If you’ve worked with The Nutrition Plan, you’ll know the drill on protein by now. If you haven’t yet, and are wondering why we give protein so much airtime, then keep reading!
We are literally made of protein; it is the building blocks of our cells, blood, tissues, and organs. Our bodies need protein to live a healthy life, and although most foods contain some level of protein, the average person not tracking what they eat probably doesn’t get enough of it.
The modern diet really lends itself to being high carbohydrate and high fat (and high calorie too, looking at the obesity rates in the UK) purely because these are cheap, convenient, largely ambient, and taste good!
When you drop in to a supermarket, or pull in to a service station, your grab and go options tend to be sandwiches, pastas, crisps, chocolate, cereal bars, and the like – all high in carbs and fats, with very little protein to be found. When you pack your lunch for work, the easy things to throw in are a snack bar of some sort, crisps, a wrap, and maybe a piece of fruit – again all of these are predominantly carbohydrate. A lot of the time when clients initially start working with me, they can be getting to their evening meal without having eaten any protein other than the few grams here and there that appear in these quick, easy, foods – not one intentional piece of protein has been eaten throughout the day.
Slimming Clubs advertise ‘free foods’ like pasta and bread, and ‘speed’ foods which are fruit & vegetables – and they allow you to eat as much of these as you like, yet protein you have a set limit on each day. I’ll never fully understand the logic behind the plans and rules these Slimming Clubs set out (or why that can’t call foods by their real macronutrient types instead of give them crazy names like syns and hex, that’s a story for another blog), but this approach really isn’t going to improve your health in the long term.
Protein is undoubtedly the hardest macronutrient to make sure you have enough of, due to the way most people are used to eating in the modern world, but as soon as you take a little time to learn and make some new habits it becomes a whole lot easier. High protein foods include meat, fish, eggs, beans, pulses and soy but there are plenty of other sources and ways to supplement protein into your diet too!
So, while we’ve acknowledged that we probably don’t get enough protein in our diet on a daily basis, here are some of the reasons why you might want to pay a little more attention to how much you’re getting:
1) For your muscles
As protein is the building blocks of our muscles, we need to make sure we’re getting enough of it in our diets to maintain them! Our bodies are in a constant state of muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown, to ensure we keep the balance where we want it, we have to make sure we’re feeding our bodies enough protein to achieve that.If you’re trying to lose weight, and therefore in a calorie deficit, getting enough protein will help you hang on to the muscle that you already have while your calories are reduced. If you’re trying to build muscle, then you’ll need protein to help repair and grow your muscles with your strength training.
Whatever you goal body composition wise, protein is a vital macronutrient to help fuel our muscles!
2) For your bone health
Research has shown that people who eat more protein tend to maintain bone mass better as they age and have lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
3) To help you recover
As protein is the building blocks of our tissues and organs, eating more protein can help us recover faster after training and/or injury. If you get a good serving of protein within the few hours after you do exercise, you should find that you start recovering better -give it a go!
4) To keep you feeling full
Protein reduces our levels of the hunger hormone, Ghrelin, and boosts levels of peptide YY which is the hormone that makes us feel full. If you swap out some of your carbohydrates each day and swap them for the equivalent calories of protein, I bet you wouldn’t find yourself so hungry between your meals!
5) To help you lose weight
As protein helps us to feel more satiated for longer, we tend to eat less and feel better on fewer calories. To lose weight/fat you need to be in a calorie deficit (so if you eat too many calories of any given macronutrient you won’t lose weight), but having a higher percentage of your target calories coming from protein will certainly help you to not feel so hungry on your diet!
6) To help keep you fit as you age
As we age our muscles weaken over time.Eating more protein is one of the best ways to reduce age-related muscle deterioration, staying active is crucial too!
7) It has the highest thermic effect (TEF)
Your metabolism can be broken down and explained in four parts, one of them being the thermic effect of food; this is the increase in metabolic rate after you eat. Protein-rich foods have the highest thermic effect, as our body has to use more energy to digest proteins. The thermic effect of fats is estimated to be between 0-5%, that of carbohydrates is around 5-10%, but protein is somewhere between 20-30%. Essentially, protein is the hardest macronutrient for our body to break down, therefore it requires more energy todo so, therefore using more calories (‘increasing your metabolism’).
These seem like good enough reasons to pay a little more attention to how much protein you’re getting in your daily diet, no? We have a whole page of high protein products that we love, and there’s plenty of plant-based options too! We also have an index of recipes that will give you some ideas of how to boost the protein in your regular meals, while still enjoying the foods you love to eat!