At this point everyone knows a little bit about protein. They know it helps build muscle and maybe to have it after a workout, but usually that’s where the knowledge stops.
So the question is, are you eating enough to reach your goals? Likely not even close! Of all the food logs I check in with people the most common problem I see is that they’re not taking in even close to the proper amount of protein. This is a huge mistake and really hampers your ability to recover, build muscle, and lose body fat (if that is a goal for you).
Protein contains amino acids which are the building blocks for your body. When you workout you are stressing the system and breaking down your muscle. You need an adequate amount of dietary protein to rebuild that muscle!
A sedentary person will obviously not need the same amount as an athlete but even someone who isn’t training can usually add more to their diet. The extra protein will replace either carbohydrates or fats and will see some positive changes.
As a starter, protein is very satiating which will keep you feeling fuller for longer. You won’t crave low quality snacks if you’re satisfied from a high protein meal. Also, protein is harder for the body to assimilate; for every calorie of protein eaten, it takes about 20-30% of that energy just to digest it. Meaning that if you ate 100 calories of protein, 20-30 of those calories would be used in digestion right off the top. This alone debunks the “calorie is just a calorie” myth. Carbohydrates need 10% at most to digest and fats are 0-3%.
If you’re working out in the gym and not seeing any results this is one of the first rocks I like to turn over. It usually gets overlooked by someone thinking subjectively. Most people believe they take in enough, but when we write it all out they are hardly eating any at all.
A high carb breakfast, paired with a salad for lunch, then a bit of meat at dinner would be a very common day for many people. The problem is that this would be looking at less than 75 grams for the entire day – most people should be at least double that! A large man that’s very active should be closer to triple that amount. Keeping in mind that a 6oz chicken breast is about 50 grams of protein give or take so eating one of them a day will not satisfy your daily needs.
Taking in enough protein is an excellent way to support your weight loss efforts. It has been shown time and time again in the scientific literature that high protein diets work for losing weight AND keeping it off! Lifting weights AND eating enough protein allows you to preserve that precious lean body mass, and lose body fat. This is what most people strive for – losing body fat, not necessarily body weight. The goal should be to keep as much muscle on your frame as possible while cutting down.
If building muscle is the plan then proper protein intake is not even a question. Shoot for the higher end of the recommended intake or higher. You need to give yourself the right signal (lifting weights) and have the right fuel available to build back stronger.
The current recommended intake is 1.2 – 2.0 grams per KG of weight in the athletic population. This may still be on the low side as more of a minimum instead of the optimal amount needed to perform and feel your best. I feel that the easiest way is to have 1 gram of protein for a pound of body weight. And if the person is greatly overweight then you can aim for a gram of protein for each pound of body weight that is targeted with the weight loss plan. This is a classic strategy and I have found it to work just fine.
Some people will find it hard to take in the right amount each day which can be solved in a few ways. The easiest will be getting a protein powder and making a drink with it which will have anywhere from 20-30g of protein which can quickly fill the void. Ideally you’ll take in whole foods only but realistically protein powders are great to help out.
Also, starting with a high protein breakfast will get in a good amount to start the day. As a side benefit it will also crush cravings through most of the first portion of the day keeping your nutrition (and blood sugar!) on track.
Adding a chicken breast or alternative to your lunch will assist with getting enough as well. Most people have some with dinner so the earlier part of the day is where the holes can be filled. The problem is if you don’t get enough early in the day the chance of making it up at night won’t happen!
Addressing the diet is something that can be uncomfortable for people, however, it is about 80% of the battle when looking to lose body fat or build muscle. I promise that it is far less difficult than what it seems, as long as it’s corrected with guidance and done in a progressive way that doesn’t overwhelm you. Having the proper amount of protein in your diet can make a huge difference to whether you succeed in your goals or spin your wheels.