Most people think that in order to lose weight, they need to starve themselves, spend hours at the gym every week or both. But what if there was an easier way? What if all you had to do was change the way you ate?
Introducing protein! If there were such a thing as a weight loss hack, it would be to increase the amount of protein you’re eating. It turns out that protein is a key ingredient in weight loss. In fact, I would put protein as the 2nd most important thing to consider when setting up a weight loss diet, right after total Calories and guess what? You’re probably not eating enough of it.
Why is Protein Important for Weight Loss?
Protein is important for weight loss for a few reasons. It can lead to muscle gain, which
will then increase your metabolism. It also helps you feel fuller longer, which can help you eat fewer Calories throughout the day and lose weight. Your body also burns more Calories digesting protein than any other macronutrient.
Gnaar just kidding. Let’s go over those points in a little more detail.
Boost Your Metabolism
Kinda…I mean ~yes~ but let’s not overstate it. Our bodies need energy to digest food. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF) it makes up part of our metabolism. TEF varies depending on the type of food consumed
and, you guess it, Protein has the highest TEF. In short, higher TEF = higher metabolism. Juuuust bear in mind that TEF makes up about 10% of your metabolism. So, yes, it will give you a “metabolic boost” but don’t just expect to see the kg’s melt away because you’ve added a bit of chicken breast to your diet.
It’ll Help Keep You Full
Protein is the most satiating macronutrient. Why? Our bodies have hormones that tell us we’re hungry and hormones that tell us we’re full. Protein increases the levels of the hormones that tell us we’re full (GLP-1, Peptide YY and Cholecystokinin if you’re interested) and decreases the levels of the hunger hormone, Ghrelin (1, 2, 3, 4) On top of that, protein has been shown to keep ghrelin at bay for longer periods of time in comparison to Carbs and Fats(5).
Gain Muscle and Improve Bone Health*
*When coupled with resistance training.
I think this is probably one that most people know BUT this is important for weight loss because when you lose weight, you’re also likely to lose muscle.
“That’s ok, I’m not trying to be a bodybuilder” – Straw Man (1901 – present day)
Here are 3 reasons why that’s a shit take.
1. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat. Meaning, it burns more calories at rest. Remember that whole “metabolic boost” thing? Well, increasing muscle mass will also increase your BMR(6) which makes up 70% of your metabolism.
2. Have you ever wanted to slim down and tone up? What do you think “tone” is? Ok, I’ll just tell you. It’s muscle mass. If you wanted to look “toned,” or as fitness wankers like myself would say, “improve your physique/body composition,” wouldn’t it make sense to try and keep as much muscle as possible, or even build muscle while losing weight? (Yes, yes it would).
3. Weight loss isn’t just about losing fat, it’s also about maintaining your health and one of the best ways to do that is by having strong bones. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will suffer from osteoporotic fractures in their lifetime. Protein is essential for gaining bone mass during growth and for preserving bone mass with ageing. Just don’t forget about that whole resistance training thing.
Relieve Muscle Soreness
While we’re on the topic of muscle gain, getting enough protein in your diet will also help with Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
You know that feeling you get in your legs/butt the day or two after doing a bunch of squats. That whole “I can’t even sit on the toilet” feeling. That’s DOMS and it sucks.
Well, protein will not only help you grow new muscle but it will also help your muscles recover after a workout, leaving you free to do your business without first having to think “do I reaaaally need the toilet that bad?”
Oh and don’t worry about BCAA’s. They’re just 3 amino acids that you’re likely to be getting enough of anyway if you’re eating enough protein.
Speaking of which….
How Much Protein Should I Eat?
Believe it or not, politics actually plays a really big roll in the recommended daily amount (RDA) for protein.
Here’s the recommendation – 0.8g of protein per kg of your bodyweight, per day – World Health Organisation (WHO).
Here’s the reasoning – 0.8g of protein per kg of your bodyweight is the minimum amount you need to avoid the protein deficiency known as kwashiorkor.
Here’s where the politics comes in – 0.8g of protein per kg of your bodyweight is the minimum amount you need to avoid the protein deficiency, kwashiorkor. The minimum amount and optimal amount are two very different things. Realistically, the optimal amount of protein for omnivores is 1.2-1.6g per kg and for vegetarians/vegans it’s more like 1.4-1.8g. If you’re trying to maximise muscle gain, then omnivores should aim for 1.6-2.2g (7) per kg and vegetarians/vegans 1.8-2.4g
“Ok, I’m still not seeing where the politics comes in?”
Well, because pretty much every country bases their world aid on what WHO says, if WHO were to bump those protein numbers up to where they should be, the cost of world aid would go up tremendously because protein is also the most expensive macronutrient. Not only that but hospitals, aged care, pretty much anything that feeds people on the masses, also base their protein numbers by what the WHO guidelines are. Could you imagine the financial implications of all these organisations having to up their protein numbers?
Or as Principal Skinner so eloquently put it,
If you’re still not sure how many grams of protein you should be eating each day, well, you’re just not very good at maths. Multiply your weight by 1.2 and then 1.6 if you’re an omnivore or 1.4 and 1.8 if you’re vegan or vegetarian to give yourself a daily protein range.
Why Do Vegans and Vegetarians Need More Protein?
Because they’re weak…
Juuuust kidding. There are two reasons why vegans and vegetarians require more protein than omnivores.
1) Plant Based Proteins are not Complete Proteins
Well, most of them aren’t, anyway.
What does that mean? Well, protein is broken down into amino acids. There are 20 in total. Of those 20, your body can synthesise 11 itself which means it needs to get the other 9 from food. A protein is considered complete if it has all 9 of those amino acids in the quantities required by the body.
This means that if you’re vegan or vegetarian, you need to be eating a variety of protein sources to ensure your body is getting the amino acids it requires. As a result of that, the amount of total protein you should be eating will be slightly higher than an omnivore as all animal protein, with the exception of collagen, is considered complete.
2) Plant Based Protein is Less Bioavailable
Plant-based proteins are not as easily absorbed and used by the body as animal-based proteins. So, even if you were to calculate the amino acid content of an animal based protein and eat the equivalent in plant based proteins, your body is still not going to get the same amino response.
It’s kinda like living in Australia (like me) and buying something from America. We both use dollars but they don’t quite have the same value. Does this mean I should move to America? No. I can still buy from the US, I just need a few more bucks in order to make that purchase.
How Do I Increase How Much Protein I’m Eating?
I’m glad you asked.
If you’re looking to include more protein in your weight loss diet, here are a few tips:
1. Make sure to include a variety of high-protein foods in your diet. This can include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, legumes and nuts.
2. Try to make at least two thirds of your plate high-protein foods at each meal. This will help to ensure that you’re getting enough protein each day.
3. Use protein bars and powders and supplement as needed. This can easily add 50g of protein to your total daily amount.
4. Include a protein source with every snack and meal. This is where protein bars and shakes come in handy but you could also just have a small can or tuna or some low-fat cheese and crackers.
Do High Protein Diets Cause Kidney Damage?
No. This is one of those myths that gets right under my skin. Eating protein has not been shown to cause kidney damage. In fact, protein may help protect against kidney disease.
Side note – there’s a Simpson’s reference for just about everything, isn’t there?
Anyway, here’s where the myth originated – If you already have kidney disease, you may need to limit your protein intake.
So, people looked at that and thought, “hmm, if people with kidney disease need to limit their protein intake, that must mean protein is bad for your kidneys. Everybody should stop eating protein.”
Here’s why that’s dumb – if a person has a heart condition, they may be told to limit the amount of cardio they’re doing as it may cause further damage. This does not mean cardio is bad for your heart if you don’t have a heart condition. Quite the opposite, in fact.
If a person is allergic to peanuts (me!), they will be told to avoid them or risk certain death. This does not mean that eating peanuts is going to be bad news for everyone. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Even if you only have 1 kidney (me again!), provided that kidney is working properly, there is no evidence to say that eating a high protein diet is going to cause any damage.
So, if you’ve upped your protein and some ass hat tries to tell you you’re going to ruin your kidneys, give ’em the ol’ 1-2.
Or, maybe just link them to this article instead and save yourself a lawsuit.
Ok, it’s time to wrap everything up in a neat little package.
What is Protein Good For?
If you want to make your weight loss journey easier, eat protein.
If you want to “boost your metabolism”, eat protein.
If you want to improve your body composition, eat protein.
If you want to improve your bone health, eat protein.
If you don’t have any kidney issues, eat protein.