Protein is best known for building lean muscle mass, but it is so much more than that! Protein is also crucial for wound healing and supporting your overall wellbeing. It’s also the only macronutrient with a minimum daily requirement for health – and even this amount is widely debated as too little or not enough for some in other words, a compound in food that provides calories and other nutritional benefits.
Roughly 15% of your body (including skin, hair, nails, and other tissues) is made up of proteins. It is also responsible for a lot of the work that goes on inside your cells since protein is also a critical component of hormones, enzymes, and other chemicals you produce to live and function normally. It even plays a role in your immune system and digesting your food.
And because protein is a macro, it provides energy in the form of calories. Although, it is not as much of a preferred source of fuel for fitness and day to day compared to carbs and fat – mainly because your body will prioritize protein for all of the other many essential functions it is needed for. But if you are eating plenty of protein, some of it will get used for fuel.
All proteins are made up of long chains of smaller, essential compounds called amino acids that serve as the building blocks for your body. And these amino acids are why protein is considered an essential nutrient.
What Are Amino Acids?
There are hundreds of amino acids found in nature, but only twenty make up proteins in food, and a just nine of these are considered essential for human function. Your body cannot produce these nine essential amino acids; you can only get them from eating food and each of them plays a critical role in your health.
When you eat protein, you break it down into its amino acid counterparts, which are then transported throughout your body for various uses. One of these most important uses being protein synthesis – or building new proteins.
Your body is in a constant state of breaking down and rebuilding, even your bones go through a remodeling. You are also constantly building all of your body’s hormones, cellular DNA, and muscle. And all of these processes are protein synthesis in action, thanks to amino acids.
That’s why the quality of your calories matters so much. Protein is found in a number of foods, both nutritious and “less healthy” options. Diets loaded with high-fat animal foods (like processed red meat and cheese), might be high protein, but they can also pack large amounts of saturated fat that may contribute to increased risk factors for heart disease.
If you are looking to increase your intake, opt for quality high protein foods that improve your nutrition overall.
How Can A High Protein Diet Help You Reach Your Goals?
1. Building and Maintaining Muscle
Muscle is made up of mostly protein, so it’s no surprise higher protein intakes are needed to build any additional muscle on a bulking diet. Extra protein can also help you maintain your existing fat-free mass when cutting calories – allowing you to optimize fat loss and improve your body composition overall.
Muscle is essential to creating that toned, shredded physique most of us are aiming for. Additionally, a higher lean body mass typically means a higher resting metabolic rate – meaning you can eat more calories and still maintain your weight.
2. Decreased Fat Storage
Some science suggests that protein is the least likely of all the macros to be stored as body fat when you overeat, especially if you are strength training on a regular basis. Of course, overall calorie control is still essential for weight management, and eating more protein alone won’t prevent fat storage.
Protein is also the most thermogenic macro – you actually burn more calories digesting protein compared to fat and carbohydrates.
3. Reduced Appetite
Protein is the most satiating of all the macros, helping you feel more satisfied and less hungry all day. It is much easier to eat 500 calories of pasta (mostly carbs) or peanut butter (mostly fat) than lean chicken breast (mostly protein).
Always keep in mind that high protein breakfasts have long been thought to reduce hunger throughout the day.
4. Decreased Cravings
Eating meat or fish with your meals is also thought to help reduce cravings, especially sugar cravings. In one study, increased protein intake helped reduce cravings by as much as 60%. This is even the case when restricting calories for weight loss
So, regardless of your fitness goals, eating more protein is a notable strategy for improving your body composition and helping you stick to your diet. In fact, if you want to simplify your nutrition approach, aim to hit your calorie and protein needs before anything else and you’d be amazed how far this takes you.