Increase the protein and reduce the carbs – this is what we keep hearing. But what really happens when we do that? To understand how protein rich products benefit us we need to know what protein is and why we need it.
What is Protein?
Protein is an important component of every cell in the body. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues, make enzymes, hormones and other chemicals. It’s also an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. Food proteins are used by every part of the body to develop, grow and function properly.
Like fat and carbohydrates, protein is a “macronutrient,” meaning the body needs relatively large amounts of it. Unlike fat and carbohydrates, the body does not store protein so there is no reservoir to draw on when it needs a new supply.
So, could it be argued that because proteins are involved in just about every body function it’s OK to eat protein all day long?
In fact, you actually need less total protein than you might think, however the real benefit may be from getting more protein from better food sources.
How Much Protein?
Our bodies need a modest amount of protein to function properly. As a guide;
- children age 2 to 6, most women and some older people – two daily servings totalling five ounces.
- older children, teen girls, active women and most men – two daily servings totalling six ounces.
- teenage boys and active men – three daily servings totalling seven ounces.
So a typical 8 ounce steak in a pub or restaurant exceeds everyone’s daily recommended guide.
Benefits of Protein
It’s important to consume protein rich foods every day and at every meal to prevent protein deficiency (low energy, ‘brain fog’, unstable blood sugar levels, difficulty maintaining or losing weight, poor sleep, low immunity). This will give you the following benefits:
- Improved Muscle Mass – protein is necessary to build and maintain muscle mass, while also supporting tendon, ligaments and other body tissue. When your diet is lacking in amino acids, “muscle wasting” can occur. Protein alone won’t enhance athletic performance. However, it is important after exercise, since activity like strength training damages muscle tissues, so they can repair and grow back stronger. For this process to happen effectively, you need some extra protein to help repair the damage.
- Aid Weight Management – protein helps you feel full. For a diet to be effective it has to suit you, but controlling calorie intake coupled with a moderately high protein intake can be an effective and practical weight-loss strategy. Unlike carbs or fats, high-protein foods cause increased satiety, so they can prevent overeating. Eating protein also creates ‘thermogenesis’, which requires the body to expend more energy (calories) whilst digesting food.
- Stabilise Blood Sugar Levels – blood sugar levels are determined by the glycemic index response from the foods you eat. Foods high in carbs and sugar result in fluctuating blood sugar levels – eating protein does the opposite. So, a high-protein diet can help control spikes in blood glucose, preventing Type 2 diabetes, balancing energy levels and keeping your appetite and mood in check.
- Promote Healthy Brain Function and Learning – remember being told by your mum that you must eat breakfast to prepare your brain for a day of learning at school? Well it’s true. The brain requires a steady supply of amino acids in order to keep concentration, focus and energy levels up. Amino acid deprivation means learning and coordination suffer. Once all necessary amino acids are reintroduced into the diet, learning and motor skills improve!
- Maintain Strong Bones – a high protein diet from whole, nutrient-rich foods, can prevent bone weakness, fractures and even osteoporosis by increasing calcium absorption and helping with bone metabolism.
- Slow Aging and Promote Longevity – research shows that a diet high in balanced amino acids from protein foods can help treat muscle loss due to aging. A diet that has adequate levels of protein helps slow the aging process by keeping muscle mass intact, supporting strong bones and maintaining high cognitive and immune function.
Drawbacks of too much Protein
Adopting a high protein/low carb diet should be approached with caution, as some long term health issues can occur:
- A high protein/low carb intake, can change your metabolism into a state called Ketosis, which means the body converts from burning carbs for fuel to burning its own fat. Ketosis, which also occurs in diabetes, can suppress appetite and increase the body’s elimination of fluids through urine, resulting in a loss of water weight.
- The body produces ammonia when it breaks down protein. No one currently knows the long-term risks of higher levels of ammonia in the body.
- Evidence also suggests that people on a high protein diet, typically excrete excess calcium in their urine. Excess calcium loss could lead to osteoperosis in later life.
- Eating more protein and reducing carbs can mean that important food groups including fruit and vegetables are ignored. These are the best sources of vitamins, fibre and antioxidants that help prevent disease.
So, we’ve established that we need to eat enough protein to keep our bodies in a good state of repair and you might eat enough protein overall, but do you eat the right kinds?
Top Protein Foods to Include in Your Diet
- Grass-Fed Beef
- Organic Chicken
- Wild-Caught Salmon
- Black Beans
- Goat Cheese
As with most aspects of life, balance is everything, so the amount of protein and the kind of protein are what’s important to keep you healthy.
How Can BodyUK Help You
At BodyUK, we support our clients with detailed diet plans to improve their understanding of what they should be eating and drinking to achieve their fitness goals. If you would like to find out more about how BodyUK can help you achieve your fitness goals then why not get in touch for a confidential conversation. You can email [email protected] or call our Head Coach, Jem, on 0203 289 1915