It’s Essential to Understand + Consume Protein, Whether You’re into Fitness or Not
I’ve found that the role of protein is misunderstood by a range of both women and men. From my parents, to friends, to people I’ve met while working out, I’ve experienced resistance from people in understanding the role of protein, and it is having a detrimental impact on their health.
Since I upped my protein intake to an optimal level, my weight has been more stable, I’ve had more energy, and I’ve been thrilled at the improvements that I’ve made in my training and body composition.
Protein occurs naturally and you will consume it (hopefully!) every day, several times a day, for your entire life, so it is worth understanding what it is and what affect it has on your body. Please take the time to educate yourself on the importance of protein so that you can see some benefits too...
Why is Protein Important? What Does Protein Do?
Like carbohydrates and fats, protein is an essential macronutrient (‘macro’), that you cannot live without. Proteins are made up of amino acids of which there are 20 in total. Some of these amino acids are ‘essential’ as they can’t be made by the body and so must be consumed as food.
I’ve found that the word ‘protein’ tends to be immediately associated with supplementation by many people, thinking that it’s only something that only athletes and bodybuilders require. It’s true that active individuals require a larger quantity of protein, but only to aid recovery.
Protein Helps to Repair Muscles + Other Tissue
When training, muscle tissue is broken down. This muscle tissue (along with many other tissues in your body, from skin and hair, to vital organs) then needs protein to repair itself.
Protein Safeguards Against Muscle Loss
Especially if you’re on any kind of weight loss plan, or recovery from an injury or illness, it’s crucial to know that protein stops you losing muscle.
Ensuring that you are consuming enough protein, stops your body from breaking down your muscles instead of fat and, in turn, helps to maintain a healthy metabolism.
When you’re ‘dieting’, a calorie is not a calorie. The nutritional content of those calories matters.
Protein Helps you Feel Fuller + Burn Calories More Effectively
On the topic of weight maintenance, protein helps in other ways, too.
Firstly, compared to carbohydrates and fats, proteins take longer to digest, keeping you feeling fuller for longer.
Secondly, protein has the highest thermogenic effect of food (TEF), which means that it requires more energy to process it in the body. Where carbohydrates and fats have a TEF of around 5-15%, protein can be from 20-35%! In theory this means that for every 100 calories of protein that you ingest, between 20 and 35 are burned in the digestion process.
Sources of protein
Eggs are the king of protein as they have a high biological value and are complete with all 20 amino acids. They’re also very affordable and super versatile!
Meat is also a great protein source. It’s best to opt for lean meats such as chicken and turkey, or a lean cut of beef.
Fish + Seafood
Fish and other seafood also provide a good amounts of protein. Oily fish such as salmon are great sources of super-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Dairy products provide protein in smaller amounts than the above, but they’re still great to include in a balanced diet. The best dairy products are greek yogurt and cottage cheese, which is relatively low in fat and high in casein, so make a great snack before bed.
Nuts, especially almonds and cashews, make a great addition to stir-fries and are the perfect snack. They contain good levels of healthy fats and are perfect to keep in your handbag or gymbag for when you’re feeling peckish.
Beans + Pulses
Beans and pulses aren’t as high in protein as animal sources, but are a good vegetarian/vegan option. They’re also relatively inexpensive and are great for bulking out dishes.
Protein supplements are becoming more commonplace, but are still largely misunderstood. They are essentially just refined versions of the protein from food sources.
Whey protein shakes are derived from milk, pea protein is from peas and egg protein shakes are from egg! It really is as simple as that. They offer a more convenient way to top up your protein intake.
Protein Intake Amounts
People should typically be consuming between 1-2g of protein per kg bodyweight every day. Obviously, the more you weigh, the more you should consume. Also, the more active you are, the more you should consume.
A typical serving of protein should contain between 20-40g protein. For example, a 100g chicken breast would contain around 20g protein.
When you need more protein
There are certain times that your body will benefit from a protein intake above that which you should normally consume.
When you are starting to exercise more frequently, or training in a more demanding way, you will benefit from upping your protein intake to aid muscle recovery.
If you are recovering from injury or any kind of illness, protein will also aid recovery, as well as minimise muscle loss.
As you age, you will need more protein to stimulate protein synthesis in order to grow, repair and maintain your muscle.
You may also require additional protein (which may be in the form of protein supplements) if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
At any time that you increase your protein intake, be sure to also consume more water as excess protein has a diuretic effect. Always keep well hydrated.
Protein Doesn’t Make Women Look Bulky
Hopefully this article has given a good overview of why protein is important for overall health. It isn’t something that is only required when leading an active lifestyle, but an active lifestyle will more than likely require a higher protein intake.
By understanding what protein is and how it affects your body, you can hopefully appreciate that the myth that protein can make women ‘bulk up’ is false. If you are looking to increase muscle size, you will need to train hard with heavy weights, and in that case, protein will help your muscles to repair and grow. Still, your muscles are only physically capable of growing to a certain extent, and will never develop in the way that men’s do because women only have a fraction of the testosterone that men do.
If you still have any queries about the role of protein, please feel free to send them my way!