Why eating enough protein is important

What’s the first image that comes into your mind when you hear the word “protein”? Is it a ridiculously muscular bodybuilder, a shelf of nutritional supplements with shiny labels, or maybe a delicious plate of salmon with pesto?

What is the first think that comes into your mind when you hear the word protein

If your idea of protein is that it is a nutritional supplement reserved for bodybuilders and muscle building freaks, then that cannot be further from the truth. Actually, higher protein intake is more important during a weight-loss phase, than it is during a muscle-building phase.

Protein and weight loss

Of course, a moderate caloric deficit is the foundation of every weight loss plan. However, studies show that protein intake also plays a major role in weight-loss.

Effects on digestion

Protein, together with fats and carbohydrates are the 3 macronutrients that provide us with energy through our nutrition. Digesting and absorbing these macronutrients does not come for free though. Our digestive system spends some energy (calories) to break down protein, fat, and carbs and make them available to be used as energy for our daily activities. This is called the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) and is different for every macronutrient. In general, the percentage of energy spent on digestion is:

  • 20-30% for protein,
  • 5-10% for carbohydrates, and
  • 0-3% for fats.

What this means is that if you eat 200 calories worth of protein, you will spend 40-60 calories in digestion, without even knowing it!

Thermic effect of food

Let’s visualize that with an example: Let’s say that Betty is a chubby ladette eating 2000 calories a day to maintain her weight. Let’s also say that 10% of these calories come from protein. By upping her protein intake to 30%, Betty will burn 100 to 150 more calories per day from digesting this extra protein. And remember, she did not eat anything less neither she restricted calories. Betty is just swapping some of her foods with ones of higher protein content. No hunger, no deprivation. Now that’s a smart way to lose weight! For other practical ways to cut 500 calories check out our post on how to cut 500 calories a day.

Effects on hormones

High protein intake increases the levels of satiety hormones, giving the feeling of fullness sooner. This makes it easier to consume fewer calories. At the same time, it reduces the levels of hunger hormones, such as ghrelin, making it less likely for you to snack during the hours following a high protein meal.

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Preserving muscle

Studies show that obese people have weaker muscles compared to normal weight people. Their body breaks down the muscles to find the nutrients it needs since they are not getting these nutrients through their (bad) nutrition. Having weak muscles while carrying extra fat is like having a tank full of gas and no car to use it. Fat is the gas and muscles is the engine that burns it. Without sufficient muscles, the fat is very difficult to be burned.

Fat is the fuel and muscles is the engine that burns it

During weight-loss, it is expected to lose fat and muscles at the same time. Losing the fat is, of course, the intention, but losing muscles is an unwanted side-effect. The more muscles lost, the more difficult it becomes to keep losing fat. This is why preserving muscles during weight-loss is crucial. Protein promotes muscle growth. With sufficient amounts of protein in the diet, paired optionally with some kind of resistance training, muscle mass can be retained or even increased during a period of weight-loss. This effect is even more apparent when an untrained individual starts training for the first time.

How much protein per day is “enough”?

A general recommendation is 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, per day. For example, a 75kg person should eat 90 to 150 grams of protein per day during weight loss.

How to calculate how much protein I need?

Our protein calculator is coming soon, stay tunned…

How much protein is in my meal?

Easy. What is your meal made of? Take each ingredient and check its nutritional label for protein content. No need to get obsessed by checking the protein content of your potatoes. Just check the foods you know are high in protein, like legumes, fish, meat, dairy, eggs, etc.

How a high protein meal looks like

What better way to show you, that a picture of our own meals?

Tuna steak, egg, broccoli

Pork steaks, broccoli, peppers

Eggs, broccoli, red peppers

Chicken patty, pasta

Beef patty, potatoes, greek salad

Beef liver, quinoa, broccoli

All these meals are between 300 and 600 calories, contain 30 to 50 grams of protein and they are pretty filling too. I am sure you recognized the large IKEA dinner plates 😉

Summary

Higher protein intake is a smart move for effortless weight-loss. A high protein diet improves satiety, reduces hunger and food cravings, improves metabolism and has been shown to help with fat loss in general. When planning your meals, try considering their protein content. If dining out, opt for some lean meat or lentil soup. If your total calorie consumption is in check, then protein intake is the second best thing to track.

What is your high protein meal look like? Let us know in the comments below!

Stavros

Stavros

Author

Stavros is an engineer who used to work as an expat and now traveling around the world. He has been obese for a good part of his adult life, until two years ago where things took a happy turn for him. Today, Stavros wants to share his weight loss experiences, tips and mistakes, in hope to inspire other ordinary people to find their way to improve their body, their life, their happiness.

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