Traditional nutrition guidance commonly prescribes consumption of about one gram of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. In strength training circles and among those looking to build significant muscle mass, the recommendation is often bumped up to one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. Unfortunately, both suggestions limit their effectiveness by viewing protein as a macronutrient beneficial only for the support of muscle mass and other bodily tissues. In fact, protein has many useful properties beyond simply supplying the raw materials used for muscular maintenance and development. As such, it should play a larger role in the design of a healthy diet than it does in many traditional nutrition plans.
In addition to supplying amino acids to the body as food proteins are broken down, protein also enhances the feeling satiety following a meal. In layman’s terms, “protein keeps you feeling full.” When planning a dietary schedule, utilizing protein-dense foods for their satiating properties can bring a whole new level of satisfaction to the user. One common complaint of those undertaking a fat loss plan is that they feel hungry all day. With the judicious use of protein, along with healthy levels of fat and fiber, calories can be reduced while maintaining a comfortable feeling of fullness throughout the day.
Protein can also help decrease the glycemic load of a meal as well as the volume of insulin released following the meal. Both of these effects can aid in preventing fat gain during a period of increased caloric intake, which is necessary in many cases to induce significant muscle growth. Increasing satiety on a consistent basis, even without a prescribed diet plan, has been shown to lower overall energy (calorie) intake. In addition, evidence points to an increase in energy expenditure when following a high-protein diet. Put together an increase in energy output and a decrease in energy input and you get an easy way to provide healthy long-term, relatively low-effort fat loss.
Incorporating protein into a diet plan is rarely difficult if the client has a preference for animal products and especially meat. However, not everyone leans to the carnivorous side. Luckily, with some work everyone can find ways to inject protein into their daily schedule. Along with land animal meat products, fish is one of the best sources of protein. Not only do many fish products have a protein content rivaling chicken and other lean meats, but the healthy fats found in many cold water fish offer numerous health benefits. Even among the “meat and potatoes” crowd, I encourage fish consumption on a regular basis.
While fish may be a healthy source of protein, many vegetarians consider fish products to be equal to meat and cannot consume them. However, some vegetarians still incorporate milk and egg products into their diets. There are many concentrated sources of protein that are sourced from eggs and dairy. The most obvious high protein product is the egg itself. One large egg contains about 70 calories and provides about six grams of protein. If the egg white is separated from the yolk, it contains only about 15 calories but still yields about 3.5 grams of protein. In addition, egg-based protein supplements are widely available and offer excellent complete protein in an extremely concentrated form. High protein milk products include cottage cheese, low fat hard cheeses, and casein and whey protein supplements.
Finally, for those who consume exclusively plant-based foods, soy is the king of protein. Tofu, made from soybeans, can provide over 50% of its calories through protein. Tempeh is also another soy-based option that is around 40% protein, by calories. Textured vegetable protein (TVP), often used as a meat-replacement in many commercial soy products, is about 60% protein, by calories. On the food supplement side of soy, protein isolates are also available in powdered form, much like whey and egg proteins. Besides soy, there are also commercially available concentrated protein powders made from grain products. While not as nutritionally useful as most other protein sources, they may be appropriate for those vegetarians and vegans who also have an allergy to soy.
When you think of protein, remember that it is a multi-use nutritional tool. It supplies amino acids, the building blocks of muscle. It provides satiety and can ease the stress of a low-calorie diet. It also can be a powerful weapon against high glycemic loads and strong insulin releases following meals. Be aware of the many uses of protein and make plenty of room for it in your daily diet.