Protein & Fitness – There are dozens of nutrients needed in your diet to maintain your health. One such nutrient is protein, which is an essential component of a healthy diet and, more than that, a healthy lifestyle. Although, oftentimes, when people think of the words ‘protein’ and ‘exercise’, it conjures up images of bodybuilders eating chicken breasts or protein shakes to maximize their gains. Protein is important for anyone no matter where they are on their fitness journey, but why? Read on to find out.
Protein accounts for one of the three major diet components alongside carbs and fat. Proteins themselves are made up of amino acids, which can be categorized into essential and non-essential amino acids. These amino acids are then used by the body in a multitude of ways, in the skin, organs, tissue and bones. The body can synthesize some forms of amino acids themselves, but these tend to be non-essential. The body cannot synthesize the essential amino acids, which is why they need to be taken in as food on a daily basis. When protein is eaten, the amino acids are broken down during the digestive process before they are used to create new proteins within the body.
Good Sources of Protein
When choosing your source of protein, you should bear in mind its amino acid content. You can find both animal and plant-based forms of protein from meat to soy, eggs to dairy, to tofu. Your choice in protein will depend on your personal preferences and your belief system, but whatever form you choose, try to ensure that you are getting fresh, good-quality foods. You can also find protein supplements. Arguably the two most important amino acids are isoleucine and leucine. If you are looking for supplements, then you should ensure that they contain those; most will – as well as containing other essential amino acids. For example, Ingredient Optimized has a range of both whey and plant-based proteins for you to choose from. They also have an incredibly insightful blog that acts as a great resource, especially for beginners, where they outline everything from BCAAs to protein hydrolysis.
When Should I Eat Protein?
The timing of your protein intake is important for anyone on their fitness journey but especially for those trying to build muscle. Most forms of exercise can cause stress to the body, but this is most prudent for those who participate in strength and resistance training. Getting some form of protein either, food or supplements after a workout, is imperative. It helps to repair any damage you may have done to the muscles, and it can help you tack on more muscle mass. For most people, a serving of 20g of protein should be enough to achieve this, but it needs to be consumed within half an hour of training. You should also try to add more protein into your meals on the days that you train.
Can You Consume Too Much Protein?
Any of the positive effects of protein begin to plateau at around 2g per pound of body weight, which means that eating over this amount will have no additional benefits, and it could be detrimental to your health. In addition, eating too much protein can put additional stress on your liver and kidneys because the body has to work harder to process it. Although these claims are widely unverified, with some studies showing a correlation and others finding no such evidence.
Can You Consume Too Little Protein?
Malnutrition in any form can have severe effects on the body and your overall health. In terms of protein specifically, one of the first indicators of a protein deficiency is frequent infections and inflammatory conditions. This is because protein naturally helps boost the immune system and fight inflammation, and so when it is lacking, the body feels the effects. After this, you can then expect further symptoms, including hair loss, muscle atrophy, cognitive decline, poor tissue regeneration and even sexual or reproductive issues.
The Benefits of Protein Consumption
During your fitness journey, there are a lot of different benefits to making sure that you are consuming enough protein. First and foremost, protein makes you feel full, fuller than eating carbs and fat do. This is incredibly important for athletes of any ability who need to fuel their bodies. It keeps you fuller for longer, which in turn reduces your appetite and cravings, which can be helpful for those looking to lose weight by helping them to reduce their calorie intake.
Along the same vein as feeling fuller and reducing your appetite, eating the right amount of protein can also boost your metabolism. Although to explain this, it is necessary to backtrack for a moment. This is because the body uses energy to digest the food you put into it and sort through the nutrients. This is known as the thermic effect of food, and protein has a much higher thermic effect than carbs or fat. This means that eating more protein boosts the metabolism.
As well as making you feel fuller and reducing your appetite, protein also provides you with energy. It has around four calories per gram which is the same as carbs; fats are obviously higher with around nine calories per gram. However, the body prefers to use other sources of energy because of the different functions that protein serves. However, in a state of fasting or starvation, protein stores in the body are used to provide energy.
Protein, as mentioned above, is one of the nutrients needed to build muscle but also maintain muscle. This is why eating the right amount of protein is essential to promoting muscle mass and preventing muscle wasting. In addition, this is why protein is important for anyone on a fitness journey, whether they favor cardio or weights. That being said, if your overall fitness goal includes building muscle, then your protein intake becomes even more important.
Consuming more protein can also be incredibly beneficial for your brain and your cognitive function. Protein is essential for helping nutrients to travel to the brain. The brain produces neurotransmitters which are how it communicates with the body. The neurotransmitters themselves are made up of amino acids, which are obviously, fundamental components of protein. When you eat the right amount of protein, you are ensuring that your brain can produce enough neurotransmitters to optimize brain function.
Lastly, protein is good for you in a broader sense too. It isn’t necessarily all about fitness. Protein serves a number of functions within the body. It helps boost the immune system, which means that in addition to keeping you healthy, it can also help you recover more quickly should you sustain an injury. The immune system needs protein in order to function as it should.
Protein has a myriad of roles within the body, and it is a necessary ingredient for anyone serious about achieving their fitness goals. It helps to repair damage within the body it prompts metabolic reactions, and coordinates bodily functions. This is all in addition to providing your body with a structural framework and maintaining a proper PH and fluid balance. Finally, it boosts the immune system and helps to promote the overall health of the body. This is what makes protein one of the most important nutrients for your health.