Importance of Protein!!
This time of year seems to conspire against the best of us when it comes to EATING. The daily sugar temptations provide momentary satisfaction that gives quickly to feelings of shame, lower energy, depressed mood, and sadly, a repeat cycle of more sugar. Combined with shorter days, less sunlight, and sub-optimal sleep habits, many of us find ourselves on a slippery sugar slope. January 1st rolls around and we feel like we are in our worst shape of the year, desperate to get back on track.
Well, before January rolls around, I wanted to offer you a way to mitigate the carb/sugar spiral. This tip of the day can be captured in one word: PROTEIN.
Protein, protein, the magical macro, the more you eat it the more you ..... WIN! For today I'm going to stick to protein in the context of how it can help mitigate the overeating, cravings, weight gain, and energy/hunger dysregulation of the holidays.
Before we dive deeper, you might be wondering why PROTEIN gets so much attention when it comes to diet advice. You will see below that there are a myriad of reasons why protein is valuable for health and weight management from a physiological perspective. But I'd like to add another perspective about protein, and that comes through the lens of looking at our food industry. The overwhelming majority of quick and convenient food options in our modern world come in the form of carbohydrates and fat, usually in combination with one another. With the exception of some specialty markets and health food stores, there are very few quick and convenient protein options that are marketed well and sold to consumers. You can grab sugar and processed vegetable oils at every turn of the aisle (chips, crackers, bagged snacks, etc). So a conversation about the importance of protein is necessary to help bring balance back into the equation. We are bombarded by easy to consume, hyper palatable (CRACK-LIKE DELICIOUSNESS), carbs and fat. One more thing of note is that there are almost ZERO natural sources of food that combine FAT and CARBS in the natural world. With the exception of milk (Carb, Fat, and Protein) almost all other foods come in the form of Carb, Carb/Protein, Protein/Fat, or Fat. The modern food system has us eating pretty backwards, and our practical protein review today is meant to help get you refocused on eating your P!
3 of my TOP reasons why everyone should start with protein:
1. Protein Can Increase Your Metabolism (“Calories Out”)
Digesting and metabolizing protein burns calories - this isn't going to make up a massive amount of your daily calories, but the simple act of digesting protein will require some caloric burn. When compared to Fat and Carbs, an increase in Protein consumption can account for anywhere from 100-300+ extra calories burned a day, just from choosing protein over the other two macros.
2. Protein Reduces Appetite, Cuts Cravings and Reduces Desire for Late-Night Snacking
If you've ever had a late night craving hit (and if you are a human you most certainly have), then you know they are just about impossible to resist. So your best defense against them is to prevent them from ever happening. One of the best tools for this is adequate protein consumption, particularly in the early part of the day. Set yourself up for a winning evening by getting your protein in early!
3. Protein Increases Muscle Mass, Helps Prevent Muscle Loss, and Supports Soft Tissue Recovery.
Food and nutrition isn't just about losing weight, despite what the media wants you to think. Don't get fooled into thinking less is more. In fact, one thing I try to coach is that by eating more high quality food you will have more energy to move your body, train, and live a vital life. This includes building quality muscle tissue, which is proven to increase your health span, metabolism, and quality of life. So use protein as a tool to keep that tissue healthy, recovering quickly, and pain free.
THEREFORE - Protein Helps Maintain Your Ideal Weight - You are going to build lean muscle, you are going to fight off unnecessary cravings that will lead to you indulging in too many carbohydrate and fat calories, and you will be burning more energy from the same caloric intake when you bias protein
Practical Protein Guide
How much protein should I try to get each day?
Method 1 - Quick & Energy-Based - 30% of your total daily calories Your total energy consumption each day is a great guide to help you start allocating your macronutrient numbers like Protein. I encourage this practical approach to getting in a balanced diet of whole foods. You leave 70% of your calories to be derived from the other two macronutrients, carbs and fat. So every meal and plate of food you eat should ideally have an equal distribution of energy from all 3. If you consume protein far in excess of the 30% number, your plates of food may quickly start to look very biased or skewed. If you push the 30% number to 40 or 50%, you might be staring at a plate of egg whites and chicken breast 3x a day. That won't line up with what most people are looking to eat for sustainability and the long term.
