The Power of Protein
Random fact of the day, protein in Greek means ‘of first importance’. The Greek’s are renowned for their wisdom, so we should certainly not overlook this lesser known fact.
Protein is a unique macronutrient that not only provides energy to the body, but also supports vital growth and repair functions. It’s the essential building block for various tissues, enzymes, hormones and more. The best way to think of protein is like bricks. When you eat protein the small bricks you ingest are used to build various structures within your body.
Beyond growth and repair, protein also aids weight loss and should be hailed as THE weight loss nutrient. In fact, as the arguments about fat and carbohydrate rumble on, the one thing all researchers can agree on is that protein is vital to weight loss and long term maintenance of weight loss.
The current Dietary Reference Value for protein is 0.3 grams of protein per pound of body weight. But this measly figure is far too low. Increasing your protein intake at all meals and aiming for a total daily protein intake of 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight will have huge benefits to you on your journey with Reverse Health and beyond. That is around 120 grams of protein per day for a 150 lbs individual.
Let’s discuss exactly why that is:
- Rev up metabolic rate
Imagine your metabolism is like a fire that burns inside your body. When you add more protein to your diet it’s like pouring petrol on to that fire.
The body uses a massive amount of energy to digest protein rich foods, so eating them regularly and larger quantities will increase metabolic rate. The thermic effect of feeding is around 20 - 30% for protein, compared to 5 - 10% for carbohydrate and fat.
Research has shown that by increasing protein intake to just 29% of total calorie intake per day can increase metabolic rate by 212 kcal per day. That’s the equivalent of a 45 minute brisk paced walk!
Metabolic rate is elevated for many hours after the protein rich meal, so it’s important that you consume protein at regular intervals during the day and avoid having just one single, large protein meal. So you essentially fuel the furnace continually at breakfast, lunch, snacks, evening meal and before bed.
- Reduce hunger and cravings
Protein is the most satiating macronutrient. That means it fills you up the most, preventing hunger, cravings and the cookie monster that so often creeps up on you!
It does this by increasing hormones PYY and GLP-1, which send signals to the brain telling it that its full and satisfied, and ‘don’t eat anything else’, while also reducing ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”.
In one study increasing protein intake to 30% of total daily calories reduced energy intake by 441 kcal per day. That is pretty astonishing!
Similarly, when people drank a whey protein shake an hour before going to a buffet ate 193 - 215 kcal less than if they did not consume the whey protein shake. This is thanks to the filling effect of protein and the clear signals that protein sends to the brain!
- Increase muscle mass
High protein diets help stimulate the growth and repair of muscle tissue. But fear not, increasing your daily protein intake will not morph you into a muscle bound body builder, but it will help you develop a toned, defined physique that burns more calories.
Muscle mass is metabolically active, meaning it burns more calories than other tissues, such as fat. So increasing muscle mass by elevating your protein intake and doing some form of resistance training multiple times a week will further support your body’s calorie burning power.
Although let’s not overstate the impact of this, relative to the aforementioned effects of protein on metabolic rate and appetite, lean muscle will only burn around 6 kcal per pound at rest. But nevertheless, increasing muscle mass is a very, very good idea.
- Stabilize energy
Dietary protein helps to regulate blood sugar levels, particularly in those with type 2 diabetes, preventing large surge and crash in blood sugar that can lead to unstable energy levels, mood disturbances, irritability, irrational decisions and cravings.
In actual fact, combining protein with fiber rich foods is the absolute best way to keep you fuller for longer, stabilize energy levels and optimize mood.
- Build happy hormones
Not only does protein help build bodily tissue, but many hormones are also made from protein. Including the happy hormone serotonin, which can be made from the tryptophan which is a small brick of protein (amino acid).
Serotonin is known to influence mental health, reduce anxiety and promote positivity and relaxation, support sleep and so much more. Serotonin is so important to numerous aspects of our overall well being.
Serotonin deficiency is also associated with depression, anxiety and other issues, which in turn will impact your diet, exercise, activity and day-to-day lifestyle, making it more challenging to stay motivated and on-track.
How to guide:
So now we know why protein is so important, let’s now discuss how to go about increasing your protein intake each day.
We know that a total daily protein intake of 0.8 grams per pound of body weight or 30 - 40% of total daily calories is a good target and that splitting that up over 3 - 5 meals will help increase calorie burning, so let’s figure out how to do that.
Protein rich foods include meat, fish and shellfish, dairy products, beans and pulses, and supplements like whey protein.
Target: 120 grams of protein per day and 30 grams of protein per meal
Steak = 40 grams
Chicken breast = 30 grams
Can of tuna = 30 grams
Scoop of whey protein = 26 grams
Salmon fillet = 25 grams
Cod fillet = 22 grams
Fat free Greek yogurt = 15 grams
Beans (½ cup) = 8 grams
Low fat milk (16 oz) = 7 grams
Protein timeline for maximum benefit:
Breakfast: 30 grams of protein from eggs, meat, Greek yogurt or similar.
Lunch: 30 grams of protein from meat, fish, shellfish, beans and pulses or a combination.
Snack: 30 grams of protein from eggs, Greek yogurt, protein shake or similar.
Evening Meal: 30 grams of protein from meat, fish, shellfish, beans and pulses or a combination.
Before Bed: Whey protein shake with low fat or plant-based milk.
In order to lose weight and keep it off, you really need to harness the power of protein. Not only will it help you burn more calories each day, without moving a muscle, but it will also keep you fuller for longer, prevent cravings and make dieting easier, improve energy and mood, and even muscle tone.
At Reverse Health we have formulated our meal plans to specifically take advantage of the protein power by developing and delivering high protein meal plans that provide 35 - 40% of total calories per day from protein. As a general rule we also recommend at least a hand sized serving of protein rich foods at each meal and snack.
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