composition, but also your cognitive function and focus as well.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
Choosing good quality, high protein foods to add to your meals and snacks can help you to lose unwanted body fat, increase lean muscle mass, maintain strength of tissues and bones, and focus better in your day job. Include a variety of protein-containing foods in your diet such as lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, yoghurt, cottage cheese, tofu, legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds to stay healthy and strong!