Burn 1500 cals/day - 115grams protein
Burn 2000 cals/day - 150grams protein
Burn 2500 cals/day - 185grams protein
Burn 3000 cals/day - 225grams protein
Method 2 - Detailed & Bodyweight/Goal Driven
Low Protein - Bodyweight in lbs x .65 Best for individuals with larger amounts of bodyfat to lose. Even at this multiplier you are getting more protein than the average person and plenty to see body improvements.
Moderate Protein - Bodyweight in lbs x .875 Good for active individuals who are aiming for recomposition or fat loss that isn't more than 15lbs
High Protein - Bodyweight in lbs x 1 A solid place for most individuals that have training experience and lift 5x per week and aren't trying to lose a ton of weight but want to keep muscle mass and perform
Heavy Protein Bodyweight in lbs x 1.1 For those highly active individuals that are already lean, burn a lot of calories, and/or want to muscle gain.
150lb Low Activity Female that Burns 2000 cals a day
Quick & Energy-Based - 150grams
Detailed & Bodyweight/Goal-Driven (Moderate PROTEIN) - 132 =grans
200lbs Sedentary Male that burns 2500 cals a day
Quick & Energy-Based - 185grams
Detailed & Bodyweight/Goal-Driven (High PROTEIN) - 200grams
180lbs Highly Active Male that burns 4000 cals a day and is Lean
Quick & Energy-Based - 300grams
Detailed & Bodyweight/Goal-Driven (Heavy PROTEIN) - 198grams
How should I break up my protein?
Breakfast is the priority - For far too many years we have been told to start the day with processed carbohydrates, fat, and sugar. How is that working out for you? Make the switch to getting in 30-50grams of protein in your first meal of the day. If you can get 40% of your daily protein requirement in that first meal of the day and then break up the other 60% between lunch and dinner, I would bet a sizable amount of money that you will see huge improvements to your health, fitness, and aesthetic. Just by making that one simple shift.
What is the upper limit? - You may have heard that you can only digest _________ grams of protein in a single meal. I see people eating 5-6 meals of 20-30grams of protein as a result sometimes. The truth is that there doesn't seem to be any agreed-upon upper limit to how much protein a meal can have. Certainly, numbers like 50grams as a maximum, are not carved in stone rules and don't make a ton of sense from an ancestral perspective. Imagine if a hunter-gatherer finally had a successful hunt and ate 1-2lbs of meat and organs, but because you "CAN'T" digest more than 50grams of protein at one time they wasted most of it. Seems ridiculous to me.
All protein counts - Animal vs Plants - When you are calculating your daily protein, remember that all grams of protein can count towards your total for the day. Even those grams that are coming from your Brussel sprouts and almonds (albeit smaller in total quantity). With that being said, animal sources of protein deliver a higher density of amino acids that will activate many of the above-stated benefits more efficiently and fully than plant-based sources. This is why I've opted for animal-based protein sources in my diet. I get more than 80% of my daily protein requirement from animal sources. You decide for yourself what your breakdown is going to be.
Some other truths about protein to be aware of:
Digestion - Protein is more difficult to digest than carbs and fat. It requires more enzymatic action by your body and will require more energy to break down (bonus calories burned). This does mean that you have to set yourself up for good digestion by chewing your protein very thoroughly. In addition, some individuals that are highly stressed may have issues producing the necessary amounts of stomach acids to properly break down their protein. Supplementation with HCL and Pepsin for the purposes of aiding in protein breakdown might be useful.
Variety and Allergenic Potential - Some foods are more allergenic than others, meaning they can lead to allergies in a higher percentage of people than other foods. One way of combating the build-up of allergic reactions to foods is to have more variety and rotate foods in your diet. This is useful with proteins. Allergies can be very subtle and show up as poor digestion and nutrient absorption. This has downstream consequences where you don't feel your best and you struggle with appetite control and energy. So try to get a variety of proteins in your diet weekly.
Liquid vs Whole Foods - I'm a big fan of getting my protein from whole food sources like meat, eggs, fish, and dairy. Some people ask me about protein shakes and what brands I trust. I encourage you to aim for whole food sources of protein wherever possible and to only use liquid protein shakes if you find it a struggle to get the necessary protein grams in from whole foods. Shakes can be a useful tool if you are on the go, traveling, and not around any good sources of protein.