The first article in this series will focus on the superstar of the macronutrient family – Protein. It’s the big performer in every effective weight loss or muscle building diet, and with good reason.
Increasing protein intake is one of the simplest nutrition fixes that leads to big improvements in everything from body weight management to building a cozy bird house.
Importance of Protein in your Diet
Protein is digested into amino acids which are then used by our body in cell, tissue and organ structure, hormone and enzyme production, transport of other nutrients and more. Since these processes occur continuously, protein consumption must follow suit.
From a practical point of view, protein has two essential characteristics when considering your diet:
- Satiety – protein is very filling and this effect can be very useful if you’re on a caloric deficit.
- Lean Mass – you can’t build muscle without building blocks! Similarly to building, it will help maintain whatever muscles you already have (if combined with proper exercise) during low calorie diets, by using energy from body fat instead of lean mass (lean mass includes: bones, muscles and organs)
Protein for Fat Loss
If you consider the above, eating high protein for anyone looking to cut the fat should be common sense.
Protein for Muscle Growth
If you do any sort of sports, especially weight lifting, you probably know about the importance of protein in your workout plan. Gym bros know this well (as they overdose on their protein shakes), so just look to them when you think about eating for muscle gains.
Types of Protein
Protein can be made from a combination of 20 amino acids, 8 of which are not produced by our bodies and are therefore called essential amino acids.
When a protein source has all essential amino acids (such as animal based-foods) it is called a complete protein. Incomplete proteins are those that are missing one or more essential amino acids (such as most grains and vegetables). If you’re a frisky vegan, getting those essential amino acids is often a struggle (unless you’re eating at least 100 grams of beans every single day).
If your diet consists of predominantly incomplete proteins, chances are you’re not getting enough of those sweet amino acids. You don’t need to combine them for every single meal, just make sure that the majority of your daily protein intake comes from complete sources.
Protein Quantity and Timing
The recommended “sedentary survival” intake of protein is 40-60 grams daily (around 0.8g per kg of body weight). Since we plan on doing a little more than just surviving, we’ll be needing more protein than that. Especially if you plan on training, which you should.
If you are trying to lose fat or build muscle you need to eat at least 1.5 grams of protein per kg of body weight every day. You may get away with less if you don’t do any sort of exercise, but might as well go 1.5 for the extra feeling of fullness.
This is the minimum, so feel free to increase that for more satiety and super powers. If you cover all your macros and limit your calories, you won’t be able to reach harmful levels of protein intake. The exception is if you have chronic kidney disease.
Protein Intake and Weight Lifting
If you like picking up and putting down heavy things at the gym, you should already know how important protein is to muscle growth. Keep eating that stuff and try to shoot for ranges at around 1.8g/kg of body weight or more on a daily basis.
Consume protein before and after your workout, but don’t obsess about timing. You don’t need to sprint to the closest protein dispenser as soon as you put down the weights, but have a good chunk with your next meal, as well as the ones after that. Since protein metabolism lasts for 24-48 hours following your training, go for the 1.8g/kg every day regardless if you’re working out or not.
High Protein Foods
- Chicken and Turkey Breasts – remove the skin and you get an excellent protein source that can be combined in a wide variety of dishes. Tasteless? Spice it up!
- Pork and Beef Tenderloins – as well as other lean cuts.
- Protein Powders – those bitching about protein powder need to get their facts straight. It is food as much as ricotta cheese and is one of the most flexible protein sources that can be used to make lots of tasty meals, not just simple liquid shakes. My recommendation goes to the ON Gold Standard Whey in terms of price, taste, solubility and nutritional content.
- Tuna – limit to 2 cans (200 grams) per week if you prefer to avoid mercury poisoning.
Protein & Carbs
- Quinoa – the supergrain! Excellent source of carbs and complete proteins.
- Lentils & Beans – high quantity, but incomplete protein source. Combine and profit.
Protein & Fat
- Eggs – whites contain only protein and you can separate them from the yolk (which has protein AND fat), but that would be a waste. One whole egg each day won’t destroy your heart.
- Nuts & Seeds – almonds and peanuts are the stars of the show here, both in regular and butter format.
- Dairy – milk, cheese & yogurt. Low fat options plentiful if that’s your thing.
- Salmon – on top of the protein dosage, you get a serving of the highly regarded omega 3 fatty acids.