It’s a well known fact that people who are working out to build extra muscle, need extra protein. But it’s not as widely known that protein is also essential for anyone attempting to lose weight.
New scientific studies are consistently proving that protein can offer serious help when you’re trying to shed your unwanted pounds. In fact weight loss is actually hindered without sufficient protein in the diet. Let’s take a closer look at the importance of protein for weight loss & muscle gain and why you should be ensuring adequate quality protein intake, irrespective of your goals.
The protein you consume in your diet has 3 different types of amino acids.
Your body cannot make these, so they must get them from your diet. They include Leucine, Isoleucine, Valine, Lysine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Methionine, Phenylalanine And Histidine.
Your body can make these from the essential amino acids you consume.These include Asparagine, Alanine, Arginine, Aspartic acid, Cysteine, Glutamic acid, Glutamine, Praline, Glycine, Tyrosine, and Serine.
Not usually essential, other than in times of illness or stress.These include include Arginine, Cysteine, Glutamine, Glycine, Proline, Serine, And Tyrosine.
The typical food sources of protein include animal products such as meats, fish, milk and eggs. Plant sources include whole nuts, seeds, grains, pulses, legumes and soy.
Remember that protein is needed for all growth and repair in the body.
It’s an essential component of all muscles, tissues and organs, along with being vital for many processes in the body like the production of antibodies, digestion, metabolism and transporting both oxygen and nutrients in the blood.
Protein also helps to make sure your hair is healthy and shiny, your skin looks great and your nails and bones are strong.
Before we go any further, let’s quickly dispel a few misconceptions regarding protein.
Myth 1: Only Serious Bodybuilders Need Extra Protein.
Any regular exercise routine, not just hardcore bodybuilding, will increase the number of calories you burn and the amount of muscle your body breaks down.
Because of this it makes sense to supplement your protein intake, for extra fuel (calories) and amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle.
This is the same no matter what form of exercise you are engaged in. In fact endurance exercise and cardio routines create an even greater need for extra protein, than pure weight training.
As you’ll discover a little later, protein is not just essential for repairing worn muscle and building new lean muscle, it’s also proven to be a potent fat burner in its own right.
Myth 2: Protein Will Make You Bulky
There’s a common misconception that women shouldn’t use protein powder because it will ‘bulk them up’. This is not actually true.
Women don’t get bulky when they use protein powder, or from working out with weights, due to their lower levels of testosterone.
But when combined with a workout routine, protein will help to develop some extra muscle and the muscle they already have will be firmer and more toned.
Myth 3: Protein Will Make You Fat
With regard to making you fat, as you are about to learn, protein is actually proven to reduce fat storage in the body, not add to it.
Remember that because you are combining extra protein along with a workout routine, whether you are aiming for weight loss or muscle gain, your body will NEED extra protein and nutrients for energy, recuperation and growth. Without it, your body could start burning muscle for the energy it needs.
Don’t forget of course, you’ll also be burning far more calories due to your higher activity levels, so this also supports the need for extra nutrient dense replacement calories in the form of protein.
On the other hand, if you have a sedentary lifestyle, ‘couch potato’ style, then ANY extra calories are more likely to be stored as fat.
If you are also concerned about the fat in the high protein foods you consume, stop worrying. Keep in mind that your body actually needs fat for many metabolic processes to take place and for your body to function correctly.
Fats also maintain cell membranes and blood vessels, provide energy, transmit nerve impulses and produce some essential hormones. Many disease preventing phyto-chemicals found in food, along with vitamin A, D, E, and K, need some fat to be absorbed by your body.
On top of that, remember that the extra protein you consume while exercising, along with your higher activity levels will help fat burning.
Now we’ll have a closer look at why protein is essential for weight loss.
Protein For Weight Loss
No matter what you eat, you’ll only lose weight if you use more energy through your daily activities than your body can produce from the food you consume.
However, your body has to work harder to digest and use foods containing protein, so your body burns more calories as it processes them. Not only that, but as they also take longer to leave your stomach, you feel full faster and for longer.
The Importance of Leucine
Scientists are finding that Leucine is one of the most important amino acids for regulating metabolism and helping weight loss.
Donald Layman, PhD6, from the University of Illinois, has published many papers on the subject and is one of the key Leucine researchers. He found that a high protein, leucine-rich diet, along with lower carbohydrates intake (150 grams or 600 calories per day) supports not only weight loss, but also blood sugar metabolism and various other factors that support cardiovascular health.
His research shows that when we lose weight our bodies can also lose muscle and bone mass. But Leucine acts as a signal, directly communicating with insulin and making it work efficiently in the muscle. This leads to preserved muscle mass and glucose being used by the muscles as fuel, thereby supporting healthy insulin function.
A high-carbohydrate weight-loss diet on the other hand, causes more muscle to be lost.
*Leucine Unlocks Metabolic Door J Nutr. Layman DK, Walker DA.
