Protein is the king macronutrient. It is not just for those people who want to gain muscle or be professional bodybuilders. Actually, there are many reasons why you should be concerned about your protein intake and many ways in which it can help you achieve your fitness goals, whether those be gaining muscle or losing fat. This article will be taking you through why protein is important.
What is Protein?
Before we discuss the why of protein, though, it’s essential to establish the what. What is protein? Protein is one of the three macronutrients (four if you count alcohol). The other two macronutrients, fat and carbohydrates, are the energy source that makes up the food we eat. Every bit of food we eat contains a certain number of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
The origin of the word comes from the Greek word protos meaning ‘first.’ Just this alone should clue you in on why it is the king macronutrient and the top-shelf when it comes to nutrition. Breaking down this word even further, the prefix pro- means “for”; its suffix, -tein, means “life.” In its root form, the whole word means “for life.” This makes sense because protein is indeed necessary for life.
Protein is made up of branch-chain amino acids, often referred to as BCAAs. Not to get too in-depth with scientific nomenclature, proteins are frequently called the building blocks of life because they are found everywhere: in our cells, bones, muscles, blood, hormones, enzymes and more. It is thanks to proteins that our body has any sort of structure to it.
Again, if any of this has yet to signify to you how important protein is in our diet, then continue reading.
8 Reasons Why Protein is Important
As mentioned earlier, protein is found everywhere in our body. It helps give our body structure through being a crucial component in building strong muscle and dense bones, which gives us our frame.
#1 - Reduces Appetite and Hunger Levels
Protein reduces the hunger levels perceived by our bodies. It keeps us satiated longer and thus not seeking out calories elsewhere. Because of this, we eat less, and by consuming fewer calories, we lose weight.
This is partly because protein reduces your level of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. It also boosts the levels of peptide YY, a hormone that makes you feel full.
In fact, in one study, highlights the benefits of eating protein. Participants increased protein intake from 15% to 30%. As a result, overweight women ate 441 fewer calories each day without intentionally restricting anything else. Extrapolate these findings over the course of a year and that is approximately 160,965 fewer calories consumed. Considering that each pound of fat is 3,500 calories, this would result in 46 pounds (20.8 kg) lost within a year. You can find the full study here.
Another study performed in obese males showed that eating higher levels of protein (25% of daily calories versus only 15%) resulted in greater perceived fullness and less snacking. The image below shows levels of satiety amongst participants. This study revealed that by increasing protein to 25% of daily caloric intake reduced cravings by 60%. Moreover, it cut the desire to snack at night by 50%.
Find the full study by clicking here
#2 - Protein Helps Build Stronger Muscles
This is often the #1 toted reason for people choosing to consume protein. And it’s true, protein is needed to build stronger muscles.
Let me be clear on this, though. Consuming protein in and of itself isn’t going to lead to muscle gain. If you don’t workout and train hard, the protein you consume really won’t make a difference. It’d be like someone who wants to learn Chinese living in China, yet never speaking Chinese or practicing. While protein gives your body a conducive environment to grow muscles, it won’t actually happen if no intensity is involved. If you are physically active, protein is going to help your workout regimen that much more.
Going a step further, the bodies of men and women are different. Men have more ~10x more testosterone than women do, just as women have more estrogen than men. Testosterone is a crucial component of building muscles and getting “bigger.” So, ladies, while you think lifting weights at the gym will make you get big, the truth is, is that it won’t. Coupled with adequate amounts of protein, the female physique will get toned and muscular, not huge and bulky.
Also, eating more protein will stave off muscle catabolism. That is, the muscle eating itself. Not only this, but it will help retain more of your muscle while decreasing fat.
#3 - Protein is Crucial for Bone Health
Protein is vital for bone health. As we age, our bodies become more susceptible to injury. People who eat more protein have a much lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures. This is because a high-protein diet impacts bone health by several mechanisms, including calcium absorption, stimulation of the secretion of insulin-like growth factor-1, and enhancement of lean body mass.
Eating enough protein while we are young now and even while we age is going to help reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures from accidental falls later on in life.
#4 - Boosts Metabolism
Protein is also the king macronutrient because it has a higher TEF (thermic effect of food). What this means is that, compared to other macronutrients like fats and carbohydrates, the body expends more energy, breaking down the food to extract the nutrients from it.
Protein has a TEF of anywhere between 20%-30%. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, have only a 5%-10% TEF and fats have the lowest being at 0-3%. What does this actually mean, though? It means that if you were to consume 100 calories of protein, your body would only consume 70-80 calories of it. Likewise, your body would consume 90-95 calories of the carbohydrates and almost all the calories of fat are consumed.
