Understanding my protein needs has been a total game changer for me in my own health journey. Whether you’re looking to lose weight, improve your health, build muscle, or regulate your hormones, protein is an essential macronutrient for everyone. Consuming adequate amounts of protein each day is not only important for a variety of health markers, but it also helps improve body composition, reduces cravings, and helps manage blood sugar balance. If you think you’re currently eating enough protein, you might be surprised after reading this post. Here is everything you wanted to know about protein.
What is Protein?
Protein is one of three macronutrients – along with protein and fat – and is made up of 20 amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are linked together in a chain, like beads on a string. Your body produces some of these amino acids on its own, while others – the essential amino acids – must be obtained through your diet. Each amino acid plays a different role in the body and is essential for the growth, repair, and maintenance of various tissues. Protein has gained a lot of spotlight recently and for good reason. It’s no longer a nutrient that’s valued only by bodybuilders and gym enthusiasts. Protein should be a priority for everyone striving for good health, regardless of your fitness goals or stage of your health journey.
How Does Protein Help with Weight-Loss?
The majority of my one-on-one and group coaching clients have a goal of weight-loss so looking at protein intake is one of the first things we dive into. Protein can play a significant role in weight loss for several reasons:
Increased Satiety: Protein is a natural appetite suppressant and is more filling than carbohydrates or fats, meaning it can help you feel satisfied and full for longer periods. By including protein-rich foods in your meals and snacks, you’re likely to experience reduced hunger and cravings, which can help reduce cravings for less healthy foods and prevent overeating. Ideally, each meal of the day should keep you full and satisfied until your next meal.
Increased Thermogenesis: The process of digesting and metabolizing protein requires more energy compared to carbohydrates or fats. About 30% of the calories that come from protein are required for your body to digest, metabolize and absorb it. This is called the thermogenic effect of food (TEF). When you eat adequate amounts of protein you can slightly boost your metabolism, resulting in more calories burned. #easywin!
Muscle Preservation: Consuming an adequate amount of protein helps preserve lean muscle tissue while promoting fat loss. This is important because muscles are metabolically active and burn calories even while you’re at rest. This leads to a higher resting metabolic rate. While working towards fat loss goals, it’s important to preserve your lean muscle mass which is a metabolic powerhouse.
Blood Sugar Regulation: Including protein in your meals can help stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent spikes in insulin. Insulin is your fat-storing hormone, so the fewer insulin spikes the better. Balanced blood sugar also helps reduce cravings and promotes a more balanced and sustained release of energy throughout the day. When your blood sugar is balanced, you’ll be less likely to feel “hangry” (hungry + angry) and you’ll notice more stable energy throughout the day.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
The amount of protein you need depends on many factors including your age, gender, activity level, muscle mass and overall health. Most official nutritional organizations (including the FDA) recommend very modest protein intake. These recommendations are the minimum amount required to prevent deficiency and avoid getting sick and is not the amount required for optimal health and performance. If you’re looking to improve your overall health, improve body composition and lose excess body fat, you’ll want to consider eating more protein than the minimum requirements.
As a general guideline, here are two ways to calculate your protein requirements.
- 0.8 x weight in pounds = total grams of protein per day
- 1 x weight in pounds at a body mass index (BMI) of 25 = total grams of protein per day (calculate your BMI here)
If you’re looking to increase your protein intake for general health and have a BMI of 25 or lower, the first equation will work well for you. If have more weight to lose and your BMI is currently higher than 25, you’ll want to use the second calculation. Again, this is meant to be a general guideline and you may require more or less depending on your activity level and muscle mass. BMI calculators are also very generalized and aren’t a perfect system for assessing body weight. Again, for this purpose it will give you a starting point.
Animal Protein vs. Plant Protein
Eating a diverse range of plant and animal foods is crucial for a healthy diet because they each offer unique benefits that complement each other. However, when it comes to protein, there are a few distinctions you should be aware of.
- Animal protein provides all the essential amino acids your body needs in optimal proportions. We call these complete proteins. Complete proteins are more bioavailable meaning your body can put them to work right away. Plant-based foods on the other hand are incomplete proteins because they do not contain all 20 essential amino acids.
