When we mention to clients that their protein intake may need to be increased for better fat loss results, many women get surprised. Even those who have a more in-depth understanding of macronutrients often think they eat enough protein until they start tracking it. This article aims to clarify what protein is, why it's essential, and how it can affect your weight loss goals.
What Is Protein?
Protein is one of the three macronutrients essential for us. It plays a significant role in building and repairing muscle tissue, as well as we can find it in pretty much all types of tissue in our body: bone, skin, hair, and organs.
Protein is made from 20+ building blocks called amino acids, 9 of which are essential amino acids humans need to get from their food. These are called histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
We are recommended to eat a varied diet to make sure our body gets enough of these essential amino acids. Deficiencies may lead to all sorts of symptoms. If you eat meat, fish, dairy, and eggs, you don't have to worry too much. However, someone on a vegetarian or vegan diet must understand the protein make-up of plant-based food and ensure they get the suitable variety their body needs.
What Does a High-Protein Diet Look Like?
Eating more protein can aid muscle gain and boost metabolism, amongst countless other benefits. That doesn't mean you eat minimal or no carbs or fats. It just means that you calculate your higher protein intake in calories first, then split the rest between carbs and fats in a way you prefer. You still eat plenty of all of them.
A high-protein diet isn't considered a restrictive eating method by any stretch of the imagination, making it more sustainable than a large percentage of other popular diet approaches that focus on subtracting rather than addition.
However, eating more protein is not as easy as simply chowing down on more chicken breast, especially if you want to maintain a balanced, nutrient-rich diet that can help you lose weight and keep it off long term.
The most complex aspect of a high protein diet is that the best protein sources, such as fish, lean meats, and beans, are not as straightforward or fast as most other high carb foods and lack the convenience of fruits and vegetables.
These features may shed some light on why up to ⅓ of women between the ages of 20 and 40 do not consume their daily recommended amount of protein. It can easily seem too tricky and time-consuming to cook up a high protein meal when other quicker options seem more tempting.
Generally speaking, if you want to keep your protein intake reasonably high, you will eat one palm-sized portion of protein with each meal, 3-4 times a day. You will also eat a fistful of vegetables and only a cupped-hand amount of carbs with those meals.
How can a high protein diet help you lose weight?
Here are a few reasons a diet higher in protein would support your weight loss goals. First of all, high protein foods take more work and energy for your body to digest, metabolize, and use, which means you will burn more calories to process and consume them.
Another critical aspect of weight loss is managing your satiety levels. Proteins take much longer to leave your stomach, which will certainly aid you in feeling fuller for longer. You won't be able to overeat on chicken breast or tuna because your body will realize when you're full. You can't say the same about chips and biscuits.
A third reason you will benefit from eating more protein when losing weight is your recovery. Have you ever felt sore for over three days after a challenging workout? When you eat more protein, your body can rebuild the broken muscle tissues faster, so your DOMS won't last days.
The last reason to give a high-protein diet a go is that when you're eating at a calorie deficit for weight loss, you won't only lose body fat but also water and muscle. If your meals are higher in protein, your body will be able to minimize how much muscle mass you lose and help you sculpt a toned body.
How much protein should I be eating for weight loss?
How much protein you need to consume will depend on a few things, most notably on your activity levels.
According to Precision Nutrition's research, women who regularly engage in high-intensity training, including weightlifting and cardio, might need between 1.4-2g of protein per kg of their body weight. That means a 140lb woman would consume between 89.6g and 126g of protein per day.
Let's calculate how that would translate into calories. 1g of protein contains 4 calories, so our lady in the example would need to eat between 358 and 504 calories from protein per day.
So, if our example client weighs 140lbs that she wants to maintain, is moderately active during the day thus has a calorie need of about 2000 calories, you can see that between 18 and 25% of her daily calorie intake should be from protein.
If you want to make your protein intake super simple for yourself, 1/4th of your meals should be protein-rich foods like fish, meat, poultry, eggs or pulses.
No one macronutrient is exclusively responsible for weight gain or weight loss, so you must never make the mistake of cutting out food groups or eating one type of food, hoping that this will encourage a dramatic weight loss.
Overeating protein can be a risk factor, as overconsumption of protein coupled with underconsumption of carbohydrates will decrease your fiber intake. Eating too little fiber could cause bloating and constipation and even more severe risks like heart disease and chronic illnesses if you become highly deficient. Always eat fruits and vegetables when consuming a high protein diet to meet all of your macronutrient needs. A future article will be focused on carb intake for weight loss.
If you need some help calculating your daily nutrient intake or have other questions about your fitness journey, please get in touch!