Nutrition Coaching: All About Protein
Would you believe me if I told you that you have the world’s fastest and most potent fat burning supplement sitting in your fridge? Who would have thought that instead of spending money on pills and appetite suppressants, the proteins found in your kitchen were the missing key to losing weight? That’s right; all that steak, yogurt, eggs, and chicken is really all you need to spark your metabolism and start burning some body fat (well that coupled with a great training program and a personal trainer who wears too many superhero t-shirts).
In this edition of Upper Echelon Fitness and Performance’s Nutrition Coaching, we’ll break down protein and how it can be used as a weight loss aid.
What is a Protein
Protein is simply a combination of amino acids; if the protein is the side of your house, then amino acids are the bricks to make the wall. You want solid bricks organized in the right way to make sure your house is sturdy. Combine enough amino acids and you have a protein – this protein can be used to build muscle, signal a hormone to be released, or help develop a cell in your immune system. While some believe that protein intake should only be the concern of a bodybuilder, it’s quite the opposite. Yes, proteins are important in the muscle building process, but they’re also essential in forming many structures of your body. If you want healthy skin and nails, then fire up that grill and cook yourself some lean hamburgers.
Take a Dip into the Pool
These proteins can reside in what’s called an amino acid pool. This pool is partly dependent on your diet as your body will constantly gobble up different amino acids for a whole host of functions in your body. For instance, if you low carb for too long, your body will have a greater demand for these amino acids. In the absence of carbohydrates, your body needs to use amino acids to develop blood sugar for your brain; a lack of protein in the diet can result in fatigue, irritability, and even brain fog. Low carb too long and you’ll end up wrecking your metabolism.
Your body would prefer to use carbohydrates or fats as an energy source. It’s not desirable to use protein as an energy source. So, in essence, you want to leave this amino acid pool alone so it can build tissues in the body. If calorie and/or protein intake is low, the body can tear down its own muscle as an energy source. Going back to our brick house analogy, using protein for energy would be like tearing down the walls to make a fire so the house is warm. It becomes nearly impossible to get that lean and athletic appearance if your body is always breaking down muscle cells.
What’s So Great About Protein?
Protein has what we call a high thermic affect of food, or TEF. This means that it can elevate your metabolism. While carbohydrates may cause a 5% bump in your metabolic rate, protein can increase your metabolism by nearly 20%! When scientists measured this metabolic activity, they found that subjects who ate a protein heavy meal had a higher metabolic rate for seven straight hours (1). In fact, when measuring a “conservative” amount of protein compared to a “moderate” amount, subjects who ate more protein lost more bodyfat and gained more muscle (2). Even if your goal isn’t necessarily to build muscle, protein is still a key ingredient for weight loss. When obese women increased their protein intake to 30% of total calories, they managed to lose 9 pounds and lower blood pressure in just 5 weeks (3). It’s quite possible that protein can increase your metabolism so much that you’ll have to increase your food intake to avoid a large deficit between calorie intake and calorie burning.
Out of all the factors that affect your metabolism, exercise and the amount of food you eat are the only two variables that you have a lot of control over. Manipulating your training along with slowly increasing protein intake can allow you to enhance your metabolism. When you hit a plateau with your fitness goals, one of the first things we may look at is increasing your protein intake.
Lastly, protein is also a food that helps with satiety, or your satisfaction with eating. It’s pretty easy to sit through a TV show and devour a bag of chips, it’s another thing to try and snack on cottage cheese or some ribs. Protein leaves us feeling full and satisfied. Low calorie diets can force you to throw the towel in because they simply don’t satisfy you.
Exercise is a stress; while it’s a good stress, too much of anything is a bad thing. When you get done working out, your immune system is suppressed. Your stress hormones are also elevated. Skipping out on proteins keeps those “bad” hormones high. If you let your stress hormones stay elevated for too long, it becomes difficult for your body to lose weight because stress hormones suppress fat burning.
It was the work of Dr. John Ivy and Dr. Robert Portman that discovered consuming protein during and after a workout reduced the body’s stress response by 50%! Protein after a workout is crucial; this is why it’s one of the first things we focus on when you come to the studio. Athletes and those seeking to gain lean muscle mass should consider consuming a protein/carbohydrate drink during a training session, but as you approach a low level of bodyfat, it will be wise to start making a workout “cocktail” for your training sessions.
Why Do the ‘Experts’ Disagree?
Unfortunately not everyone agrees on protein intake. The usual recommended amounts of nutrients are to simply keep you functioning as a human being: they’re meant to prevent disease, not build strength or lose weight. Once you put your body under the stress of training, your metabolic profile completely changes. Most clinicians are not familiar with performance training, and they don’t read the research done on weight loss in athletic populations, hence the difference. Monitoring nutrients to prevent disease is one thing; eating adequately to perform well is another.
As of right now, there is no evidence to indicate a high protein intake is damaging to those with healthy kidney function (4). It’s estimated that humans evolved on a protein intake that is 4 times higher than what the average American consumes (4).To give you an idea, you’d want to approach taking in somewhere around a gram of protein per body weight. However, this needs to be a gradual process that you build up to and is dependent on exercise intensity and frequency.
What to Do Now
Go in the kitchen and slam that protein shake! If you have more questions about protein, a nutrition coaching session is always available. If you’ve hit a plateau in your weight loss (or weight gain) it may be time to re-examine your protein intake and slowly increase it.
1. Crovetti, R, et al. “The Influence of Thermic Affect of Food on Satiety.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1998. (52): 482-488
2. Soenen, S. Martens, E.A.P, Hochstenbach-Walen, A., et al. “Normal Protein Intake is Required for Body Weight Loss and Weight Management, and Elevated Protein Intake for Additional Preservation of Resting Energy Expenditure and Fat Free Mass.” (2013). Journal of Nutrition.143:5, 591-596
3. Ryberg, M., Sandberg, S., Melberg, C., et al. “A Palaeolithic-Type Diet Causes Strong Tissue-Specific Effects on Ectopic Fat Deposition in Obese Postmenopausal Women.”(2013) Journal of Internal Medicine. (274.1) 67
4. Manninen, Anssi.H. “High Protein Weight Loss Diets and Purported Adverse Effects: Where is The Evidence?”(2004) Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition. (1); 45-51