Protein has taken center stage in the fitness community for decades, and for good reason! While stereotypes surrounding a high protein diet and its effects on improving your physique may seem like “bro-science”, there are numerous studies and research that support these claims—so don’t rule it out just yet. High protein intake is not just for bodybuilders and professional athletes. In fact, protein is an essential macronutrient that everyone needs in order to survive. But if your goals include gaining lean muscle or maintaining a tone physique, a high protein diet may be beneficial to you!
If you’ve ever been confused about the benefits of protein or wondered “How much protein should I eat?”, we’ll cover everything you need to know about protein, including:
- Importance of protein in the body
- Benefits of protein
- Protein recommendations
- What about protein powder or protein supplements?
Why Is Protein Important In Your Diet?
Protein is an essential nutrient, meaning we can’t survive for an extended period of time without it.Protein plays a vital role in most of the body's daily functions. It can affect your hormones, insulin levels, energy storage, and is a key player facilitating the growth of lean muscle mass. Say hello to beautiful muscle definition!
Health Benefits Of Protein
1. Boosts immune system
As a vital component of rebuilding body tissues and cells, protein plays an important role in maintaining a strong immune system. The amino acids found in protein form the building blocks of all the body's cells. When the body becomes depleted or malnourished of protein, fatigue and weakness may occur, disrupting your immune function.
2. High TEF (Thermic Effect of Food)
The thermic effect of food is the increase in metabolic rate after the ingestion of food. In other words, your body is literally burning calories while it's digesting your food! It just so happens that protein has the highest TEF at a whopping 20-30%, while carbohydrates and fats are 5-10% and 0-3%! So you actually burn more calories with protein than you would with carbs and fat via digestion and absorption.
3. Maintains lean muscle in a calorie deficit
In order to lose weight you need to be in a calorie deficit. A caloric deficit is when you burn more calories than you consume. You can do this by reducing your total calories from your maintenance calories, or burn additional calories through exercise. When in a calorie deficit (looking to lose weight) and performing a lot of vigorous cardio activity, muscle protein breakdown will be high. By increasing your protein, you can properly rejuvenate and restore the broken down cells from your workout. Opting for a high protein diet, can help preserve and build lean muscle while losing body fat. If not, you risk losing muscle mass! Yikes!
4. Keeps you feeling fuller for longer
Unlike carbs and fats, protein reduces the hunger hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin is one of the two hormones responsible for suppressing your appetite, which allows you to stay fuller for longer. This makes a high protein diet extremely appealing for those looking to lose body fat..
5. Facilitates muscle repair and recovery
The primary role of protein is to repair muscle tissue after exercise. During exercise, the storage of energy in the muscle cell becomes depleted while strenuous weight lifting can cause the muscle to break down. So, getting enough protein in your diet is imperative to give your muscles the nutrients they need to heal and grow.
Calories in protein
Protein contains 4 calories per gram. As a result, it helps you feel satiated for a longer period of time, especially compared to carbohydrates and fats. Introducing more protein into your diet can prevent overeating for those looking to curb their appetite in between meals. This can be especially helpful when dieting. This major benefit of high protein consumption is commonly misconstrued as a preventive for weight loss, but like anything protein should be incorporated into a well balanced diet.
How much protein should I eat?
A popular question in the fitness community, especially for those just getting started is “How much protein should I eat?” The reality is that there is no simple answer to this question because it varies from person to person. The amount of protein you should consume is highly dependent on your lifestyle, goals, and training/activity level. However, a healthy range recommended by the USDA is 10-30% of your daily calories. When determining the amount of protein you should be implementing into your diet, the requirements depend on the overall anabolic (building up) or catabolic (breaking down) caloric state you’re in.
While there is no evidence suggesting that too much protein is bad for you, the benefits of protein are not increased from excess consumption. Determining if a high protein diet is right for your body will primarily depend on your goals. In addition, when asking yourself “How much protein should I eat?”, it’s important to experiment and incorporate varying types of protein sources. For instance, do you prefer plant based protein (beans and legumes), animal protein, or do you need to supplement with protein powder?
How much protein should I eat before and after a workout?
Another common question is “how much protein should I eat before and after I workout?”. Having a meal with 25-40 grams of protein at least 1-2 hours before your workout will provide an adequate amount of protein and eating more protein post-workout isn’t necessary. If your last protein meal was more than 2-3 hours before your workout, you may benefit from having a protein source shortly after your workout to prevent muscle protein breakdown.
Eating whole foods rich in protein is a great way to maintain a healthy balanced diet. Listed below are various sources of protein.
- Lean chicken
- Lean pork
- Lean turkey
- Lean beef
- Lean fish
- Greek yogurt
What About Protein Powder?
Protein powder isn’t a necessity, however including it in your day might help you to hit your total daily protein needs if you struggle with meeting the recommendations. Protein supplementation is the most important factor for protein intake and muscle protein synthesis. There’s nothing magical about a protein powder, however it can be very convenient for getting your protein intake!
Protein supplements can be used at any time of the day, although many people like to consume it in the pre- or post-workout time frame since liquid protein will digest a lot faster than a solid food source.
There are numerous types of protein powders to choose from, including:
- Whey protein—A fast-digesting protein that contains dairy.
- Casein protein—A longer acting protein source (contains dairy).
- Pea and rice protein—Non-animal source. Pea protein does contain leucine and is a great choice for plant-based diets because it includes the necessary amounts of leucine (an amino acid responsible for rebuilding muscle tissue). Pea protein by itself can have a bit of a ‘chalky’ taste so rice protein is sometimes added for taste and a better amino acid profile.
The Bottom Line On Protein
Protein is essential for your body to function optimally, regardless if you’re just trying to be healthy or training for a sport. The added benefit of protein to your diet will help speed recovery time, manage your appetite, and help you maintain a healthy weight. Eating a well balanced, high protein diet is encouraged for maximum results when looking to achieve a lean physique, however, if you are still struggling with your protein intake and need more help, check out the Grown Strong Nutrition Guide! This guide is not only packed with helpful information to help you eat healthy and reach your goals, but it also contains 20 simple and delicious high protein recipes to get you started!