Seeking a Fitness Goal for the New Year: The Importance of Protein in Your Diet
As the end of the year approaches, many people look for ways to improve their lives, whether it is adopting a new fitness regimen, different diet, or living a healthy lifestyle.
If you are seeking to improve your life by becoming healthier in 2017, consider adding more protein to your diet. Good eating choices and physical activity are associated with longevity, leanness, and mental wellness.
Protein is in every single cell in our body, and it is important for building muscle mass, supporting our neurological function, and helping to balance our hormones. We need to eat protein every day to keep our energy up, our metabolism charged, and blood sugar levels stable.
It’s estimated that 30 percent of the world’s population is either overweight or obese – an alarming statistic that continues to rise. Poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle are associated with increased body fat, physical ailments, mental illness, and a higher mortality rate.
It seems like people have been arguing forever about fats and carbohydrates in the diet, but we all agree protein is important. Need proof? Here are a few science-based reasons to up your protein intake.
PROTEIN REDUCES APPETITE AND HUNGER
The three macronutrients – fats, carbs, and protein – have different effects on our bodies, and studies show that protein is by far the most filling. Simply put – you’ll feel fuller with less food.
One reason protein makes you feel full is that it reduces the levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. It also boosts the hormone peptide YY, which is the hormone that makes you feel full. Studies have shown that increasing protein from 15 to 30 percent of your daily calories will result in fewer calories consumed.
If your goal is to lose weight or belly fat, replace some of the fats and carbs you’re consuming with protein. It can be as simple as reducing the portion of rice, potatoes, or pasta in a meal and replacing it with a few extra morsels of fish or meat. A diet that’s high in protein will reduce hunger; thus, you’ll consume fewer calories.
PROTEIN CAN INCREASE STRENGTH
The building blocks of muscles are comprised of protein, so it seems logical you’ll build more muscle by eating more protein. And, not so surprisingly, studies have shown that eating plenty of protein can help boost muscle mass and strength. That’s even more important if you’re physically active, lift weights, or are trying to gain muscle mass and strength.
Maintaining a high level of protein in the diet can also help prevent muscle loss when your body is breaking down muscle – or in a “catabolic state” – such as during weight loss. The key is to lose fat, not muscle, when you lose weight.
Protein makes up the building blocks of muscle, and a high proportion of protein in the diet will help you gain muscle and strength and can prevent the loss of muscle when losing weight.
PROTEIN IS GOOD FOR YOUR BONES
Many studies show protein has major benefits for bone health. People who consume more protein maintain bone mass better as they age, and their risk of osteoporosis and brittle bones is significantly reduced.
Women are at an especially high risk for osteoporosis after menopause, and staying active, maintaining strong muscles, and eating plenty of protein can help prevent that from happening.
PROTEIN CAN REDUCE CRAVINGS AND LATE-NIGHT SNACKING
Anybody who has suffered the ravages of addiction can tell you that cravings, whether it’s for cigarettes, alcohol or food, can be extremely difficult to control.
A hormone called leptin is produced in your body’s fat tissue, and its primary role is to stimulate your appetite and, conversely, signal when you’re full. Trouble arises when surges of leptin trick your brain into feeling hungry even when you shouldn’t be. One culprit is your body fat – more body fat, more leptin. Another cause is a diet that’s high in processed carbs and sugary foods. The sugar triggers your fat cells to release leptin.
Another culprit is the serotonin – a feel-good neurotransmitter – that’s released when you eat carbs and sugar. The serotonin makes you feel great – but only temporarily. So, when you munch on a couple of chocolate chip cookies, you’ll feel terrific until the inevitable crash.
Eating sugary foods also spikes the endorphins in your body, which make us feel more relaxed. When we eat sugary foods, we experience a pleasurable feeling, and we want more.
How can you break the sugar cycle? Ramp up your protein intake. Increasing the percentage of protein you consume reduces cravings plus reduces the desire to snack at night.
A high-protein breakfast can improve the function of dopamine, one of the hormones involved in cravings and addiction, thus reducing cravings and late-night snacking.
Cortisol is a hormone that circulates during stress, and it can lead to health issues such as weight gain, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and diabetes.
Boosting the protein in your diet will reduce cravings and the desire to snack at night. Start with a high-protein breakfast, and you’ll feel the positive effects all day long.
PROTEIN BOOSTS METABOLISM AND FAT BURNING
Eating boosts your metabolism for a short time because your body burns calories while working to digest it – what’s known as TEF – the thermic effect of food.
However, different foods are digested in different ways. Protein has a much higher thermic effect than fat or carbs, meaning the body has to work much harder – burning more calories – in breaking it down. Just by eating more protein, you’re significantly boosting metabolism and increasing the number of calories you burn.
