When starting my clients off on their weight loss journey one of the first things I recommend is to ensure they’re getting enough protein into their diet.
For any body composition goals protein plays a huge role and most people, women in particular, definitely don’t reach optimum levels of it.
Here are the answers to some common questions about protein :
What is protein?
Protein, along with carbohydrates and fat, is one of the three macronutrients that make up the food we eat. When digested in the gut it is broken down into amino acids, which form the building blocks for almost everything in the body – cells, muscle, organs, skin, hormones and various other body chemicals.
Why is it so important?
Aside from ‘because it forms the basis of pretty much every structure and chemical in the human body’ (see above), protein is crucial when it comes to fat loss goals.
Here’s some of the main reasons why:
- It has the highest thermogenic effect of the three macronutrients. The thermogenic effect of food is basically how many calories the body uses up when digesting, transporting and storing that food in the body. Between 20 and 35% of the calories you eat from protein are burned off in this process, compared to between 5 and 15% of carbohydrate calories and at most 5-15% of fat calories. So if you ate the same amount of calories but with a higher proportion from protein, over time you would lose weight.
- It builds and repairs muscle – very important if you’re exercising and ESPECIALLY if you’re training with weights (which you should be – see here)
- It keeps you feeling fuller for longer – because it takes time for the body to break it down
- It encourages your body to burn fat rather than muscle tissue (if you are using those muscles in training)
Where can I find it?
Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds are the general foods in which you will find protein.
To be more specific, some of the best sources are:
- Lean beef
- Salmon (also full of health-boosting omega 3 fats)
- Protein powder (whey is best for most people and can be easily bought online or in supermarkets/health food stores)
- Greek yogurt
And these are all great too:
- Cottage cheese
- Pumpkin seeds
- Low fat mozzarella
- Hi-Lo protein bread (in Sainsburys)
- Peanut/almond/cashew butter
You can also find good amounts in beans and pulses, and these have the added benefit of being high in fibre too. Kidney beans and puy lentils in particular are two very good options here.
How much do I need?
This depends on various factors such as your age, weight, health and activity levels.
But aiming to get a fist-sized portion of a protein-rich food in each meal will result in a good amount for most people.