Protein is an essential nutrient and fuel source that the body needs. Not only can it help you metabolize your food and stay fuller longer, but it can also help you build muscle and even contribute to weight loss when an appropriate protein intake is utilized. How much protein to build muscle and lose fat is a common question asked by many.
Without it, the body can start to feel sluggish and slow, and, if too little is taken in through food, it can have negative effects. This article serves as a helpful guide when it comes to how much protein is needed to build muscle, maintain your body weight and lean body mass, and even lose body fat. For more specific and personally-guided information about your protein needs, speak to your doctor.
Why Is Protein Important In Your Diet?
Protein isn’t only important to your diet, it’s vital. Protein is considered the building block of life and can be found in every cell of your body.1(No wonder your body doesn’t feel its best without a proper protein intake.)
Here are just some of the benefits of protein on the body:
It Reduces Hunger
When you make sure to eat plenty of protein, the nutrient causes your body to produce less of the hunger hormone ghrelin.2Not only is your body producing less signals to your brain that it’s hungry, it can also help you stay fuller longer. In fact, one study found that women ate nearly 450 fewer calories after increasing their protein intake from 15 to 30 percent.3
Next time you’re looking to tackle weight loss, think about making changes to how much protein you’re getting – it may make a big difference in your end result.
It Can Increase Muscle Mass
It stands to reason that the more protein you eat, the more your body can build out other key parts, like your muscle protein. A high protein intake is key to supporting muscle protein breakdown, which is essential for increasing your lean body mass.
Before your next weights session, be sure to mix up some protein powder into a smoothie or shake to help your muscle gain. (Tip: if possible, consider whey protein – its amino acids are absorbed faster.4)
Aids In Maintaining Weight Loss
Even if you’re looking to lose some weight or cut down body fat, a high protein diet is still necessary. While your body can handle cutting back on foods that are high in things like fat or cholesterol, it doesn’t necessarily fare well when protein is cut out.
This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF), which refers to the number of calories needed by the body to digest and absorb essential nutrients. Research has found that protein-rich foods increase TEF the most, so it’s important to keep plenty of protein in your diet whether you’re trying to lose, gain, or maintain your weight.5
Because of protein’s TEF “score,” a strict exercise regimen causes your body to burn more calories and boost your metabolism.6However, it’s important to note that although it is smart to consume the proper amount of protein, weight loss will not occur if you do not consume fewer overall calories; so be sure not to overeat and cause a calorie surplus due to a higher protein intake.
A caloric deficit can inhibit muscle growth and can potentially contribute to muscle loss and other body weight changes.
Supports Muscle Repair
When it comes to gaining muscle, a higher protein intake is essential in not only building muscle, but helping repair them as well. During weight training, your muscle tissue becomes somewhat damaged. When this happens, the muscle initiates a kind of repair process called muscle protein synthesis, where select hormones join protein to repair the damaged muscle fibers, further highlighting just how imperative protein is to your body.7
Supports A Healthy Immune System
The benefits of protein don’t stop at simply building muscle or maintaining your weight. The essential macronutrient also supports a healthy immune system. Remember how protein is the building block of the body? Well, these building blocks work to form the cells in your body, and that includes the ones that operate the immune system.8
So, start eating plenty of protein alongside those vitamins, stat.
What’s The Recommended Daily Protein Intake For My Body?
So, how are you supposed to know if you’re getting enough protein? Is there an amount you should be shooting for each day?
In short: Yes. The recommended dietary allowance (which is based to meet the nutritional needs of most healthy people) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. To convert this to pounds, take your body weight and multiply it by 0.36. In layman’s terms, protein should amount to at least 10 to 35 percent of your total calorie intake each day.9
For a more specific number, talk to your doctor about how much protein is right for you. If the amount of your daily protein intake seems daunting, don’t fear. There are plenty of foods that are packed with protein and can be found all around your pantry or kitchen.
