Protein for Weight Loss
What Exactly is Protein?
PROTEIN is one of three macronutrients your body needs to work properly; carbohydrates and fats are the other two. Protein can be thought of as the ‘bricks and cement’ of the human body as it helps build your skin, muscles, tendons, and hair. It also makes up the core of bones and teeth. Every day, these bodily structures need a little bit of building maintenance, and this can’t happen without protein.
As well as these structural uses, protein is important for producing hormones, helping you recover from illness and just about every other chemical reaction that happens within your body. It’s also a big deal for your brain, forming its neural network and keeping your mood in check (i.e stops you going down in the dumps).
Protein is made up of smaller parts called amino acids, and there are 20 of these in total; 11 that your body can make by itself (non-essential aminos), and nine that must come from your diet (essential aminos). When a protein contains all nine essential aminos - in good quantities - it is called a ‘complete protein’ and thought of as a superior source. Incomplete proteins are those that don’t contain all of the essential aminos or do but in lower amounts.
How Can Protein Help When Dieting?
The case for eating protein is already looking strong, but there are three big reasons you should be eating more of it if you’re trying to shed some poundage.
- Protein keeps you feeling full. Being hungry is the worst part of any diet, so anything that can help hold off hunger is a no brainer.
- Protein helps maintain muscle. Muscle gives your body some natural shape and keeps your metabolism running higher.
- Protein kills calories. Around 30% of the calories from protein ‘disappear’ during digestion, which could ramp up your results.
Which Foods Contain Protein?
Most foods contain some protein, but the amounts and completeness vary massively.
- Meat, fish, dairy, and eggs contain all nine essential aminos, as do plant-based sources quinoa, buckwheat, chia seeds, and spirulina.
- Vegetables, grains, nut, and seeds are all incomplete sources of protein. They are still useful and can combine with other foods to make up a complete protein profile.
What About Protein Shakes?
Most of your protein should come from food, but whey protein supplements can be handy to top up levels when food options are limited, or you struggle to hit your daily quota.
Whey protein comes from milk – it is processed, dried, and then flavors are usually added to make it taste good. You can add it to water for a lower calorie option, or milk for a more indulgent shake. Simple flavors – chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla – are often the most natural tasting.
Be warned; some flavors are pretty gross so see if you can get a sample or try friends before buying a big tub.
You can mix protein powder into other foods – half a scoop can turn boring porridge into a high protein chocolatey breakfast guaranteed to keep you full. You can even bake cakes – yes cakes – using protein powder, although it is a bit of an art form.
The best advice I can give you on protein shakes is to always clean your drinks bottle out straight after use. Leave a half full one in your bag for a few days, and you’ll probably have to bin it.
Isn’t Protein Bad for Your Kidneys?
Amongst other things, your kidneys are responsible for processing by-products of the protein you digest, so it makes sense that they may have to work harder when you eat more protein.
Some people think that if protein levels are too high, your kidneys can’t hope with all this action. But studies have shown no difference in kidney health between healthy individuals on either low or high protein diets. The same is true for both overweight people - who are usually at a higher risk for kidney problems – and athletes consuming up to 0.86g or protein per lb of bodyweight.
So high protein diets appear to be safe for most people, but if you have an existing kidney condition, or think you may be at an increased risk, you should be weary of a high protein diet and chat with your doctor.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Your protein needs depend mainly on your size, how active you are, and what you’re trying to achieve. If you are bigger, you need a little extra for basic body maintenance. If you are very active, and especially if you lift weights, you can benefit from increased protein to help repair your muscles and speed up your recovery.
If you’re trying to lose weight, the extra protein could be the difference between success and failure.
Here are some things to consider when calculating how much protein you need:
- British Nutrition Foundation recommends 0.34g of protein per lb of body weight, per day, for the average population, which is around 15% of total calories. For a female weighing 140lbs (10 stone), that equals around 50 grams.
- Studies have shown greater weight loss, fat loss, and preservation of lean muscle with higher-protein diets. It is suggested between 0.54 and 0.74g of protein per lb of body weight provides improvements in appetite and body weight management.
- It is suggested a serving of at least 25-30g of protein per meal is required to benefit from appetite reduction and body weight management. Breakfast is an especially good time to include protein.
(All references available on request)