I want to talk to you about protein. Recent science says the benefits of a high protein diet are confirmed but sometimes, such statements can be white noise.
Protein is about so much more than just losing weight or building muscle.
The great part is that if you’re getting the right proteins, in the right quantities, those two things are going to be a walk in the park. Let’s talk about some basics first.
Why Is Protein Important?
I love meat, eggs, and cheese but even if you’re a strict vegan, it’s critical to get plenty of protein-rich foods in your diet. The importance of protein to your entire body is undisputed.
Proteins represent approximately 15% of your body mass. They’re found in literally every cell inside you but your body cannot store it. As a macronutrient, you require substantial quantities of protein in your daily diet for all your systems to function properly.
When you eat protein foods, your digestive system breaks them down into amino acids. Those amino acids are then used to build the proteins you need in your body. Scientists have determined that 22 amino acids are essential to human health. You’re able to make 13 of those in your body but the other 9 are only available in food.Even if you’re a strict vegan, it’s critical to get plenty of protein-rich foods in your diet. Click To Tweet
Large protein molecules make up the majority of your muscles (your heart is a muscle), skin, hair, ligaments, cartilage, and organs. Small protein molecules are found in your red blood cells (hemoglobin that transports oxygen), hormones (including insulin), bones, enzymes, and antibodies. In fact, your entire immune system consists primarily of protein.
Without protein, you cannot build, maintain, or repair damaged tissue. One of the main benefits of a high protein diet is your body’s ability to prevent tissue damage as well as repair it.
Protein derived from animal sources is considered “complete” protein. These proteins possess all 9 of the essential amino acids you need to create protein in your body.
If you’re a meat or dairy eater, that means you’re probably getting a pretty good amount of protein daily. Remember, processed meats and fast food don’t count – most of that is barely food. Between the fillers that replace the meat and the pro-inflammatory additives, you might be doing your body more harm than good.
Most vegetable proteins are “incomplete” because they’re missing a couple of key amino acids. If you’re on a strict eating plan of no animal products, it’s important to ensure you’re still getting those 9 essential amino acids.
The good news is that there are “complete” plant proteins. You just have to make sure you include them in your diet if you avoid all animal products. I’ll give you a list at the end of this article so you can add them to your eating plan!
The New Science You Need to Know
McMaster University researchers recently released the results of their study on diet and exercise, which were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
They found answers to some of the questions disputed in the health and fitness industries about the benefits of a high protein diet.
Their participants were comprised of 40 men who sustained one month of hard exercise while reducing their dietary intake by 40% of what they’d typically require.
Professor Stuart Phillips stated, “It was a grueling affair. These guys were in rough shape, but that was part of the plan. We wanted to see how quickly we could get them into shape: lose some fat, but still retain their muscle and improve their strength and fitness.”
The men were divided into two sets and all of them reduced overall caloric intake. However, one group got the calories they needed with protein-rich foods while the other just cut total calories across all food groups.
The high-protein participants gained more than 2 pounds of muscle and lost more than 10 pounds of fat. The low-protein participants lost approximately 8 pounds and didn’t gain any muscle but they didn’t lose muscle as they would have if they’d cut calories and not worked out.
Phillips explained, “Exercise, particularly lifting weights, provides a signal for muscle to be retained even when you’re in a big calorie deficit. We expected the muscle retention but were a little surprised by the amount of additional fat loss in the higher protein consuming group.”
All the participants were in better total shape by the end of the study. However, the researchers don’t believe this is the regimen for everyone. Throughout the 4 weeks, the men were kept under strict guidelines regarding exercise and food consumption.
That’s not realistic for most of us.
“We designed this program for overweight young men, although I’m sure it would work for young women too, to get fitter, stronger, and to lose weight fast. It’s a tough program and not something that’s sustainable or for those looking for quick and easy fix.”
They’ll be doing follow up studies for young women and then focus on a more sustainable approach for the rest of us.
The primary takeaway was that high protein diet benefits are better in a calorie-deficient scenario. In other words, if you have little time to eat, a better choice is going to be a protein rich meal or snack that will give your body more of what it needs.
Here’s a list of the top 12 “complete” proteins. Research has shown that organic and grass-fed foods offer a higher nutrient content. I prefer them anyway because of the flavor and fewer toxins. You might have to pay a bit more for these products but if you can do it, I know you’re going to feel better and enjoy your meals that much more.
Top 12 “Complete” Proteins
- Beef and pork
- Chicken and turkey breast
- Seafood (salmon, tuna, shrimp, sardines)
- Dairy products (Greek yogurt, whey protein, cottage cheese, milk, cheese)
- Ezekiel bread (you need to check this out)
- Quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat
- Hemp and chia seeds
- Beans (adding rice makes them complete)
- Hummus (eating on a pita makes it complete)
- Peanut butter (eaten with good quality bread makes it complete)
Vegan runner ups for substantial protein with almost all the amino acids you need (but not quite) are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, artichokes, and guava.
How much protein should you strive for daily? The labels and advice can get confusing so let’s keep it simple. A basic rule of thumb regarding your required protein intake is dividing your total weight by 2. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you need 75 grams of protein daily.
There’s no doubt about the benefits of a high-protein diet. The trick is slotting in some protein-rich foods throughout your day so your entire body reaps the benefits. Gaining lean muscle, losing weight, and helping your basic systems run as efficiently as possible.
With that said, I’m going to make myself a chicken breast, spinach, and hummus pita.