Found throughout the body, protein is essential for skin, bone, muscle, and virtually every other tissue and body part. Without enough protein in your system, your body fails to complete several chemical reactions. Protein is basically a compound made of smaller molecules called amino acids. Your body needs 21 amino acids to form different proteins that run your system. Interestingly, your body can produce 12 amino acids on its own, but it needs to rely on what you eat to get the remaining ‘essential’ amino acids.
A common misconception is that only those who engage in strength training need to increase their intake of protein. That is not the case actually; in fact, you need more protein even when you have a sedentary lifestyle. That is for the simple reason that your body cannot get essential amino acids unless you eat all the right stuff. If you do not increase your protein intake as you age, you are going to lose muscle faster. You should get at least 8g of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. However,
- In the United States, the recommended daily allowance of protein is 46 grams per day for women over 19 years of age, and 56 grams per day for men over 19 years of age. (Source)
Unfortunately, most people fail to get enough protein every day, especially considering the fact that the optimal level of protein intake is much more than the Recommended Daily Allowance suggested by experts. Here are some good reasons why you should seriously think of increasing your protein intake.
1. Suppresses Appetite
If you are trying to lose weight, you need to do something to control your hunger levels. This is when protein can help. Studies show that protein is very filling, and keeps you from experiencing hunger pangs for longer. A study showed that overweight women consumed 441 fewer calories per day after increasing their protein intake from 15% to 30% of calories. It also means that you would not be starving even after eating fewer calories. Furthermore, you are less likely to have cravings for late night snacking after increasing your protein intake.
2. Increases Muscle Mass
Increasing muscle mass is another way to keep your weight in check and stay lean. This is another reason why your weight loss diet should include plenty of protein. The building blocks of muscles require protein, so you need to eat more to facilitate the process. Even when you have worked hard to get lean muscle, you can keep it intact by maintaining a high protein diet.
Interestingly, your body releases more of a protein called peptide YY when you increase your intake of protein, and this specific type of protein helps regulate appetite. Protein is also required to prevent muscle loss when your body is in a ‘catabolic’ state during weight loss.
3. Strengthens Your Bones
Your bones are going to get weaker with age, and that is another reason why you need to up your intake of protein as you get older. It is important to point out that many people were of the view that high-protein diets can damage bones by increasing urinary calcium. Things are no longer the same, as new studies have shown that increased intake of protein helps maintain bone mass well into old age. Any deficiency in dietary protein may actually lead to a deterioration in bone mass, strength, and micro-architecture, which in turn can cause osteoporosis. You get a good amount of protein from milk products, but these products also contain several bone-building nutrients, such as vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, vitamin B12, potassium, and vitamin K. Therefore, increasing your intake of protein is actually beneficial for your bones – and it is not the other way round!
4. Helps With Weight Loss
Eating more protein can help reduce weight because it boosts your metabolism. When combined with exercise, increased protein intake can help improve muscle mass, which in turn improves metabolism. Protein also promotes thermogenesis in the body, which means it increases body temperature and facilitates the fat-burning process.
- A recent study even found that dieters who ate twice the recommended daily amount of protein, while reducing their overall calorie intake, lost more fat than those who didn’t increase their protein intake! The dieters who ate the usual amount of protein only lost 41.8% fat, compared to 70% for those who ate more protein.
Combine it with increased water intake and you will be able to increase your metabolism even further. Drinking water in place of sugar drinks and including more protein in your diet can help you get better results. In fact, you should stick to high-protein, low-carb diet for a while to lose weight quickly.
- In a 2007 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at 311 overweight and obese women, and divided them into four groups. Each group followed either the Zone diet (which roughly balances protein, carbohydrates and fat intake), the Atkins diet (high protein, low carb), the LEARN diet (low fat), or Ornish diet (low fat) for one year. At the end of the study, they found that women on the Atkins diet, who ate the most high-protein meals, lost about 10 pounds, while women in the other groups who lost between three and six pounds.
Protein also helps trim your waistline, because your body needs to burn more calories in order to digest protein. Protein-rich foods stay longer in your stomach and keep hunger pangs at bay.
5. Regulates Hormones
Another interesting reason to increase your intake of protein is that it helps regulate several weight regulating hormones. It targets the area in your brain called the hypothalamus to regulate hormones. Your body releases certain hormones in response to feeding. By increasing your protein intake, you will be able to increase the levels of hormones such as peptide YY, GLP-1, and cholecystokinin, which increase levels of the satiety. By promoting satiety, you will be eating less and have a better chance of losing weight effectively.
6. Helps You Recover Faster
You cannot go to the gym and start pumping iron when you have not recovered from the previous exercise session. Your body is going to take longer to recover if your protein intake is not up to the mark. After your workout session, protein promotes muscle adaptation by triggering new protein generation in your muscles and helping your body repair all damaged muscle fibres. It also helps restore depleted energy.
You also need to take more protein after heavy resistance exercise, because it increases protein synthesis for at least 24 hours after your workout session. Since your muscle fibres also break during a heavy workout session, you need to eat protein or muscle breakdown will exceed protein synthesis and lower muscle mass. Combine increased protein intake with proper hydration before, during and after workout and you will find your body recover faster than ever.
