Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat – the three macro-nutrients we are told we need for a healthy life. The dietary advice surrounding our intake of these differs widely. It has led to the rise of fad diets, food marketing juggernauts cashing in, a multitude of cook-books aimed at different schools of thought, and I’m sure not infrequent heated debates around the table at dinner parties.
For some – carbs are the enemy, and let’s face it, a weight-loss program based on consuming more fat doesn’t sit well at the marketing level – though it’s not a secret I’m an avid supporter of the fat does NOT make you fat theory.
That leaves protein coming out on top as the good guy of the macro-nutrient family. Protein is essential for life! Our bodies use it to repair and build muscle cells. It is literally the building block of life. Our bodies are great at storing fats and carbohydrates (sometimes a little too well) But unlike the other two, our body doesn’t store protein, so we need some if it every day and here is where we start to get a little sciency…so stick with me.
We basically have three types of amino acids in our body: essential, nonessential and conditional. Our bodies make nonessential and conditional amino acids as needed, but the essential type has to come from protein in our food and cannot be made by our body.
These amino acids are the ones that keep us healthy. They work in the background, making new cells, enzymes and different hormones to keep our body functioning optimally.
There are two key areas we look at in terms of the role of protein in our bodies. Repairing and building muscle tissue and weight loss.
When we exercise, the protein in muscle cells is damaged. There are two parts to recovery. The first part is protein breakdown. This is where the damaged cells are purged from the muscle. The second part is replacing the purged cells and adding new ones making for more muscle mass.
The exact amount of protein needed to repair muscle – particularly after strenuous exercise is still not well understood although there are recommended dietary guidelines.
Most traditional diet plans focus on controlling carbs to help their customers lose weight. It is true that in the short-term, a calorie deduction of 500 per day each day should result in a loss of one pound per week, and protein helps create that calorie deduction. Of course that’s the simplistic view – we should all know by now that calories are not created equal and it’s not really as simple as calories in versus calories out. But that’s a discussion for another day!
First of all, protein keeps you feeling fuller for longer, so there is less of a tendency to grab a snack (and when those hunger pains hit – how often is your go-to snack a healthy one – be honest!)). When you feel full you lose the cravings ad consume less calories.
Secondly, because protein is harder for the body to breakdown than either fat or carbs, the body uses some of the calories in protein to break it down – known as thermogenisis. Protein has the highest thermic effect of the macro-nutrients using between 20 to 35% of energy.
While there are plenty of protein supplements diet alone should meet requirements for the average person. And of course natural sources are generally always better bio-absorbed – ie, your cells actually take up the nutrients and use them, instead of expelling them out through body waste.
Protein plays an important role in your health and well-being. Determine your goals and evaluate your current protein intake. Discover if you’re getting enough for your personal health needs and make adjustments as necessary. Remember to pay attention to your body. It sends signals when it’s not getting what it needs. Finally, have fun with protein. There are so many different sources of protein that boredom shouldn’t be a problem.
Embrace variety and enjoy the health benefits.