Why Protein is your best friend
It is excellent for satiety (the feeling of fullness) (1) which not only slows you down whilst you are eating, which often means you eat less, but also keeps you fuller for longer. Although I am a huge fan of carbs (I covered why in my Carb blog) they are incredibly easy to consume - think how easy and quickly you can eat a bag of crisps versus how quickly you can eat a chicken breast and you will see where I am coming from - my fat loss clients will often say they feel they are eating a lot, or too much, and that is because I am ensuring they eat enough protein.
With this in mind a good trick when you are eating in a fat loss phase is to consume your protein before your carbohydrates- the feeling of fullness it brings should result in you eating less of your carbohydrate portion.
If you are keen to keep as much muscle whilst losing fat whilst dieting – which should be all of us –then protein MUST be kept high to ensure this occurs, otherwise you increase the risk that the weight you are losing is from muscle breakdown, rather than fat.
Photo cred: HIIT Kitchen
Building and strength
Protein within food is key for building muscle and therefore strength, in particular it is important to get the food in post workout, so within the first 2 hours, as muscle building potential is at its peak in this period - but PLEASE don’t worry about chugging a protein shake the minute you finish a work out ( I see this A LOT) .
Protein is broken down routinely throughout the day (ironically this is ALSO stimulated by weight training) so it is important to make sure we are counteracting this by eating protein to ensure we are building muscle and recovering from our workouts, rather than losing muscle and recovering poorly (typically this will show up us greater soreness, injury and fatigue)
Protein can also increase glycogen synthesis (2) particularly in the first 40 mins after exercise (3), which would be a useful notion for those undertaking multiple workouts a day who need to recover and refuel quickly, as well as those try to limit their carbohydrate intake (less carbs needed) - this may be one of the reasons why, when combined with carbohydrates post workout, significant performance benefits are seen in the next session (4) as opposed to when just carbs are consumed.
Per gram, it’s estimated that endurance athletes (so those that don’t undergo much or any weight training) should be eating 1.3g per kilo of body weight, whilst those that do weight train need a minimum of 1.8g per kg bodyweight. For those aiming for fat loss, I tend to recommend a minimum of 1.8g per kg of bodyweight, although I may start with them on 1.5g per kg and go from there. Those that do a lot of strength training, particularly that which is high intensity and impact (for example crossfit) I would recommend 2g per kg as an absolute minimum. If you do enjoy protein, if is perfectly safe to go up to around 3g per kg- ignore those that say it is bad for you, it is only an issue if you have kidney problems!
For those that don’t like to tracking food, a good rule of thumb is to have a portion of protein the size of your fist, or in karate chop position, with each meal; I would also advise getting in two protein snacks in the day to ensure you are hitting adequate protein this way, so a protein shake, greek yoghurt, or turkey/chicken breast would be great options.
However, for those with higher protein requirements- e.g. those that are in a muscle building phase, are of greater lean body mass (for example a 6ft 2in body builder or cross fitter) or those who undertake very high impact resistance training (again I will use cross fitters as an example here) I would strongly advise tracking your protein intake (even if this is all you do) using an app such as MyFitnessPal, to ensure you are getting enough.
Unlike carbs, protein intake should be spread across the day, with those looking to muscle build, to be taking on protein 4-5 times a day.
Sources of protein
Good quality sources of protein include
You will notice that none of the above are vegan, which is when things do get tougher. This is expanded further in my Vegan and Vegetarian blog, but seitan, buckwheat, hemp, soya and quinoa would be good options, as would as good quality vegan protein powder (awesome supplements), although it can be a lot tougher to consume the amounts required to hit your protein goals. Its also worth noting that whilst spirulina is often peddled as a great protein source, the amounts it is consumed in in reality mean you aren’t actually getting much bang for your buck; indeed, per 100g, it has double the amount of protein the same amount of chicken would, but since it is mainly consumed in portions of about 5g, its contribution to your daily intake of protein will be minimal- this is another example of being aware of clever marketing!
1. Paddon-Jones et al (2008) Protein, weight management and Satiety. AM J Clin Nutr 87(5):1558S-1561S
2. Saunders et al (2004) Effects of a carbohydrate-protein beverage on cycling endurance and muscle damage. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 36 (7): 123308
3. Ivy (2004) Regulation of Muscle Glycogen Repletion, Muscle Protein Synthesis and Repair Following Exercise. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine , Sep 3 (3) 131-138
4. Zawadzki KM and Jaspelkis BB. (2004) Carbohydrate-protein complex increases the rate of muscle glycogen storage after exercise. J Appl Physiol 36 (7): 1233-8