Last week we took an in-depth look at how the body burns calories through your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). It is important to understand the breakdown of how your body burns calories throughout the day so that you can find what works best for your body! Today we will begin our Macronutrient Series as we focus on the benefits of Protein in your diet.
Today We Will Focus on:
- Understanding Macro Nutrients
- Health Benefits of Protein
- How Protein Intake Impacts your Health & Fitness Journey
- How to Incorporate Protein into Your Current Diet
What are Macros?
Let’s start by understanding exactly what macros are. Macros, which is short for Macronutrients, are the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that you consume within your diet and provide you with the most energy. Your body needs macronutrients in large amounts to keep it functioning properly. Food is categorized into the macronutrient of which it contains the most. Chicken is categorized as a protein despite also containing fat, and potatoes are categorized as a carb even though they also contain protein.
Health Benefits of Protein
Protein is a widely talked about nutrient that is often misunderstood. We can walk through the grocery store and see packaging bragging about the protein content found in the food but what exactly is protein and why is it important for our health?
Protein is made up of combinations of amino acids, your body needs 20 different amino acids to function correctly. There are 9 amino acids that your body is unable to make on its own. We need to gain these amino acids through eating food. These are referred to as Essential Amino Acids (the other 11 which your body can make are referred to as non-essential amino acids). Your body converts amino acids into protein. A balanced diet is important when ensuring you are getting the essential amino acids that your body needs to function, which in turn helps create the protein it needs.
Adequate protein intake assists in maintaining satiety (staying full after meals), repairs cells and builds muscle within the body. Protein can also be used for energy in our body as it can be converted into glucose (sugar, our primary energy carbohydrate). Protein is the “builder” macro, as it helps to repair, shape and grow the cells in your body. Our heart, brain, bones, muscles, veins, skin, hair, nails are all made up of protein; protein’s main job is to build, maintain and restore these tissues, organs & muscles. It is the primary macronutrient that helps our body to recover from the stress of exercise. Another benefit of eating enough protein is it will help to increase your metabolism by providing essential amino acids that are vital for gut health and supporting hormonal health. In addition, protein has the highest thermogenic effect of all the macronutrients, which means it requires more energy (burns more calories) to metabolize than any of the other macronutrients (fat and carbohydrate) increasing our metabolic output. Protein is also extremely important in maintaining a healthy immune system, as it is necessary to replenish the cells that are used to fight off infections.
Ample Protein Intake Helps too:
- Provide essential amino acids
- Stay full & satisfied after a meal
- Build & Maintain lean muscle mass
- Recover from workouts
- Increase metabolism
- Maintains a healthy immune system
Protein Intake Impacts Fitness Goals
Eating enough protein is vital when it comes to recovery and optimal performance with your workouts. When we head to the gym and strength train, we are damaging muscle fibers. Protein plays a key role in repairing the damaged muscle and then rebuilds new muscle tissue. This is how muscles are formed. Muscles are primarily made up of protein, so naturally your protein intake is going to affect your muscle mass.
To build muscle, you need to ensure you are eating enough calories and are not in a caloric deficit. The foundation of muscle growth starts with nutrition. Proper protein intake and eating enough calories to have energy for strength training is how we build muscle. Protein synthesis (the creation of new muscle) only happens when you are consistently eating enough dietary protein and calories in addition to strength training.
- If your goal is to feel strong… build muscle
- If you want your physique to look more “toned”… build muscle.
- If you want to increase your ability to burn more calories throughout the day… build muscle.
You get the hint, building muscle will help when it comes to your health & fitness journey. The “toned” look that many are looking for is created by increasing protein intake and strength training. If losing weight is a goal for you, also focus on increasing protein and strength training. As you build lean muscle, your body will burn more calories throughout the day, even when your body is at rest. Protein has a higher thermic effect and uses more energy to digest; which means your body burns more calories when digesting protein. When you are providing your body with the right amount of protein, it helps to maintain your lean mass, burn more calories and assists in creating the healthiest version of yourself.
Protein intake is also very important during long term (greater than 2 hours) endurance activities such as cycling or running. 5-15% of energy that is used during these long-term endurance activities will come from protein. If we don’t properly fuel with some protein during these activities our bodies will replenish the protein lost by breaking down our own muscle tissue which will lead to more rapid muscle fatigue and breakdown; and increased post-exercise soreness.
How Do I Incorporate Protein In my Diet?
It is common to feel overwhelmed by ensuring you have enough protein in your daily nutrition. The general suggestion for protein intake is about 0.7 to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. This can depend on personal fitness goals, physical activity levels and your individual health history.
Begin by consuming protein at every meal and build your plate around your protein.
- add eggs/egg whites to your morning bagel
- add peanut butter to your toast
- add chicken, salmon or an egg to a salad
- add chicken, salmon or other seafood to your pasta dish
- sub in a high protein pasta, instead of traditional pasta
Start with small steps and build the habit of adding protein to more meals throughout the day.
Start with a food higher in protein and add some vegetable sides. A great way to start the day would be an egg omelet and add your favorite vegetables to the omelet.
Remember that small amounts add up. Do not discount the protein you get from grains, vegetables, eggs, peanut butter, beans… these small additions to your meals can help increase the protein.
Protein Powders/Supplementations are a beneficial addition to your daily nutrition. When learning to add protein to your meals, it is fine to rely on a protein shake to help reach your daily protein goal. Supplementing protein should not equate for more than 50% of your daily protein. You can opt for one shake a day and then prioritize protein from whole foods. Collagen is another way to add protein to your nutrition and can be added to your morning coffee to jump start protein intake when you first wake up.
Be sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook for more protein intake tips and recipes this week. Next week’s blog will continue our Macronutrient Series as we deep dive into Fats and why they are beneficial to our health.