Macronutrient Focus: Protein
Most people these days are aware of the importance of protein in their diet. Everything from snack bars to ready meals will proudly display a 'high in protein' sign to entice the buyer into thinking what they're buying is less likely to make them fat than the competition that has more carbs and less protein. So how much do we need to worry about all this, and how much is 'high protein' anyway?
Why do we need protein?
Every cell in the human body is made of proteins. To build and repair cells we need protein, or to be exact, amino acids, which join together to form peptides, making up the primary protein structure. There are also secondary, tertiary and quaternary protein structures, which are much more complex and are usually the form that we eat and make up our bodily structures, but they will be broken down into smaller peptides for us to use. The body takes the amino acids from an amino pool that come from dietary protein and from the breakdown of proteins already within the body. It then shuttles them to wherever they are needed at that time. So if you're undereating protein, there's less likely to be adequate in the pool for muscle growth and repair.
Can protein help with fat loss?
Protein is a very satiating food, helping to fill you up for longer, thus you're less likely to eat as much as if you were hungry more quickly.
It has 4 kcal per gram, whereas fat has 9 kcal, so therefore you can eat more for less calories.
Has the highest thermic response in the body out of all the macronutrients, in other words, takes more energy to digest.
Along with resistance training, will help to maintain muscle mass whilst in a calorie deficit, thus keeping your body needing more kcals on a day to day basis (this may mean the scales don't go down as low - but you will be losing fat!)
How much do I need?
In general a healthy adult who's looking to build some muscle through resistance training, lose fat without losing too much muscle mass, or to prevent age related muscle loss with resistance training and diet and healthy body could try aiming for 07.-1g per pound of body weight (translates to 1.5- 2.2g per kg of bw). As with everything connected to the human body, we are not machines and each person at different times will have different requirements, both for health and for optimal aesthetic goals.
Is too much protein bad for me?
It's debatable whether any more than the above figures will yield better results, but not necessarily advisable for long periods of time because of stress it can put on the liver and kidneys. There is also some debate about whether too much protein, particularly of the animal type, can cause cancer and metabolic diseases. The science behind this in it's most basic form is based on protein stimulating mTOR, a gene that encourages growth in the body. The idea being that too much protein (and food, glucose in general) puts the body into a constant state of growth. This is something that is fairly early on in it's research days and I'm guessing there will need to be loads more studies into it before we can be clearer. For the time being though protein definitely is key to many functions in the body, and the safest way to go is a balanced diet, with as many natural forms of food as possible and a variety of protein sources.
That's quantity, what about quality?
Protein quality refers to how digestible the protein is in the body and how complete it is - ie how many of the nine essential amino acids it contain's that we need to obtain through the food we eat. Animal and dairy sources tend to be more complete, but as long as we get a variety of amino acids throughout the day, we don't necessarily need them all in every meal.
Mixing rice with lentils for example gives a 'complete protein'. I personally believe in trying to buy organic or grass fed meat if possible, sustainable fish at the top of the food chain, and minimally processed vegetarian and vegan sources. This is because health and the environment are values of mine, but everybody and what will suit them will be different (as always lol). As with most things in life balance is key here.
Protein is vital for a healthy and functioning body, and consuming enough can help as part of a fat loss diet, but more is not necessarily better, and you may want to pay attention to the quality of the protein. Looking to make a change to your diet and/or your body, take a look at my fitness and nutrition programmes, and lets get you started today!