Protein, along with vegetables and healthy fats, are the cornerstones of an effective nutritional strategy. Sadly, many people, particularly ladies, don’t come close to eating an ideal amount of protein to get the results they want.
1) Protein provides the raw materials for muscle growth.
The contractile (movement producing) elements of muscle are proteins. When you consume protein, it is broken down into amino acids which are used by the body to build new muscle. If you don’t consume adequate protein, you can’t repair and build new muscle post exercise. This is not to say that eating more protein alone will produce muscle growth – although some studies indicate that this can happen in untrained individuals. Anyone doing any exercise though, particular strength training and high intensity energy systems work, will see better results with adequate protein intake.
2) Protein has a lower insulin response than carbohydrates.
While ingesting protein does create an insulin response, it is much smaller than the response to ingested carbohydrates. Less dramatic insulin response (generally) results in less fat storage. Adding protein to a carbohydrate meal can actually blunt some of the insulin response. (Fat works even better for this, actually.)
3) Protein has the highest thermic effect of any food.
Thermic effect of food (TEF) is the incremental energy expenditure required to process food for storage and use. Dietary fats and carbohydrates are relatively easier to process, while protein is harder. Essentially, you have burn more calories to process protein than fats or carbohydrates. Although proteins and carbohydrates contain the same number of calories per gram (4), you burn more calories simply processing the protein, leading some researchers to recommend reducing it’s “textbook” calorie/gram to 3.2.
4) Protein keeps you full.
Protein promotes satiety much more than carbohydrates. Given the same caloric volume of protein or carbs, you stay fuller, longer with the protein, which can help reduce overall consumption. Fat is filling too, but at the cost of 9 calories per gram, rather than protein’s 4 calories per gram.
So How Much Protein Do I Need?
Though protein requirements vary greatly based on activity level and goals, I generally recommend 1 gram per pound of body weight. See my prior post for more details. If you follow the Nutritional Habits, you probably will end up getting a good amount of protein.