‘Protein’ has been an obsession of the health and fitness industry of late. Despite being most commonly associated with muscle building and strength training, the benefits of protein to help achieve other goals can seem unclear. With so much information on offer, who do you believe, and how can you utilise it to achieve your weight loss goal? Here, we hope to give you the answers: specifically focusing on the role protein can have in your weight loss journey.
What is protein and why do we need it?
Chemically, protein is composed of amino acids, of which there are twenty: used to develop and maintain just about every part of the body, from our skin and hair to our digestive enzymes, muscle cells, hormones, immune cells, and vital organs. Protein is a macronutrient which, alongside carbohydrates and fats, is a primary source of energy. If you tend to train or exercise fasted, you may notice that your energy flags and cravings for sweeter foods rise throughout the day. But as protein is constantly being broken down for the numerous roles it has in the body throughout the day it needs to be replaced, therefore not contributing to significant weight gain.
Having a protein deficiency in your diet can lead to the following symptoms, to name but a few: weakness, muscle wasting, lowered concentration, constant feelings of hunger, imbalances in weight, and a lowered metabolism. Consuming protein is important for everyone, regardless of whether you choose to exercise on a given day or not, for repairing tissues and retaining muscle mass. High protein diets for weight loss were made famous by Dr Atkins and Dr Dukan. Protein is also commonly used in sports nutrition and body building and consumed both pre and post workout. In both cases protein is emphasised upon due to its satiating and replenishing effects: keeping blood sugar levels consistent and it’s amino acids rebuilding and repairing muscular damage.
What are good sources of protein?
Protein is found in various foods such as: meat, poultry, seafood, beans and pulses, eggs, soy products, nuts, and seeds. Grains such as millet and quinoa also contain vital amino acids that satiate appetite: fantastic replacements for calorie dense carbohydrates if you’re looking to lose weight. In addition, if you really want to make the most of volume and help protein absorption, opt for green vegetables. Despite not being particularly abundant in protein gram for gram in comparison to lean meats and seafood, peas, kale, spinach and broccoli do contain amino acids that your body can utilize.
Incorporating nuts and seeds can also boost the protein content of meals. For example 30g of chia seeds provides approximately 5g of protein. An avocado can also contain 3-5 g of protein—not bad for a fruit. Spirulina (a blue green algae, available in powdered form) contains an excellent spectrum of amino acids and 7g about a teaspoon provides 4g of protein. It is classed as super green food because its also abundant in iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins.
What about protein powders?
Protein powders, rather than being the reserve of muscle builders, are a great way to pack your diet with satiating protein. What’s more they’re particularly convenient for post-workout pick me ups: encouraging the body to maintain lean muscle mass, and reducing the risk of reaching for a quick fix snack after a heavy training session, long run, or whatever form of exercise you love.
As protein powders already contain the free amino acids, needed for absorption, they are delivered into the muscles readily. With this in mind they can be consumed 40 to 60 minutes before a workout to fuel the muscle and delay muscle fatigue during training. When drunk immediately after a workout the amino acids replenish the protein broken down in the muscles during training. Protein shakes can also be drunk anytime in the day as a snack to keep your blood sugar levels controlled in between meals. The key with protein is variety and ensuring the quality of your dietary sources of protein, which then can be supplemented with 1-3 servings of protein powder if required.
Whey protein and its isolates are by-products of the cheese-making process and widely found in tubs in health food stores and sports shops. Available in a variety of flavours, they can become a sweet treat, with little guilt: perfect for a weight loss diet. Craving a chocolate bar? Opt for chocolate based formulas. Experiment with protein powders, as they can be used in a multitude of ways, from baking, to desserts, or in delicious smoothies. They are not, however, suitable for those on dairy free diets and sometimes causes difficulty in digestion, so ensure that your body agrees with them before commencing use. 30g serving provides approx. 26g of protein.
Perhaps you’re following a vegan diet? Brown rice protein is the best tolerated by the gut, with a 30g serving provides approx. 22g of protein. Pea protein is another great option, and is perfect for use in savoury dishes. providing 22g of protein per every 30g serving. Although it has slightly less protein density (about half of brown rice protein), you can also try hemp protein, which is often paired with another natural vegan protein source such as legumes.
Protein for weight loss
We know that foods rich in protein do satiate us for longer, thus reducing appetite and cravings for empty calorie foods or processed sugar. This is good if you tend to feel hungry often, especially if you’re looking to lose weight. Protein has a further benefit in that it revs up the metabolism. This is due to two possible mechanisms, one is that protein takes more energy to break down and digest than carbohydrates or fat do, so its higher thermic effect can aid any weight loss. Secondly, as muscle is metabolically active tissue, building muscle mass with protein and glycogen and strength training exercise increases the metabolic rate which increases the rate at which calories are burnt, even when at rest. For weight loss the combination of exercise and having the right fuel in the body from protein, ensures your workouts can be performed with undue stress to the muscles and immune system.
To further help to reach your weight loss goals, it’s always advisable to pair your diet and training with complimentary supplementation. Performance greens (a superfood formula) can also be added to a protein shake to balance the appetite and also as a pre workout beverage, furthermore it contains spirulina which can assist with weight loss. Taking vitamin C, which is an antioxidant can also boost energy levels, the immune system and aid quicker recovery of tissue damage: giving you the upper hand when it comes to your weight loss training routine. In addition conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a type of fat in grass fed meat and dairy produce, also confers some weight loss benefits.
Including quality sources of protein in your diet can not only help you to train harder, decrease hunger, and repair muscle tissue, but ultimately help you to move towards your weight loss goal in a healthy and sustainable way.