Increase your protein, and you’ll be burning more calories all day long.
PROTEIN CAN LOWER YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE
High blood pressure – or hypertension – is one of the major causes of heart attacks, strokes, and kidney disease.
A diet high in protein has not only been linked to lower blood pressure but also reduced LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. In fact, eating foods rich in amino acids and vitamins could be just as beneficial to you as quitting smoking or exercising more. Amino acid intake has been found to have as much effect on blood pressure as salt intake, physical activity, and alcohol consumption.
Eating protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, dairy products, beans, lentils, broccoli, and spinach can lower blood pressure and reduce other risk factors related to heart disease.
PROTEIN WILL HELP YOU LOSE WEIGHT AND KEEP IT OFF
Protein is the king of nutrients in the battle to lose weight. We already know that a high-protein diet boosts metabolism and can reduce the amount of calories consumed and food cravings.
People who boost their protein intake tend to lose weight automatically. In fact, getting 30 percent of your calories from protein can help you lose weight – without intentionally restricting anything.
But protein also can aid fat loss when intentionally restricting calories. Studies of overweight people on calorie-restricted diets that boosted their protein intake lost more body fat than individuals who didn’t increase protein but ate the same number of calories.
Just a small boost in protein intake can help with weight maintenance. And so, once you’ve reached your healthy weight, a permanent increase in protein intake will help prevent the weight from creeping back up.
Eating a protein-rich diet has numerous benefits for weight loss. It will help you lose fat and keep it off permanently.
PROTEIN WON’T HARM YOUR KIDNEYS
The kidneys are remarkable organs that filter unneeded substances out of the bloodstream. The belief is that the kidneys must work harder to clear the metabolites out of any protein ingested, thus increasing the strain on the organs. The kidneys, however, are always under stress – it comes with the job.
Studies have shown that high protein diets can cause harm to people with diagnosed kidney disease, but a healthy person can add more protein safely to the diet.
High blood pressure and diabetes are the two main risk factors for kidney failure, and eating more protein lessens the risk for both conditions.
PROTEIN AIDS IN INJURY RECOVERY
Protein can help the body repair after an injury because it forms the building blocks of the body’s tissues and organs.
Protein needs are elevated after an injury to help the body to form new tissue, so it’s important to consume enough protein from lean meats, legumes, nuts, and low-fat dairy. It would be beneficial to include an amino acid supplement containing glutamine and arginine, as they have shown to speed up the healing process in the body.
PROTEIN AND ANTIOXIDANTS CAN HELP KEEP YOU STRONG AND FIT AS YOU AGE
It’s a sobering truth that your muscles shrink as you age. It’s referred to as age-related sarcopenia and is one of the main causes of bone fractures and reduced quality of life in old age. It is the reason why older people need more protein than their younger counterparts.
That would have been a controversial statement at one point in time, with the myths about protein and bone loss and kidney strain, but now studies point to protein as being as important for bone health as calcium and vitamin D.
Not only do older people progressively lose muscle – studies say anywhere from 0.5 to 2 percent of total muscle mass each year beginning around age 50 – but their physiology resists building new muscle.
There is good news. Consuming enough protein in the diet, when combined with regular physical activity, can help battle that resistance to build new muscle. Studies have shown that for people who aren’t physically active, muscle loss can begin much earlier than 50. Pair inactivity with low protein, and losing muscle while you age is inevitable.
Protein from animal sources in the diet generally provides the most leucine, which is the essential amino acid that works toward muscle growth. Muscle atrophy is one of the leading causes of fractures as we age.
Antioxidants are also important as we age because of their ability to help the body fight cognitive impairment, cataracts, Alzheimer’s, and more. Increasing your daily intake of antioxidants is an important part of our diet as we age.
Protein is essential for good health. You need it to put meat on your bones and build hair, blood, connective tissue, and more. Athletes already know that wolfing down extra protein will help keep them strong, but you don’t need to be an athlete to reap the benefits of additional protein in your diet.
Most people get about 15 percent of their diet from protein, which is considered enough to prevent deficiency. In certain cases, however, people can benefit from eating up to 25 to 30 percent of their calories from protein.
If you increase protein, simple math shows you’ll eat fewer calories from low-quality carbohydrates such as white bread and sugary baked goods.
Before you load up on the protein, remember: More protein doesn’t mean more meat.Legumes, nuts, and vegetables provide good sources of protein. Beef, poultry, pork, and fish, as well as dairy products such as eggs, milk, and cheese, can be added in smaller amounts.
Try to include some of the following delicious high protein foods in your diet: edamame, other beans, almonds, oats, broccoli, quinoa, lentils, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, eggs, cottage cheese, and plain Greek yogurt. Adding more protein to your diet will result in a healthier and slimmer version of you.