Why is Protein Important? The Benefits of Protein in Exercise & Weight Loss

If you’re like most people, you probably have a general sense of what protein is and why it’s good for you. It’s eggs, meat, stuff like that… and it helps your muscles get bigger?

In fact protein is essential for all of us, not just bodybuilders.

It’s a vital part of a balanced daily diet that helps us stay strong, fit and healthy.

You might be surprised by the amount of protein you need and how little you’re actually getting, especially since so many of us build our diets around cereals, grains and processed foods these days.

So if you’re the kind of person who eats an egg every so often thinking you’re getting enough protein please keep reading!

I’m here to teach you why protein is so important, how you can get more of it, and how it affects any exercise or weight loss you may be doing. So let’s get started.

What is protein?

Protein makes up the building blocks of your body. Apart from water, it’s the second most abundant substance in there, making up 20% of what makes you you. It’s used in almost all your bodily functions from muscle maintenance to keeping your immune system strong to creating healthy hair, skin and nails.

Basically, without protein we’d be screwed.

When you digest protein, it breaks down into amino acids. (I know, I know, school was a long time ago.)

In a nutshell amino acids are little bits of protein that can enter your bloodstream and help out wherever they’re needed in the body. They do a lot of legwork, including transporting nutrients, keeping organs functioning and repairing wounds.

The essential amino acids

Our bodies need 20 different amino acids to stay healthy, but luckily we can synthesize 11 of them on our own. The remaining 9 amino acids are called essential and must be taken in from the food we eat.

How much protein do I need?

It all depends on your weight and your levels of activity.

If you have an office job and don’t do too much exercise, you need about 0.8g of protein per 1kg of weight each day. For the average man that’s about 55g, and it’s 45g for the average woman.

If you’re more active the recommended protein intake can range from 1.4g – 2.0g per kg of weight, depending on your exercise routine, sport or hobby.

Here’s an easy tip to make sure you’re eating enough protein: use your palmThe average woman should have one palm’s worth of protein with every meal, and the average man should have two palm’s worth.

Precision Nutrition Protein portion size for womenPrecision Nutrition Protein portion sizes for men

Where should I get my protein from?

The best way to get protein is by eating animal-based foods like meat, milk, eggs and fish.

You can also get protein from plant-based foods like beans, pulses and seeds, however you generally have to eat more to get all the amino acids you need and see the same benefits. Most vegetarians and vegans find it hard to eat enough protein, so make sure you’re focusing enough on protein-heavy foods like quinoa, chickpeas and leafy greens.

Fun tip: remember those 9 essential amino acids we all need to stay healthy? If you don’t eat meat or dairy products, quinoa and soy are two of the only plant-based foods that contain all 9.

Animal sources of protein

  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Lean beef
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Greek yoghurt
  • Eggs

Plant sources of protein

  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Soy
  • Quinoa
  • Tofu
  • Peanuts
  • Almonds
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Hummus

If you’re struggling with protein, consider using protein powders.

Most protein supplements these days are made from dairy products like whey, but you can also find vegetarian and vegan-friendly alternatives made from soy or rice protein.

As I say to all my clients: supplements are supplements! The ideal situation is to get all the nutrients you need from the food you eat. However, none of us are perfect and sometimes you need a vitamin pill or protein powder to help support your diet.

Is there such a thing as too much protein?

Well, technically you can eat too much of anything! Just like any other food group, protein should be viewed as one part of a balanced diet. You can’t live on protein alone, just like you can’t live entirely on carbohydrates.

But the power of protein is that it does so many things in the body. This means of the 3 macros protein, carbohydrates and fat which make up every type of food, protein is the one you’re least likely to overconsume.

As long as you’re getting a mix of all the major food groups there shouldn’t be any need to worry about eating too much protein.

Plus, protein uses about 25 – 30% of the energy you gain from it to be digested and absorbed. Carbs and fats, on the other hand, only take about 5 – 8% of their total energy to do the same. Thanks to this fact alone you’re already burning more calories when you eat protein, and you’re less likely to eat too much.

What does protein have to do with exercise?

As I said, protein is vital when it comes to muscle repair and growth. Exercise works by doing tiny amounts of damage to the muscles in your body. When the muscles repair themselves afterwards, they get stronger and you get fitter.

Benefits of Protein alongside exercise

Do you see why protein is so important in exercise now?

That’s right — because protein is what repairs and strengthens muscles, it’s absolutely essential to getting the most from your workouts. If you don’t get enough protein not only will your body be less healthy in general, but you won’t even get the full benefits from exercise. It’s like a double whammy.

Whether your goals are weight loss, bodybuilding, or simply being able to run around the block a few times you’re not going to see the results you want as quickly as you want without eating enough protein.

That’s also why protein should play a big role in post-workout nutrition.

If you eat a portion of protein (around 15 – 25g) within 30 minutes after exercising when your muscles are most receptive, you’re going to see yourself getting stronger faster.

What does protein have to do with weight loss?

Protein is satisfying and filling. It makes you feel fuller for longer, and it doesn’t give you the same highs and lows that carbs do.

That’s why there are so many diets, like the Atkins and Dukan diets, based on high-protein nutrition.

(Plus, the fewer carbohydrates you eat and the more you replace with protein, the less insulin your body produces. When your insulin levels are low your body burns more fat.)

But I don’t recommend fad diets such as these. A healthy and balanced nutritional plan is always the best way to go. If you’ve been struggling to lose weight for some time, try cutting some of the carbs and fats from your diet and replacing them with protein. You might just find it easier to stick to your plan and reach your target weight quicker.

As always, the best results come from hard work and dedication. But there’s no harm in making your life easier make sure you’re getting your recommended protein intake to really see the biggest benefits from your nutrition and exercise routine.

Protein is one step in the path to a healthier, leaner, fitter you.

Also check out my blogs on fats, carbs and calorie energy balance.

Aiming for the perfect body? Need help with your nutrition or workouts? Get in touch with me anytime!