Are you confused about how much protein you need? Many athletes and exercisers are increasing their protein intake to help them both lose weight and build more muscle, but is that the right way to go? It makes sense that, since muscles are made of protein, eating more dietary protein will help you build more muscle. However, science tells us that is not always the case.
A Little Bit of Science
The human body requires protein as a basic building block. Proteins are made of amino acids and help build muscles, blood, skin, hair, nails and internal organs. Next to water, protein is the most plentiful substance in the human body, and most of it is located in the skeletal muscles.
Getting the Right Kind
Foods that contain all of the essential amino acids are called complete proteins. These foods include beef, chicken, fish, eggs, milk and just about anything else derived from animal sources. Incomplete proteins don’t have all of the essential amino acids and generally include vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds and nuts.
Does Protein Help You
Burn More Calories?
Every time you eat, your body uses up more energy (aka calories) to break down your food and absorb its nutrients, which boosts your metabolism. When you tuck into fat or carbs, about 5–15 percent of those calories go toward the digestion process. With protein, it’s more like 20 to 30 percent. That’s because protein is made up of amino acids held together by peptide bonds, which are strong little suckers.
In order for your body to use the amino acids to repair tissue, transport oxygen throughout your bloodstream and form immunity-boosting antibodies, the peptide bonds have to be broken. This means your stomach has to work harder, which takes extra energy.
However, that metabolism spike doesn’t mean protein is a freebie. If you overeat, you’ll gain weight no matter where your calories come from. And while dieters have slimmed down on diets like Atkins, South Beach and Paleo, their success is likely because they’ve cut calories and nixed refined carbs.
Am I Getting Enough Protein?
The reality is, if you consume enough calories, you’re probably eating plenty of protein. The recommended daily amount of protein ranges between 40-70 grams each day depending on your gender, age and situation. If you exercise more than an hour five or more days per week, bump up your intake to 0.75 grams per pound. And always make sure to start your day with protein at breakfast; this can help curb your calorie intake for the rest of the day.
So, whether you’ve done cardio or strength training, your muscles are like sponges for 30–45 minutes right after exercise. If you give them some protein in that magic window, they’re primed to put it to use rebuilding and repairing the micro tears in muscle tissue that occur every time you work up a sweat. This makes you less sore the next day and increases your lean muscle mass, which helps you burn calories more efficiently 24/7.
Remember, there are no magic foods or supplements that can replace the right training and the right diet. Too much of anything is not good. The foundation of any program, whether your goal is to lose weight or gain muscle, is a combination of cardio and strength training plus a healthy diet that includes carbs, with a balance of protein and healthy fats.