7. Lowers Blood Pressure
Some studies have shown that your increased intake of protein may help lower your risk of developing hypertension.
Adults who consume a high-protein diet may be at a lower risk for developing high blood pressure, concludes a study that found participants consuming the highest amount of protein – an average of 100 g protein/day – had a 40 percent lower risk of having high blood pressure compared to the lowest intake level. Source
In order to regulate your blood pressure, your kidneys, heart, blood vessels, and many hormones have to work simultaneously. It is a complex process, but protein helps facilitate it. That is mainly because dairy proteins may help work as ACE inhibitors. Furthermore, animal proteins, such as eggs also contain arginine, which dilates your blood vessels and keeps your blood pressure under control.
8. Helps Repair Injuries
Increasing your protein intake after sustaining an injury can help improve recovery, as covered in one our previous articles. Protein helps form the building blocks of your body’s organs and tissues, which is the reason why you can speed up recovery by getting more protein. Many studies have also confirmed the same.
9. Protects You from Ailments as You Get Older
Protein is important for every individual, but you need to consume more as you get older because it promotes recovery from illness, supports good health, and maintains functionality. With age, there will be a reduction in the anabolic responses to the amount of protein you consume. Similarly, high splanchnic extraction also requires you to increase your intake of protein in the later stages of your life. Many studies have also confirmed that increased protein intake is also important to protect you from age-related sarcopenia, which causes your muscles to shrink.
10. Boosts Immune System
You need to increase your intake of protein to keep your immune system in shape. Your immune system releases antibodies in response to any viral or bacterial infection in the body. These antibodies are made of protein, and in the absence of enough protein in the body, your immune system will fail to fend off viruses and bacteria. Furthermore, most protein sources also contain many other nutrients such as magnesium and zinc that also help improve your immune system.
11. Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
Studies show that people with high blood sugar and metabolic problems should increase their intake of protein. Getting more protein will have a stabilising effect on your blood sugar. Over time, it also leads to a positive change in a wide variety of cardiovascular, metabolic, and inflammatory markers, from triglycerides and cholesterol to insulin sensitivity and C-reactive protein (Source, Source).
12. Reduces Stress
Stress can lead to all sorts of physical and mental illnesses. It can affect blood sugar levels and lead to blood sugar imbalances, such as hypoglycemia. Getting more protein in the morning can help maintain your energy levels and reduce agitation, mood swings, and jitteriness associated with chronic stress. People under stress may also find it difficult to go to sleep. Protein can also help here by improving sleep quality. Stress can cause tissues in your body to break down, but protein can help prevent that wear and tear (Source).
13. Improves Brain Function
Without enough protein in your system, your body will not be able to make several hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters essential for proper functioning of your brain. That is probably the reason why eating a protein-rich breakfast keeps you sharp throughout the day.
Some studies have shown that ingesting more protein in your system helps improve your brain function and makes it easier to remember information. Your brain cannot function properly in the absence of a steady supply of amino acids. Studies have also shown that increasing your intake of protein can help improve motor skills over time.
Know About Types of Protein to Reap Maximum Benefits
You may have gathered the fact that increasing your intake of protein is of immense importance because it helps you in so many ways. However, it is equally important to know how to get more protein and how to know you are getting high quality protein. You can always get a good amount of protein from fish, poultry, beef, and dairy, but you can also get it in other ways. For instance:
- Protein Bars: You can opt for protein bars when you do not have enough time to prep every snack and meal. You can easily find protein bars that contain a mix of protein, carbs, and fats, which actually make these bars a small meal.
- Whey protein: Bodybuilders are in love with whey protein, but anyone can make use of whey powders to increase their intake of protein. It helps stimulate muscle growth before and after your workouts. It is better to opt for whey powders that contain whey protein isolate because your body can digest them quickly. Keep in mind that whey protein concentrate is equally beneficial but can be very high in fats and carbs.
- Casein Protein: Experts believe that your body takes no time to absorb whey protein, but sometimes, you need a type of protein that takes longer to digest. That is when casein protein comes into picture. Have it before going to bed to provide your body with a steady supply of amino acids. A powder with micellar casein is the best choice.
- Milk Protein: You get milk protein when fat and carbs are removed from milk; it is 20% whey and 80% casein, so your body takes relatively longer to digest it. Opt for products that contain milk protein isolate to enjoy maximum benefits.
- Egg White Protein: This is high quality protein and is something in between whey and casein, in that it is faster than casein but slower than whey. You can take a combination of whey, egg white, and casein protein any time of the day because it helps provide your body with medium-, slow-, and fast-digesting proteins.
- Beef Protein: You can easily find beef protein powder in the market to get protein obtained from actual beef. It does not contain much fat, so your body takes little time to digest it. You can opt for it if you cannot go for whey because of your milk-protein allergy.
- Soy Protein: Your body can digest soy protein isolate quite quickly, but the real benefit of taking soy protein is that it increases nitric oxide levels and improves muscle recovery after workouts.
The fact of the matter is that though you may be getting enough protein from your dietary sources, you need to take more than your RDI to enjoy certain benefits of protein. This is when you may have to think of taking a protein supplement. Just be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before using a specific protein product or supplement.