If two people had the exact same caloric intake and burnt the exact same amount of calories throughout the day from exercise, the person who had consumed more protein during the day would burn more calories due solely to this thermic effect of food. While not anything crazy, it does make up for around 10% of your total daily energy expenditure.
In fact, there are clinical studies to back this up. In a 12-month study in 130 overweight people on a calorie-restricted diet, the high-protein group lost 53% more body fat than a normal-protein group eating the same number of calories. This study you can find by clicking here.
Also, because protein aids in building muscle, the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism is going to be because the body requires more energy (or calories) to function. Added to a proper workout regimen, these two things combined will make losing weight and staying in a caloric deficit that much easier.
#5 - Helps Maintain Weight Loss
Anyone who has ever dieted has most likely seen the effects of “weight regain” at the end of the diet. I, myself, have experienced this when I was doing the dieting strategies that I started before switching over to my newer, flexible dieting routine with Guilt-Free Foods. This is called yo-yo dieting, and it happens because systems are put into place, which are then completely ignored and forgotten about once the goal weight has been maintained. Most likely this is because the boundary put into place was too restrictive in the first place.
This is why we always say in Life’s Kitchen “Don’t live a diet, live a lifestyle.” Furthermore, this is also why I try to be as open-minded and lenient with my clients that hire me as a coach. If you want to hire me as your holistic health coach, you can find more information about my coaching programs by clicking the link.
Protein, however, helps maintain weight loss because it keeps us fuller. I cannot stress that point enough. When feeling fuller, we have less temptation to binge on foods around us and this keeps us in a caloric deficit, or at least at a maintenance level.
#6 - Improves Blood Markers
Interestingly, higher protein intake has been shown to lower blood pressure.
In a meta-analysis of 40 controlled trials, increased protein lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number of a reading) by 1.76 mm Hg on average and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number of a reading) by 1.15 mm Hg.
One study found that, in addition to lowering blood pressure, a high-protein diet also reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides
To be honest, these studies may or may not be due to the protein in and of itself. My general thought is that the individuals who consumed a higher protein diet lost weight and by losing more weight, the blood markers improved, just as general health improves when we lose weight.
#7 - Helps Your Body Repair Itself
Ever wonder why protein is important enough to need after a workout? Meatheads usually mention they need to take that protein shake within their “anabolic window.” Many body builders feel the need to consume protein every three to four hours. Why is that? While the former recommendation is nothing more than a myth, it is crucial that our bodies to get a hit of protein every few hours. This is because when we get enough protein into our system (at least 20 grams), it induces what is called muscle protein synthesis.
Muscle protein synthesis allows us to piece back together our muscles that have been broken down during the physical activity and strenuous workout session. It should come as no surprise then that protein, the thing that is responsible for building strong muscles in the first place, is also responsible for muscle recovery.
#8 - Helps with Aging
Finally, another reason why protein is important is because it helps with aging. Many people want the secret to longevity, and that, my friends, is protein. It is one of the three key factors in longevity. The other two being eating enough fiber and exercising regularly. All three of these things combined and your body will feel younger and look younger without all the needs for those expensive operations many undergo in order to keep themselves looking ‘beautiful.’
One consequence of aging is that your muscles gradually weaken. Muscle mass peaks at around the age of 40, then sarcopenia sets in and starts to deteriorate muscle. According to PubMD, Sarcopenia is a “an age related, involuntary loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. Beginning as early as the 4th decade of life, evidence suggests that skeletal muscle mass and skeletal muscle strength decline in a linear fashion, with up to 50% of mass being lost by the 8th decade of life.”
This isn’t to say that you will lose muscle if you already have the good habits in place like going to the gym and eating protein and exercising, but it will be much more difficult, if not impossible, to gain muscle after the age of 40. Eating more protein is one way to stave off sarcopenia and help you maintain the muscle that you’ve already accumulated.
If the name itself didn’t say anything to you, then I hope these eight reasons helped you to reevaluate why protein is important in your life.
This is also the reason why I stress to everyone to go to the gym and make this a lifestyle. Treat it like a reward, not something to dread. Be thankful that you have the body and the capacity to be able to exercise. Don’t be lazy. Your future self is going to thank you for it.
Stay tuned for our next post on how much protein you should be eating daily and when you should consume it to optimize your body’s genetic potential. Until then, stay fit, stay active, stay healthy, and, as always, don’t live a diet, live a lifestyle! And make sure you include protein into that lifestyle of yours.