One of the best sources of leucine is high quality whey protein. Animal and dairy products are the food sources with the highest Leucine content, especially red meat and cottage cheese. Also cheese, milk, eggs, pork, chicken fish, legumes, peanuts, nuts and seeds.
It harder to get plenty of leucine if you’re not eating red meat and dairy products, so a whey protein supplement would be especially beneficial in this case.
Whey Protein: Great For Weight Loss Not Just Muscle Gain
In another study involving 95 men and 32 women, subjects used a 15 gram whey protein meal replacement for two meals a day for six months, then went to one meal replacement for six more months.
While this amount of whey protein is actually on the low side for weight loss, the subjects still experienced great results.
- During the first six months participants lost on average 20 pounds.
- Over the following six months while consuming just 15 grams of whey protein per day, they kept their weight off and lost a further 2 pounds.
Along with the weight loss, many key signs of cardiovascular health were improved during the study, including lowering of total cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, insulin and systolic and diastolic blood pressure, while increasing HDL Cholesterol.
*Modest Whey Protein Intake Supports Weight Loss Am J Clin Nutr. Keogh JB, Clifton P.
When you are trying to lose weight make sure you eat 5 or 6 small protein rich meals a day, to ensure your body has a constant supply of protein, along with keeping your blood sugar levels steady.
If your weight loss efforts aren’t giving you the results you want, even when you include quality protein in every meal, try replacing 2 or 3 of your meals with a high quality Whey protein based shake.
Around 1 gram of protein for each pound of body weight, per day should be your target. So for instance if you weigh 150 pounds, you should aim to consume 150 grams of a day.
Eat a high-protein breakfast and wake up your liver
Because your liver is basically your body’s metabolic engine, eating a high-protein breakfast, rather than a carb based one, can raise your metabolic rate by 30% for as long as twelve hours. That’s equal to a three to five mile jog.
This is because carbohydrates and fats are much easier for your liver to process and only increase liver metabolism by around 4%. Protein however, has to be broken down and re-built to be used by the body, so your body will burn it at a slower rate.
A study published in the International Journal of Obesity shows that “eating two eggs for breakfast, as part of a reduced-calorie diet, helps overweight adults lose 65% more weight and feel more energetic, than those who eat a bagel breakfast of equal calories”.
Plus, studies have shown protein-rich breakfasts can help to regulate your appetite for the rest of the day.
*Higher Protein Boosts Muscle Metabolism and Weight Loss J Am Coll Nutr. Layman DK.
*Vanderwal JS et al , et al. Egg breakfast enhances weight loss. Int J of Obesity, published online on August 5, 2008.
Protein For Building Lean Muscle
Quiet simply, protein is essential for building new lean muscle. The building blocks of muscle are Amino Acids and that’s exactly what protein is made up of.
Although you consume it with most meals, real muscle growth needs much more protein than you’ll get in an average diet. For muscle gain you need to ensure your body has a good sized reserve of quality protein to use for muscle growth.
How much protein for muscle growth?
As with weight loss, a good ‘ball park’ figure is 1 gram of protein for each pound of body weight, per day. So let’s say you weigh 200 pounds, you should aim to consume 200 grams of quality protein a day. This ensures you have a constant pool of ready to use protein in your body.
You may find it hard to eat enough protein rich foods during the day to reach that figure, so whey protein shakes can help enormously, as they make it easy to significantly add to your daily intake in a convenient way.
Try and eat 5-6 small but nutritious, high in protein meals per day (including protein based shakes). This is to make sure that your muscles are well fed, your metabolism is steady, you have the energy to complete your workouts and your insulin levels are kept stable.
Don’t worry if you think 5 – 6 meals a day sounds a lot. It’s easy to have a ‘protein shake’ meal that you can drink, as a replacement for 2 or 3 of the full meals.
You can also up your protein levels by basing your meals around the high protein foods listed below.
Breakfast. Most important meal of the day.
Whatever your goal . . . do not skip breakfast.
According to Donald Layman, Ph.D. (mentioned in the experiment above), you should aim to consume at least 30 grams (approximately the amount of protein in two eggs and a cup of cottage cheese) of your protein intake for the day, at breakfast.
Your body is usually running on empty by morning and without proper nutrition it could start burning muscle tissue for fuel. That’s the last thing you want when your goal is to build new muscle.
If your trying to lose weight, you still need to eat a nutritious breakfast. This will help to keep your snacking urges to a minimum and give you the slow burning energy to cope with your activities.
No matter what your fitness goals are, protein is essential. It’s proven to help fat reduction, lean muscle gain and is also essential for good health in general.
To ensure your body gets adequate amounts for recovery and growth, 5 or 6 protein rich meals spread out throughout the day. Try equaling around 1 gram of protein for every gram of body weight. Make sure you use supplementation with a highly bio-available quality protein such as whey.
This will ensure you have enough protein in your body at all times, for your body to call upon for recovery, fat reduction and growth.