For some reason protein gets ignored by most people. If you ask someone what makes a healthy diet the most common replies are low fat, reduced sugar, low salt. The emphasis is always on calories, sugar and fat.
Protein is an essential macro-nutrient. Along with fats and carbohydrates, proteins are one of the 3 macro-nutrients which provide us with a healthy balanced diet.
The most important role that proteins play in the human body is for the repair and development of body tissue. For athletes increased protein consumption is required to build stronger muscles and also to maintain them. However, it is not only athletes who need protein.
Protein helps to regulate appetite and also it maintains your metabolism. If you are trying to lose weight then you must reduce total calories, or create a calories deficit through increased exercise. If you fail to consume enough protein to rebuild your muscle tissue then your body will fail to create enough new muscle and muscle wastage will occur.
Muscle wastage is disastrous for those trying to lose weight because increase muscle mass raises metabolism. Metabolism, often referred to as basal metabolic rate (BMR) is that rate at which your body burns energy when resting. So to lose muscle tissue means you burn less energy which means you reduce your calorie deficit. So increasing protein consumption is vital if you are trying to lose weight. This is one of the reasons why low fat diets fail so often – people just do not get enough protein.
Protein has other functions though. In addition to providing the building blocks for muscle protein consumption also leads to an interesting hormonal response. When we digest protein our bodies release a hormone called PYY. This hormone helps to repress hunger so by eating meals with more protein you can ward of those hunger pangs for much longer.
Studies have shown that people who consume more protein for breakfast tend to snack less throughout the morning which can greatly reduce daily calorie intake.
Combining a protein rich diet with increased weight-bearing exercise helps you to lose weight in 4 ways:
- Exercise burns more calories
- Exercise releases PYY hormone to suppress hunger
- Increase protein intake helps build new muscle tissue to raise metabolism
- Protein consumption releases PYY hormone to further suppress hunger
If you combine increased protein consumption with more exercise you reduce your appetite further, as exercise also results in the release of the PYY hormone. This is why weight loss plans which combine a healthy and well-balanced diet with regular exercise always produce the best results in the long-term.
“A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations” by David S Weigle et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 82, No. 1, 41-48, July 2005