You've probably heard that protein is the building block of your muscles, and know that you need to eat right amount of protein to support your workouts. But there's still a lot of confusion around protein, so it's time to clear things up.
My posts are often inspired by discussions that I have with my personal training clients. And that's great, because that way I can really see what people's biggest struggles are and hopefully provide some useful information.
October is Protein Month
There's a lot to talk about with respect to protein, so I decided to declare the month of October, Protein Month! I totally made that up, but if we have a National Donut Day, National Pancake Day and even National Chocolate Chip Day (what the heck??), then a Protein Month is a perfectly valid thing.
To celebrate the Urban Jane's Protein Month, you'll find a jam-packed (or should I say protein-packed) post about this important macronutrient on the blog on next four Mondays.
I'm going to leave out most of the geeky part and nitty-gritty details from these protein discussions. My main goal is to keep things practical, so you can actually put this information in use in your real life and maybe actually see how you could make sure to eat enough protein with your meals.
Why You Need Protein
You may already know why protein is important, so if that's the case, feel free to skip this part and scroll down to where I talk about the most common myths related to protein. If you're not exactly sure why protein is important, keep reading.
Here's why protein matters:
It Keeps You Full
Protein is very satiating. It fills you up, so if you eat enough of it at every meal, you don’t have to eat again just a few hours later. That also means that you don't need to snack all that often, which is a good thing, because as we know, snacking can add up super easily.
It's the Building Block of Your Muscles
There's a reason why bodybuilders, and other people who are interested in building muscle, pay a lot of attention on protein intake. Protein is what your muscles are made of, so it makes sense that in order to strengthen and grow them, you need to get a lot of protein with your meals.
But protein isn't important just for bodybuilders. Anyone who wants to have a strong body, should take care of their protein intake.
It Has a High Thermogenic Effect
Out of the three macronutrients (other being fats and carbohydrates), protein has the highest thermogenic effect.
What does it mean?
It means that it requires energy from your body to break down protein, to digest it and actually use it. Here's the amount of energy that is required for breaking down each three types of macronutrients:
- Carbohydrates: 5 to 15%
- Protein: 20 to 35%
- Fats: at most 5 to 15 %
All that means that eating protein actually makes your body burn more calories, because digesting and absorbing protein requires more energy than digesting and absorbing other macronutrients.
There are even more reasons why you should take care of your protein intake, such as speeding up metabolism (related to high thermogenic effect that we just talked about), helping with weight loss (thanks to its satiety), relieving muscle and joint pain (read about my experience with collagen protein here), and more.
Three Most Common Myths About Protein
There are also a lot of misconceptions around protein and about how much of it we should eat. You may have even heard that you should avoid eating too much protein…
Here are the three myths related to protein that should be broken:
Myth #1: Eating According to Recommended Dietary Allowance Is Enough
According to RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance), we need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, or 0.36 grams per pound of bodyweight a day.
For a person who weighs 143lbs, that means 52 grams of protein. You can get this amount by eating for example
- a cup of chopped chicken breast plus 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt
- a little bit less than a cup of lean ground beef
According to RDA, that's all you need a day.
But this number, 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight, is often misunderstood. This is the amount of protein we need to survive, but it's not enough to thrive. That's enough to feel okay, but not great.
But who wants to just survive and be just okay? We should want more than that.
Finally, if fat loss or muscle growth are your goals, you're not going to achieve them with this low amount of protein.
If you want to lose fat, you should try to double or even triple this amount.
Myth #2: I Want to Lose Fat, So All I Need is Cut My Calories
This belief is common among those who want to lose weight. They think that the only key to weight loss is reducing calorie intake, no matter where the calories come from.
Calories do matter in weight loss. But if you're getting too little protein, naturally the other two macronutrients will be thrown out of balance as well, so you often end up eating way too many carbs or fat, or way too much one and too little the other one.
Protein is extremely satiating, so if you want to lose weight, you should focus on that first.
Maybe you've noticed that when you eat a lot of carbs, you never seem to get full, despite snacking frequently? I know that happens to me.
If you don't get enough protein, your fat loss is going to be very difficult, even if you're in calorie deficit.
Myth #3: You'll Ruin Your Kidneys
It's a common myth that too much protein is going to damage your kidneys. The truth is that eating a lot of protein can cause you trouble if you already have problems with kidneys. But it's nearly impossible for those of you with perfectly functioning, healthy kidneys, eat so much of protein that it's going to hurt them.
What is too much anyway? It's easy to eat too much protein if you use RDA as your point of reference, but as mentioned before, their suggestion covers just minimal needs, which are not enough to feel (and look!) awesome.
It's pretty difficult to eat too much protein – from what I've seen with my clients is that most of them struggle with eating enough of it.
It's important to remember that the number suggested by RDA–0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight–is just the very bare minimum that we need to survive, but that is not enough to thrive. There's a big difference.
Also, when it comes to losing fat and building muscle, it's not going to be helpful if all you do is eat less calories than you burn. If you focus on only calories but don't pay any attention to macronutrients, especially getting enough protein, then losing fat and gaining lean muscle mass will be difficult.
Thirdly, don't be overly concerned about damaging your kidneys because of your “too high” protein intake. If you already have problems with kidneys, talk to your doctor before remarkably increasing your protein, but if you're a healthy person, there's generally no need to worry about it.
Do you make a conscious effort every day to include protein with your meals?
Be sure to check out also three other posts, that are part of this series and were posted after this one: