What is protein and how will it help change your body?

People can get confused about protein.  Most people I come into contact with are not sure what foods are high in protein, and are way off the mark on how much they should be eating to benefit their training or goals.  Protein intake is a controversial topic in the fitness space.  There are conflicting views on high protein diets, how much one should eat and if eating too much is harmful for you're health.

Is it good to have a high protein diet?  Will extra protein help me build more muscle?  Are some of the questions I get asked by my clients?

Which is why I’m going to talk about protein in this blog.  I’m going to explain what protein is, give you a list of protein dense foods and let you know how much protein can help improve your physique.  


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What is a protein?

Protein is a macro nutrient which makes up the majority of your diet, along with carbohydrates and fat.  Protein is an essential nutrient to the body and is made up of different compounds along with tiny building blocks called amino acids.  These building blocks carry out many important bodily functions such as rebuilding cells, restoring muscle tissue, improving metabolic function, and helping bones, hair and nails regrow.

There are 20 amino acids in total, our body makes 11 of them and the other 9 you must get through your diet which is why rotating a variety of sources is important.  

Here is a list of common protein sources.

  • Meats (lean or fatty) like beef, steak, or wild game
  • Poultry such as chicken or turkey and eggs
  • Seafood like wild caught fish and shellfish
  • Dairy like greek yogurt or milk
  • Beans and Lentils (vegetarian) 
  • Tofu and Tempeh (vegetarian) 
  • Protein powders

Non animal products also contain protein.  Things like quinoa, broccoli, avocados, potatoes, and nut butters all contain protein that must be accounted towards total daily intake.  Fermented tofu and spirulina are high protein dense sources that can be consumed by vegetarian and vegans.

Protein Quality

When ever I recommend eating protein, I always recommend high quality.  There is a huge difference between a more naturally raised animal and a factory famed animal.  Conditions for mass produced animals are poor.  Their habitat is inclosed, they are fed on a poor diet and are pumped full of antibiotics and other chemicals which is not good for long term health. Always go for quality.  Aim to buy organic, free range, wild caught, gras fed animals as much as possible.  Go locally sourced, know how your food was raised and where it came from.  This will have a huge effect overall, especially if you consume high amounts of meat and poultry.  

Now you have a list of protein sources, and understand the importance of quality how will consuming protein help change your body?


It’s important to mention that eating adequate amounts of protein will only be part of the process in changing your body.  Eating more protein alone won’t magically get you ripped.  A frequent resistance training routine, balanced nutrition and proper recovery are all equally important to improve your body.  

People normally fall into two camps when it comes to their goals, they either want to build muscle or lose body fat.  To do either you have to focus on building as much lean muscle as possible.  This is because muscle is more metabolically taxing to keep on your frame.  This naturally raises metabolism and you’ll burn more calories at rest and having a higher resting metabolism will in turn burn more body fat.  More lean muscle will equal less body fat and this is what will give shape and tone to your body.  


Here are some key reasons protein plays a role in changing your body.

High Thermic Effect

This means your body uses more energy to digest protein, even up 4-5x more than carbohydrate and fat.  Plain and simple you burn more calories eating protein. 

It doesn’t get stored as body fat

The body has the ability to store carbohydrates and fats, but it can’t store protein in the same way.  Studies show there is no negative effect of eating excess of protein, there is no negative effects on the liver and as it doesn’t get stored as body fat. 

Recovery

Training is stress on the body, tiny muscle tears occur and tissue starts to breaks down.  Eating a sufficient amount of protein to facilitates recovery.  Remember amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and you need these to restore and rebuild new muscle tissue.  

Hormones

Protein has been shown to benefit the body on a hormonal level, especially in growth hormone.  IGF-1s respond to exercise and feeding has been shown to increase when a persons diet is higher in protein.  This directly relates to muscle gain and fat loss.


Unfortunately building muscle isn't as easy as resistance training and eating more protein.  This is because muscle breakdown is constantly occurring.  Things like exercise, age and nutrition all play a role in how much the body is breaking down and rebuilding new tissue.  An analogy you can think of is building a wall.  Resistance training and eating protein with the building blocks of animo acids help build it up, and muscle breakdown takes the blocks away.  So to build muscle you have to build more blocks than are being taken away.  As protein break down is always occurring it’s important to keep the process of protein turnover happening to balance muscle building in your favour.  This is where the amount and frequency of feeding comes in.

How much protein do I recommend?  

Knowing how much protein you can or should eat on a daily basis is very helpful.  Most of my clients are under eating protein and this is usually the first step we tackle. The issue I see is that most people aren't consuming enough protein to support a sufficient turnover, or enough to build muscle.  

The body can utilise 0.8g per Ib of bodyweight, which means it can use and store this amount.  This is a sufficient amount for a sedentary individual who goes to the gym twice a week.  Bumping this up to 1g per Ib of bodyweight wouldn't hurt and could actually benefit physique as you will feel satiated, with less cravings and any excess wouldn't effect body fast levels.  

If someone is looking to build muscle then 0.8g per Ib of bodyweight is enough, and eating more won’t help you build more muscle.  This is because the body is in a fed state and has enough calories from carbs and fat.  But as I said eating more wouldn’t be an issue and I actually encourage it.  

If someone is in a fat loss phase then increasing protein intake to 1g-1.2g per Ib would be beneficial as maintaining muscle is much harder during this time.  Again, this is because protein will provide feeling of fullness, help support activity levels, improve recovery and not get stored as body fat. 

Protein intake will vary based on individual goals and current protein intake but as you can see a range of 0.8-1.2g per Ib of bodyweight works well depending on your goals.  It's important to mention that the elderly need more protein than young adults as muscle protein breakdown is more prevalent.  

Lets use an example of a person who weighs 70kgs (154 Ibs)  To keep things simple they are prescribed to eat 1g of protein per Ib of bodyweight.  Which would be 154g of protein per day.  It’s important to spread this every across all meals for easy digestion and to keep protein turnover happening.  If they ate 4 meals a day (which I recommend) then that would be 35-40g per meal.

 


If you’re not sure how much protein you’re consuming then you can track on My Fitness Pal or keep track from a food diary.  If you would like a more detailed approach then you can speak to me and we can set up a strategy call to discuss your goals see what best fits your current lifestyle.  Using your hand as a guide is always a great first start.  Aiming for 1-2 palms sizes of protein per meal.

Hopefully this blog has provided you with an extra bit of knowledge on protein.  Chances are you are not eating enough, especially if you are training regularly.  You don't have to go over board on protein but I'm sure increasing your daily intake of high quality protein will have a positive effect on your body composition and health.