This important macronutrient raises concerns for my female clients quite a lot in my coaching groups. Maybe it’s perceived as something men drink after they’ve been lifting weighs in the gym and scares ladies into thinking they’re going to ‘bulk up’ and look like hulk hogan in a few weeks.
This really isn’t the case, so I’m going to explain in simple terms what protein is, the role it plays within your diet and why it’s so powerful at aiding fat loss.
Firstly there are 3 macronutrient groups, – carbohydrates, protein and fat. You have probably heard of these so I’ll just explain briefly the role of each one.
- Carbs are converted into glycogen by the body and used as an energy source for brain and body.
- Protein – Used for repair and maintenance of organs and muscles tissue
- Fat – Another source of energy for your body along with regulating core temperature.
As you can see carbs and fat are quite similar in their roles and ultimately used as an energy source by your body.
Protein on the other hand helps build and repair cells and are often referred to as the building blocks of life. They are broken down during digestion into amino acids which are essential for your health and well being.
Amino acids are split into 3 groups essential (otherwise referred to as complete) or non-essential (otherwise referred to as incomplete.). Your complete protein are found predominately in animal sources such as meat, fish, poultry, game, eggs and dairy. Your incompletes are found in plant based sources like soy, beans, nuts, avocados, plus grains like quinoa and buckwheat.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan it is possible to get your essential (complete) amino acids by eating a combination of the non-eseentail (incompletes)
The 3rd category is conditional and these are amino acids needed in times of stress and illness.
So as you can see so far, there’s no mention of muscle or fat loss yet, but I just wanted to explain the basics before we get into the extra benefits.
The effects of protein for fat loss
Hormones play a huge role in whether you store fat or burn it. Eating a diet high in protein, effectively controls hunger levels, metabolism and and satiety which all have positive results on fat loss.
This is largely due to hunger hormone Ghrelin aka the gremlin! This is the one that always gets the better of me if I’ve had a night out and consumed alcohol. It is released by cells in your stomach when it is empty and stops secretion when the stomach is stretched. Often it’s reacting to messages from your hypothalamus in your brain to signal hunger and is a side effect of alcohol and sugar consumption. Combine this with a diet high in refined carbohydrates and you’re on a vicious rollercoaster of spiking hormones all day.
Increasing your protein intake suppresses this hormone along with the release of insulin (another fat storing hormone.) This is why protein gets the term ‘keeping you fuller for longer’. Instead your hypothalamus signals leptin (satiety hormone) release and glucagon (opposite to insulin – increases blood sugar therefore avoiding the dip. Remember the dip triggers your hunger hormone so keeping it stable with protein consumption avoids this)
So how much protein should you consume per day?
I coach my clients to eat 1 gram of protein per lb of body weight (more for men, maybe 1.5-2g) and that 40% of their daily calorie consumption should come from this macronutrient.
Protein has a powerful thermogenic effect meaning your metabolism is boosted and you’re burning calories around the clock. You will naturally keep calorie consumption lower than diets high in carbs because of the steady releases of hormones.
Will it be stored as fat if I don’t exercise?
Another FAQ and interesting perception from females. The answer is no because of the steady hormone releases mentioned above. It’s also worth pointing out here that most people massively under consume protein so are losing out on the benefits to metabolism and hormone regulation.
If you are a regular exerciser it’s vital you help your muscles recover and repair after a workout. You only have a 30-40 minute post training window so being prepared with a refuel of a protein shake or some eggs is essential, especially if you’re training again the following day.
It may be worth using an app like My Fitness Pal to track exactly what you’re consuming each day. Believing you eat healthy because your diet is high in vegetables, fruit and unprocessed food doesn’t necessarily mean it is. Especially if there is an imbalance between the 3 macronutrients.
If your diet is high in carbs you’re going to experience the crazy hormone cycles. Just by increasing your protein alone will improve your health and assist in fat loss.
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