If you've been an EM2WL follower for a while you know that we talk about protein – a lot. The truth of the matter is, whether you're trying to get big or get small, protein plays a very important role in your diet. The cells in our bodies need protein to function and without it, our cells and organs, muscles, connective tissue, and bones simply would not hold together.
Fad diets will be with us as long as there is money to be made from people wanting to gain or lose weight, however, if you understand the role each macronutrient plays in your body and why all are important, you will be less likely to fall victim to the nonsense. Let’s focus on the importance of protein and why we need it in our diet and how it plays a role in fat loss.
First it’s important to understand what protein is. Protein is a macronutrient, meaning it is a nutrient needed in large amounts by the cells in our body in order to function and survive. Protein is composed of amino-acids, the building blocks of life. When protein is consumed, our bodies use these amino acids to build and maintain lean muscle mass.
When we strength train, our muscles experience microscopic tears. Through rest and recovery, these tears are healed, allowing our muscle cells to grow back bigger and stronger after each workout. Protein is key in this muscle repair process, as it works to rebuild those torn muscle fibers. Therefore it is necessary to have an adequate protein intake when trying to increase muscle mass or size. The more lean muscle mass we have, the more calories we burn throughout the day which also aids our fat loss efforts. Win, win!
Another way that protein is fat-loss friendly is that your body uses a lot of energy (i.e. calories) just to metabolize it due to its complex structure. This is known as the thermic effect and for protein it can be as high as 30% of the calories in the protein! Because this process takes a while, protein also stays in your body longer than other macronutrients like carbs, for example. This means that we will feel fuller, longer when we eat protein. Bonus? We're less likely to overeat when our body is satiated!
One of the challenges with consuming sufficient protein, however, is that it is not as convenient as the other macronutrients, fats and carbs. While it’s easy to grab a granola bar or piece of fruit, portable protein sources are definitely more limited in comparison and you're much less likely to toss chicken or fish in your purse. As a result, people tend to eat less protein than they should, however, there are ways you can increase your protein intake that are quite simple.
First, move beyond the idea that you can only get protein from meats. Of course, a 4 oz serving of meat a few times a day will certainly put you on the right track, but let’s look at some other ways you can incorporate protein into your diet.
Befriend Protein Powder Protein powder's convenience and low cost per serving makes it a great option to consider. You can add 1-2 scoops to your baked goods recipes or pancakes and oatmeal. Toss a scoop into your shakes. Nowadays, there are also so many flavors of protein powder to choose from so keep a variety on hand so you don't get bored.
Eat Eggs If you’re big on salads, chop up a hardboiled egg on top for a protein punch. Hard boil a dozen for the week ahead of time and pack them for work to have as a mid-day snack. Another great option is an egg bake like a quiche or frittata. When made with cheese you'll get even more protein per serving.
Go Nuts Start eating nuts and seeds like hemp, chia or sunflower. Nut butter spread on your favorite fruits or a stalk of celery makes a great snack.
Do Dairy Choose low or no fat versions of milk and yogurts. Non-dairy milks, such as soy, have a higher protein content than regular milk per serving. Cottage cheese and reduced fat cheeses are also a good source of protein.
Protein Snacks One of my favorite portable protein snacks is jerky. It is a meat, yet super convenient to keep in the car or throw in a bag. Another option is protein bars (homemade or store-bought) that can satisfy a sweet craving while still giving you a boost of protein.
When you think about the function of protein in the body, its role in muscle repair and growth and how it can benefit your fat loss efforts, it only makes sense to make sure you’re eating enough. Keep your palate happy by mixing up your protein intake. For all the hard work you put in at the gym, be sure to put that level and quality of work into making sure you eat enough protein.