High Protein Foods That Help Support Lean Muscle Mass
You don’t have to pick up a meal regimen to ensure you’re getting the recommended amount of dietary protein to support lean muscle mass
Here’s a list of foods that are packed with protein:
If you fancy scrambled or over easy eggs in the morning, keep up the protein-packed breakfast ritual because whole eggs are one of the healthiest and nutritious foods around. While egg whites are almost pure protein, egg yolks are loaded with essential nutrients. Try to strike a good balance of both.10
If you suffer from an egg allergy, keep reading on for plenty of other high-protein alternatives.
Meat products like chicken breasts and turkey are high in protein. They also help support the muscle growth that builds up lean mass faster when paired with high intensity workouts.11
While it’s true that red meat also packs some protein into your diet, products like beef and pork contain more fat than the leaner cuts of chicken.12
- Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is a great protein source because it’s low in fat and calories but still keeps you feeling full and energized. It goes great with salads, on top of fresh fruit, granola, or toast, and is a great ingredient to toss into your morning smoothie.13,14
- Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is similar to cottage cheese in that it’s a low-fat, high-protein food. Toss a pack into your bag to enjoy during lunchtime or as an afternoon snack and stay full for the duration of the afternoon, so you don’t find yourself sneaking unhealthy options from the kitchen when the afternoon snackies hit.
Much like meat products, fish products like salmon, tuna, shrimp, trout, and cod are a wonderful source of protein that also have added health benefits. Fish contains lots of omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for your heart health, making it a win-win on every front.
Going Plant-Based? Try These Healthy Plant Protein Options
Not into the animal protein scene due to dietary restrictions or choices, like the ketogenic diet or the vegetarian diet? Don’t fret – we’ve compiled a list of plant protein just for a plant-based diet.
- Nuts & Nut Butter
Nuts like peanuts and almonds are a healthy fat and protein source that can be paired with virtually any meal. Whether you swipe it on some toast at breakfast, pack a package of nuts as a snack, or create your own recipe for a bedtime snack, the possibilities are endless.
Of course, no list would be complete without the scrub brush of the intestines. Not only is broccoli high in protein, it’s also packed with vitamins C and K, fiber, and potassium, and other essential nutrients.15
- Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are high in protein and pack plenty of other nutrients into a single vegetable. Be sure to pile your plate high with veggies, especially if you’re following a plant-based diet and need to find protein outside of meat products.
Other cabbage products include cauliflower and kale, which are also packed with protein if you need to jazz up your plate.
- Lentils & Legumes
Lentils are high in protein, fiber, magnesium, iron, and other necessary nutrients, making it another top-notch, plant-based protein supplement. Other legumes and beans carry plenty of protein, like soybeans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and more. Legumes go great in a variety of soups, chilis, and casseroles, and are also great on their own.
Oats are among one of the healthiest grains. They’re also high in fiber, vitamins, and magnesium, and pair great with a variety of dishes. Whip up some oatmeal for breakfast, or enjoy the grain in homemade oat and fruit bars or sprinkled on top of fresh fruit or yogurt.
Like many other items on this list, oats also offer additional health benefits like supporting healthy blood sugar levels, a reduced risk of heart disease, and even weight loss.
Protein: The Essential Amino Acid
The benefits of protein are plenty, and it’s essential and vital to your body composition (like your lean body mass) and its ability to function. Without it, the body’s ability to promote muscle growth or help you get through the day without feeling sluggish is nearly impossible, so it’s important to be aware of just how much protein you’re eating throughout the day.
With so many protein options available to satisfy meat and plant lovers alike, there are many ways to ensure your protein intake is aligned with your body’s needs. If you aren’t sure whether or not you’re getting enough protein, talk to your doctor. They can help you come up with a plan to support your overall health, and meet your fitness goals.
Always listen to your body. Adding more protein to your diet is just one healthy choice you can make along with plenty of exercise. Now, head to the kitchen and get some protein on those bones!