- Plant-based proteins are lower in protein than animal-based sources. You need a much higher amount of plant-based protein to reach the same protein intake as an animal food. For example, let’s compare the protein content of chicken and black beans. To consume 35 grams of protein from chicken you would need to eat around 4 ounces of chicken breast which is about 190 calories. To get the same 35 grams of protein from black beans would require consuming around 2 1/2 cups of beans, totalling approximately 550 calories. While you don’t have to count calories for weight loss success, excessive calorie intake does lead to weight gain.
- Animal-based foods like lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products (if you tolerate them well) not only deliver high-quality protein, but also contain important micronutrients like vitamin B12, iron, and zinc.
Even though animal foods are superior when it comes to protein, plant-based foods including plant-based proteins, are still important to include in the diet. Plant-based foods provide the body with fibre, phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Tips for Getting Enough Protein
- Track with a kitchen scale. Weighing your food helps you see where you’re falling short with protein. For example, if you have a 4-ounce steak you’ll have about 30g of protein. You don’t have to track forever, but try it for 3 days up to a week to make sure you’re meeting your goals.
- Use a tracker such as MyFitnessPal. Utilizing a nutrition tracker like MyFitnessPal can help you keep track easily. By logging your meals and snacks for a few days, you can get a sense of where you’re at.
- Prioritize protein sources while grocery shopping. Plan your meals and create a shopping list that includes lean meats, poultry, fish, seafood and eggs. These items serve as excellent sources of protein and can form the foundation of your meals for the week. By doing a little bit of planning you set yourself up for success and make it easier to meet your protein goals throughout the week.
- Prioritize protein at each meal and snack. Your meals should be based on your main protein source. Keep it simple if you’re just getting started and pair a protein with steamed veggies for a quick meal. When it comes to snacks, consider options like hard-boiled eggs, tuna salad on a rice cake, or smoothies.
If you’re prioritizing whole-food protein sources at each meal and snack, you won’t necessarily need a protein supplement. However, supplements can be a convenient way to make sure you’re meeting your needs when you’re on the go. Here are a few ways to supplement protein.
Collagen – Collagen isn’t a complete protein because it doesn’t contain all of the essential amino acids. However, as long as you’re consuming other protein sources throughout the day, you’ll balance out the amino acid profile. I like to add a scoop of collagen to my morning coffee for an added boost of protein. It’s tasteless and dissolves easily so you won’t even know it’s in there.
Bars – While I don’t recommend having these as meal replacements, they can be a good option on the go or in a pinch. I like the Genuine Health brand because they’re made with fermented protein which is great for gut health, each bar contains 14-15g of protein, and they’re high in fiber.
Powders – Protein powders are perfect for adding to smoothies, oatmeal, chia pudding, coconut yogurt and baked goods. Again, I love the Genuine Health brand because they are fermented to prevent bloating and are made of quality organic ingredients.
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Whole Food Protein Sources
- Chicken Breast – 31g protein (per 100g)
- Tuna – 28g protein (per 100g)
- Ground Turkey – 27g protein (per 100g)
- Shrimp – 24g protein (per 100g)
- Halibut – 21g protein (per 100g)
- Lean Ground Beef – 25g protein (per 100g)
- Salmon – 20g protein (per 100g)
- Mackerel – 19g protein (per 100g)
- Eggs – 18g protein (for 3 eggs)
- Tofu – 11g protein (per 1/2 cup)
- Hemp Hearts – 10g protein (per 2 tbsp)
- Edamame – 7g protein (per 1/2 cup)
- Black Beans – 7g protein (per 1/2 cup)
- Chickpeas – 6g protein (per 1/2 cup)
Even though protein is important for overall health and can be beneficial for weight-loss, it’s not a magic solution on its own. If you’re feeling stuck with a lack of progress, tracking your protein intake can be a helpful tool that can move you in the right direction and will make your life a hell of a lot easier. If you need some additional support in this area, book a complimentary call here and let’s see if you’re the right fit for individualized coaching.