When it comes to talking about what is best to put in our body, the war between carbohydrates and fats continues to rage on. However, most professionals agree that protein is essential to the body. There is a growing consensus that protein could also be one of the key ingredients in helping in people’s weight loss journeys. Below are 3 science backed reasons as to why you should include protein as part of your weight loss plans:
1. PROTEIN CAN MAKE YOU FEEL FULLER AND DECREASE HUNGER
All the macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat) found in the diet have different impacts on the body. It has been well established that protein is by far the most potent at decreasing our hunger and making us feel fuller quicker and for longer. The science community is awash with a plethora of studies looking at how protein reduces hunger. The main mechanism and reason for this action is the impact that protein has on our hunger and appetite hormones in the body.
When we have that feeling of tummy rumbling hunger, the hormone at play there is one known as ghrelin. Protein can directly impact this hormone by reducing its activity in the body. As well as hunger stimulating, we have hormones which also signal to the brain that we are full. This hormone, known as Peptide YY (Peptide YY) is also boosted by the intake of protein.
Finally, unlike fat and carbohydrates, protein has no storage capacity in the body. This means that when you ingest it is will signal quickly to the body that you’ve had enough. Therefore, it feels like a large steak or burger is hard to finish whereas you always seem to have some extra room for those fries or dessert after your meal.
2. IT CAN STIMULATE AND INCREASE MUSCLE MASS
Firstly, I just want to point out that simply taking in a load of protein shakes or supplements alone will not give you that muscular physique or definition that you are looking for. Only specific and tailored training coupled with a look at your total diet will do this. That being said, we know that protein (or amino acids) is the building blocks to all muscles within the body. Therefore, eating more protein would be logical as a means of looking to build muscle mass.
A vast amount of evidence is now showing that individuals who increase their protein intake whilst trying to lose weight, will retain (and sometimes build) muscle mass whilst also losing fat mass. Work by Donald Layman from The University of Illinois states that the best way to ingest your protein is spread throughout the day. At every meal time, you should aim for an intake of around 30g of protein. Any less and it is not enough for the body to stimulate what is known as muscle protein synthesis (MPS; i.e. the body increasing muscle mass), any more than 30g and the body will just excrete it out.
What does this look like for a day? Many people state how much you should be having on terms of a percentage of your total calorie intake but with protein it is much better to look at it in relation to your body weight. The RDA is set at an intake of 0.8g/kg of your body mass. This is a level that is just looking at maintaining a muscle mass, if you are looking to gain or receive the benefits of protein many experts believe you need to have slightly more than this. An intake of around 1.0-1.4g/kg of body weight is stated as a more optimal level to aim for. This is especially true if you are older and worried about sarcopenia (natural muscle loss that comes with the ageing process).
3. IT CAN RESULT IN DECREASED CRAVINGS & THE NEED FOR SNACKING
As humans, we have different ways in which we eat. Namely we eat for both homeostatic (i.e. what we need to eat to survive) and hedonic (i.e. more to do with the desired for a food predominantly based on emotions) reasons. This means that there is a difference between true hunger and our appetite. Hunger occurs when our body is requiring us to eat to get nutrients and energy to grow, function and thrive. Our appetite generally kicks in when we have a desire or a craving for a food which can be stimulated for many reasons. Often we reach for a food to stimulate our reward centre in the brain.
Studies that have looked at the impact of a higher intake of protein, have found that individuals sub
sequently score lower on subjective craving scales. The belief is that protein can have a positive impact on one of the “feel good” hormones released by the reward pathway known as dopamine. Likewise, if you start the day with a breakfast option that is higher in protein, this has been shown to decrease the overall cravings during the day and the need to snack.
To ensure you get a good amount of protein at your first meal of the day, try adding in the following food:
•Eggs- one of the only foods that produces all 9 of the essential amino acids
•Fish such as salmon or mackerel
•A good quality protein powder
•Nuts and seeds
In summary having a diet that helps to decrease hunger, increase or retain your muscle mass whilst reducing cravings, makes for a great combination for successful and sustainable weight loss.
By Emily Maguire