There is so much conflicting information out there on how much protein people really need, whether or not it helps for weight loss, and the best sources to get it from. This post will hopefully clear some of that up! Obviously there are people with different opinions, and these are just mine that I have shaped through my studies, research and personal experience.
What is protein and why do we need it?
Protein is an essential macronutrient that is the building block of the bodies tissues. Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids, some of which are produced by the body and others that can only be obtained through diet (known as essential amino acids).
In addition to actually being a component of bodily tissues, protein is also essential when it comes to building and repairing tissues. This is obviously key for anyone doing any sort of training as they need to ensure adequate protein intake to repair their muscles, and to increase their muscle mass as well.
So how much protein should you really be eating per day?
Daily protein intake varies from person to person depending on a number of factors:
- lean body mass
- body composition goals
- training volume
- overall caloric intake
Men – 56g per day; Women – 45g per day (as stated by the NHS).
If you have a high strength training volume, or you’re dieting in a large calorie deficit, then you should probably aim towards the higher end of the scale, so a bit more than 2g/kg of body weight.
If you haven’t been aware of your protein intake before, you might struggle to get this amount in (2g/kg). Obviously you won’t start to waste away if you don’t reach it, but if you want to retain as much muscle mass as possible during a caloric deficit, or improve your body composition, then it is a good amount to aim for.
Bear in mind that if the only change you make to your diet is increasing protein, without addressing your fat or carb intake, then you are just upping your daily calories and this can cause you to gain weight. So, it is more about making sure that each of your meals are balanced so that overall at the end of each day, you hit your protein goal without overdoing the overall calories. This is where having some basic knowledge on tracking your macros is super useful (I think I will do a little post on that in the near future!)
What is the link between protein intake and weight management?
Having an adequate protein intake can help you lose weight, as well maintain weight. There are several reasons for this:
- Protein has a high satiating effect, meaning that it keeps you fuller for longer and can thus lead to an overall decrease in calorie intake over the course of a day.
- Your body burns twice the calories converting protein into glucose for energy as it does for carbohydrates or fat.
Therefore, through increasing fat burning in the body, and causing spontaneous calorie reduction through increased satiety, higher protein diets are strongly linked to weight loss.
This is why although a lot of common foods contain some protein, the amount you need to consume to get a protein serving can become highly calorific. I just want to take moment here to point out that I am not saying these are ultimate perfect numbers that will work for and apply to everyone, they merely provide a rough guideline to start off from, and should be tweaked as you feel necessary.
How much protein are you getting in at the moment?
I might be stating the obvious here, but 120g of chicken breast does not equate to 120g of protein (it’s 32g by the way). Most of us have no idea the range that our protein intake falls into, which isn’t an issue. This is where MyFitnessPal is great. I am not suggesting you track your food long term, but a few days will help you see how much protein is in certain foods, and how much of it you are eating.
How to incorporate more protein into your diet :
- Add greek yoghurt to breakfasts or as a snack - 1 cup adds 14g of protein to your day.
- Choose egg whites and whole eggs - A whole egg has about 6g of protein. This is where it is very nice to use a combination of whole eggs and egg whites to bump up that protein intake without going overboard on the calories.
- Investing in a good protein powder – Add to smoothies or shakes. While I would always advocate whole foods over supplements, most of us just don’t manage to get all our protein in from whole food sources.
- Prep meat - Spend some time on a Sunday prepping some animal protein (poultry, red meat, fish etc.) for the week. This way you will have great lean proteins in your fridge that can be easily added to salads, sandwiches or grabbed as a snack.
- Choose quinoa over rice or pasta - considered a complete protein as it has all the essential amino acids our bodies need
- Give peas a chance - 1 cup contain 8g of protein.
- Read the labels on your food - If you are buying a "high protein" food, the protein content should be higher than carbs and fat.
It is important to never forget about your fibre intake. It is best to always ensure you are getting an adequate fibre intake to prevent constipation or intestinal inflammation. Lastly, make sure that you stick to mostly lean proteins, just to ensure that you don’t overdo your fat consumption while you attempt to up your protein.