A macronutrient is defined as a type of food required in large amounts in the human diet. Protein, carbohydrates and fats are macronutrients. Proteins are amino acids held together by a chemical bond. Amino acids are called the “building blocks” of life and therefore are important in our diet. Our focus today will be how protein aids in weight loss.
Protein boosts and supports our metabolism. When we consume food, a portion of the food’s calories are lost in the digestion of the food. This is known as the thermic effect of food or TEF. Protein has the greatest TEF of the macronutrients. When you eat protein, you lose 20-30% of the calories to TEF. For example- if you consume 100 calories of chicken you will only absorb around 70 of those 100 calories. This is one reason why a diet high in protein helps to boost our metabolism.
When losing weight, we also risk losing lean muscle along with fat plus our metabolic rate slows as our weight drops down. Lean muscle mass supports metabolism. Combining a high protein diet with a good strength-training program is the best way to maintain and build lean mass. You will look better overall after weight loss if you can preserve your lean mass and will be more apt to maintain the loss in the future. More muscle naturally burns calories even at rest.
Protein foods alone or combined with healthy fats are very satisfying. Protein plays a role in the balance of hunger hormones. It will increase levels of our satiety (appetite suppressing) hormone and reduce levels of our hunger hormone ghrelin. This combination keeps us full longer therefore naturally lowers our caloric intake. An easy tip to remember is build your plate around protein first and have it at every meal. Sufficient protein in your diet will help fight cravings and late night snacking. These are the two most common pitfalls to weight loss.
Some think that a high protein diet is taxing on your kidneys or can cause osteoporosis but there is no concrete scientific proof to support this idea. Kidney issues are more commonly associated with high blood pressure and diabetes both of which are caused by eating processed food. If you have healthy kidney function then balance your protein with plenty of vegetables and water for optimal health.
Lastly, what is lean protein and how much should you eat? Good sources are grass fed beef, wild caught seafood, pastured chicken and their eggs. It is also found in dairy, legumes, nuts and seeds but make sure you tolerate these well. The daily-recommended intake is 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men. Keep in mind this is ONLY to prevent a deficiency in your body as protein is constantly being turned over. Protein intake really varies between individuals based on size and activity level. A good rule of thumb to start is a palm size portion for women and 2 palms for men. This will keep it easy which helps you be successful. If you lead a very active lifestyle you may want to add a bit more.
Protein can be key in your weight loss journey. It helps balance hormones, keeps you full and satisfied, boosts metabolism and helps maintain lean mass. When planning your meals always ask, “Where is the protein”?