What Exactly Is Protein?
Protein is a macronutrient made up of nonessential and essential amino acids, which are required to synthesize muscle in the body. Our bodies need protein as part of a balanced diet for health and weight management.
But protein can be more or less important at different stages of our development. Younger people need protein to grow and build muscle, and it helps maintain muscle mass for those who are reaching old age.
Why Protein Is Essential for Weight Loss
If you’re looking for a quick fix to a growing waistline, protein isn’t it. However, increased protein intake can aid weight loss in a variety of ways.
A diet specifically geared toward weight loss typically involves less calories and when there’s a caloric deficit, muscle loss occurs. That can result in protein being used for energy.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
A higher amount of protein (at least 72 grams per day for most people) can help to maintain muscle mass during periods of calorie restriction. For best results, sources of protein should be from high-quality ingredients like soy, lean meats and dairy.
Protein isn’t the best fuel when you’re at rest or during short-duration exercise. However, during longer workouts or endurance exercise, proteins may contribute 5 to 15 percent of your actual energy needs. The body prefers to use carbohydrates for energy first, but if those sources are low the body turns to protein for energy.
To optimally build muscle, an intake of 25 to 30 grams of protein is recommended following exercise. An easy way to meet this recommendation is by drinking a protein shake or eating a balanced meal.
Be careful when you’re on a weight-loss diet: Overconsuming calories in general, no matter the source, leads to any excess protein being converted to stored energy or fat.
Vary Your Protein Intake
Grilled chicken is a great, easily accessible form of protein, but if you eat it day in and day out, you’re bound to get sick of it. Other excellent sources of protein include meats like beef, pork and fish.
However, there are also plant-based sources like nuts, legumes and vegetables. And don’t forget all the dairy sources of protein, such as cheese, milk, cottage cheese and yogurt. Eggs are also a great high-quality, low-cost source.
Vegetarian options like soy, pea and hemp are also popular sources of protein. Lastly, protein supplements are also popular in the form of bars and shakes, but make sure you choose products that have quality ingredients.