Why Protein Basics Is Vital To Weight Loss Success
So it finally happened. I gave in to peer pressure and wrote a blog on that magical body comp shaping stuff - protein! An area of nutrition that a lot of people are no doubt tired of hearing about. And I don’t blame them. The truth is that I have written this a guide for clients to refer to. But this can also be helpful for you if you have little knowledge of what protein is and what it does. For everyone else, this will be a good refresher.
Today's post will cover the basics. We won’t get too geeky and discuss protein timing, the importance of protein for fat loss, protein myths or anything like that. Just the juicy goodness for you to better understand why protein is such an important staple of your diet. Those other more specific posts will come later.
With that out of the way let’s get into it!
What is protein?
Protein is a macronutrient, one of four in fact. They all play a role in the body as energy substrate, but in different contexts. They are:
Alcohol (not usually included as alcohol is not required by the body)
All have different functions, but obviously we want to know all about protein.
Proteins are essentially big chains of things called amino acids of which there are twenty different types. These amino acids have a number of different roles in the body. They can be used as enzymes in the metabolic process. They are used as part of the immune system such as anti-bodies. Hormones are made from protein and of course we cannot forget the building and repair process such as muscle stores and our framework like bone.
When you eat protein, they break down into their respective amino acids and start to get shuttled round the body for use. Protein doesn’t really get stored in the body as fat, which you may have heard before. Instead the excess is converted into carbohydrates, the body’s main source of energy in a process called gluconeogenesis.
So now that we know proteins are made from a number of amino acids, did you also know that there are two categories of amino acids? These are known as essential and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids CANNOT be created by the body and need to be consumed through our diet which is why they are given the name 'essential'. Non-essential amino acids can all be made by the body. But note that just because they are labelled as 'non-essential' does not mean that you do not need them for a fully-functioning and healthy body!
Here is a breakdown of the amino acids:
Essential amino acids
Isoleucine Leucine Lysine Methionine Phenylalanine Threonine Tryptophan Valine
Non-essential amino acids
Glutamine Alanine Arginine Aspartate Cysteine Glutamate Glycine Proline Serine Tyrosine Histidine
Pat yourself on the back if you recognized any of these names. If you didn’t then not to worry, they’re not all vital to remember off by heart.
However you are here because you want to improve your body image. Which in that case we will have a look at a select number (three in fact) that could help you better achieve your goals.
BCAA’s and complete proteins
You may have noticed that three essential amino acids above are in bold. That’s because the most important of these for body composition are Leucine as well as Isoleucine and Valine. They are referred to as the branch-chain amino acids, or BCAA for short.
They are important as about a third of your muscle tissue is made of these branch chain amino acids and they are a big player when it comes to activating muscle protein synthesis (making gains), especially Leucine.
Now before you go running out to the store to buy a crap load of BCAA's, remember that most complete proteins have the correct ratio of BCAA’s anyway. That means that if your diet consists of these particular proteins I mentioned earlier then you already have the necessary BCAA's you need from your dietary protein intake.
Note - if you are a vegan or vegetarian that is trying to build muscle, it could be worthwhile investing in some BCAA's, or leucine, if you are not regularly eating enough complete proteins just to ensure that you are achieving maximum muscle protein synthesis.
How to optimise protein in your diet
So how do we know our diet is abundant in the essential amino acids and that we are not wasting our time? Well we need to check our overall daily protein intake in relation to our goals. Normally when I break down a client’s macronutrient targets, protein is always calculated first.
For an individual that is looking for overall general health, we would set protein at a range of 0.8 to 1.0 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. Note that this is more than the recommended 0.75 guidelines set by a number of health organisations such as that of nutrition.org  as this level is for baseline health only and does take into consideration a more optimal level. So aim for 1 gram per kilogram of bodyweight and you will be on the right track.
For example a 58 kg female would aim for about 58 grams of protein per day.
For more active individuals that want to build muscle or for someone dieting (like the latter stages of a bodybuilding prep), as much as 3 grams per kilogram of protein can be consumed. I usually start people off with 2 grams per kilogram of body weight and then go from there, either lowering or increasing this amount depending on their current health, sport, lifestyle and diet preference.
So that’s it. Nothing too fancy to get your head around today. But a brief understanding of why every health practitioner, PT, nutritionist and gym bro go on-and-on about the role of protein in the diet and why their post-workout shake is better than yours.
Stay tuned for more posts on protein. Until the next installment, check more complete protein chat over at the Angel Nutrition Facebook page.
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