From maintaining muscle mass to weight loss. Protein is essential in every diet.
Of all the nutrients that an athlete must consistently consume in their diet, protein would be it. After all, without a certain amount of protein intake, your strength and muscles will slowly begin to wither away. Bear in mind, proteins relationship with muscle is just the tip of the iceberg. Protein has its finger dipped in so many other roles in our body, making it critical that you always consume protein of some sort, even if you are an avid vegetarian!
But that’s enough hype about this essential macronutrient. Let’s now take a closer look into what protein really does.
What is Protein?
Protein, simply put, form the building blocks of our body cells. Protein molecules are made up of a string of different amino acids, which are individual compounds, each having their own unique function in the body. There are two types of amino acids, essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids. The essential variety, you must consume through food sources as your body cannot manufacture them on its own. The non-essential type provided you eat a balanced diet, your body will synthesise them naturally.
All in all, there are a total of 20 essential and non-essential amino acids. The essential ones, the key to instigating protein synthesis include three primary amino acids: Valine, isoleucine and particularly leucine or better known as BCAAs who are critical for protein synthesis. To ensure you consume sufficient essential amino acids to trigger protein synthesis, consume protein sources that are considered a “complete” protein which indicate they contain all the necessary amino acids. Some of these sources are listed below.
The Functions of Protein
So this said, what does protein do? First, it helps to rebuild and repair broken down muscle tissues as most of you already know. After a workout, your body will go to work as protein synthesis is increased provided the nutrients are being given. Protein is also responsible for helping to create various hormones and enzymes in the body, which are needed for optimal functioning.
Finally, because protein has little influence on blood glucose levels, eating it will also help to keep your hunger levels in check after a meal and provide great satiety. For dieting individuals, a higher protein diet can help you consume fewer calories overall and experience faster weight loss.
Best Protein Sources
When selecting your protein sources, you want to look for protein that is both of high quality as well as being predominantly made up of protein and not other macronutrients. As mentioned above, you will also want it to fall under the umbrella of a complete protein.
For instance, eating nuts is often said to help you increase your protein intake, however upon closer inspection, you’d find that nuts are primarily made up of fat. And while they do contain some protein, the overall percentage of protein for the calories you consume is low, not to mention they are not considered complete proteins. Instead, you want to turn towards sources to meat products which most the time consist of all the variables you need to promote muscle growth.
Quality protein sources include:
- Chicken and turkey breast
- Lean grass-fed red meat
- Egg whites (1 whole egg should be included to increase your fat and nutrient content with each serving of eggs you prepare)
- Whey protein powder
- Fish and seafood
These foods are going to give you the highest amount of total protein overall of the highest quality.
Daily Protein Requirements For Athletic Individuals
Now that you know where to get your protein, how much should you consume?
If you are an athletic individual, you will have higher needs compared to someone who isn’t athletic due to the fact that you are constantly breaking down muscle tissues. Therefore, aim for a daily intake of between 0.82-1.5 grams/lb (1.8-3.3grams/kg) of body weight each day. Yes as low as 0.82 grams! A strong belief of at least 1.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight has been pulsating through the bodybuilding community. However, after compiling a string of studies, Menno Henselmans a scientific author had concluded 0.82 grams per pound of bodyweight is more than sufficient for many individuals in his article: Are You Consuming Too Much Protein?
Don’t believe it? Try tapering down your protein intake and see if you get the same results. After all, you wouldn’t want to be eating protein source after protein source if it was going to be used as energy instead of contributing to muscle growth.
Daily Protein Requirements For Non-Athletic Individuals
If you aren’t exercising, you can achieve your required intake between 0.45-0.7 grams/lb (1-1.5 grams/kg) or 20% of your daily intake. Since your muscles most the time will require little repair, your intake will subsequently be lower.
How Dieting Impacts Protein Requirements
Finally, one important thing that conventional thinking suggests otherwise. You do not need to increase your protein intake while taking in a caloric deficit. Studies as mentioned in Menno’s article have indicated 0.82g/lb of protein is sufficient for muscle mass when cutting which is also the same for bulking. However, you could make an argument that you would need more protein during your bulk phase considering more muscle is being built hence the need for protein.
With that said, this does not mean that increasing your protein intake won’t help your fat loss goals. More protein consumption promotes more satiety and less chances of carbohydrates being consumed. Which in the end are the two primary factors that are most likely the reason for your unwanted fat stores in the first place.
As reiterated above, if you’re skeptical about this low protein amount try it for yourself! After all, everyone’s body works differently.
All in All
So there you have the key facts to know about protein. Make sure that you have a good look over your diet and ensure you are taking in enough high-quality sources of this vital macronutrient.