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Why Is Protein So Important To Maintain A Healthy Weight?

Jun 7th 2024

Learn exactly why protein is so important to us, particularly when it comes to weight loss and improved body composition and how to go about increasing your daily protein intake in an easy and sustainable way.

Small Changes Can Amount to Big Results

Protein is a superpower when it comes to boosting not just our physical health but also in helping us meet our aesthetic goals – think less fat, more muscle! But while this macronutrient is pivotal in achieving the best results when it comes to sustainable fat loss and longterm strength, it can feel overwhelming at times, when we look to make big changes to our diet.

I’m going to explain to you why protein plays such an important role in helping us achieve a leaner, more toned physique so you understand the “why”. And then I’m going to give you tools to achieve the “how” by providing you with some tips and ideas to help you increase your daily protein intake.

The Why

Studies have shown that when it comes to fat loss, high protein intake, leads not only to faster results but also, quite crucially, more muscle mass retention. Age related muscle detoriation kicks in from as early as our 30’s and continues to decline as we get older. If we merely create a calorie deficit in order to lose weight but do not factor in increased protein, our bodies will prioritise burning muscle, over and above fat, leading to further muscle loss but minimal fat loss.

And because muscle is metabolically active, when we increase and maintain muscle (through strength training and protein consumption), not only do we find it easier to lose weight (the greater our muscle mass, the higher our metabolic rate and the more efficiently we burn calories even when at rest) but also keep it off long term.

And that’s not all! Protein has the highest thermic effect of all the macronutrients. What does this mean in practice? When we eat food, our body uses calories to digest, absorb, and metabolize it. This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF). Protein has a higher thermic effect than fats and carbs so when we consume protein, 25-30% of the calories in that protein are utilised and burned during digestion and metabolism.

Many of us are habitual eaters or trigger eaters meaning we don’t stop to question whether we actually need to consume more food or not. One of the other benefits of consuming lots of protein rich foods is that it can help with promoting feelings of satiety and reduce feelings of hunger. If we feel full for longer, we’re less likely to be triggered and resort to unhealthy snacking and food choices. In practice, if we increase our protein intake, by default and without really thinking about it, it’s highly likely we’ll reduce the amount of carbs and fats we consume.

And while for many of us looking to lose weight, it is beneficial to work out macro ratios for carbs and fats, as well as protein, studies have shown that increasing protein, regardless of where your carbs and fats fall, always leads to better fat loss and body recomposition results.

So if tracking and tweaking everything you consume feels a little overwhelming, time consuming and quite frankly a pain in the arse, the key really is to just target protein and the rest should fall into place!

I’m not about extreme diets, unsustainable exercise regimes and unrealistic lifestyle changes. We’re all juggling a million balls and none of us want to add anything else into the mix. So when it comes to changing up your eating habits to increase your protein, I don’t want you to think you have to drastically overhaul all your meal plans, instead I want you to think about small adjustments, little add ons and tiny tweaks all of which will accumulate to bring you big results.

The How

Tweak your current meals!

Think about how you can adjust what you’re currently already doing:

  • throw some chickpeas into a chicken casserole or some lentils into your bolognaise.
  • add an egg to your chicken and vegetable stir fry, and sprinkle some toasted cashews on top.
  • swap your regular pasta for a protein based pasta – chickpea, buckwheat or lentil are all readily available, if somewhat more pricey than regular pasta.
  • Instead of just a bowl of pasta, reduce the amount of pasta and have a grilled chicken breast on the side!
  • Try quinoa instead of rice.
  • Try high protein bagels instead of regular bagels
  • Don’t dismiss fruit – while the protein content is not high, it is still there! A cup of apricots or a cup of kiwis is only around 2g but it all adds up!
  • boost your veggie intake with high protein vegetables such as edamame, broccoli stalks and spinach.
  • sprinkle a handful of mixed seeds on top of your salad or a handful of chia seeds on top of your porridge
  • Add Greek yoghurt to everything! I have it on my cereal but I also have it on a curry!
  • Replace your ham sandwich with a turkey sandwich (turkey has 75% more protein than ham)

All small changes but the combination of them over the course of a day will really boost your protein intake.

Find quick go-to options!

My biggest downfall when it comes to eating well is a lack of time, being in a rush, forgetting to have lunch and grabbing something unhealthy on the go, etc, etc! You know how it goes! Planning is key but there are days when this just doesn’t happen so thinking about some quick protein dense meals and snacks which help keep our intake consistent throughout the day and prevent us trying to play catch up at dinner time is a great idea. Here’s a few that spring to mind:

  • Greek yoghurt and fruit
  • Hard boiled eggs (6g per egg)
  • Hummus and raw veg (3rd of a cup of hummus 6g)
  • Peanut butter on apple slices (2 tbsp peanut butter 9g)
  • A handful of almonds (6 g)
  • Protein bars (homemade if you have the time and inclination or shop bought but be aware of added sugars)
  • Energy balls (5 mins to make so no excuses on this one!)
  • High protein bagels with peanut butter and banana
  • High protein bagels with turkey, cheese, avocado and salad (I got this up to a whopping 30g)
  • Tuna with anything (30g per can!)
  • Cottage cheese with raw veg (half a cup cottage cheese 14g)
  • 1 cup of edamame (18g)

Don’t Fear Supplements!

Don’t be afraid of supplemeting with protein powder. While it is always preferential to get as much as we can from our diets and natural, whole foods, we also have to recognise the importance of making life as easy as possible for ourselves!

By adding in a protein powder you can very quickly and easily bump up your protein intake by 20-30g! And there’s more you can do with protein powder than just a humble smoothie!! Add it to porridge, to overnight oats, muffins, energy balls and pancakes! You can even use unflavoured protein powder in savoury dishes.

So there you have it – protein overload in one blog post!! Hopefully there are a few little tweaks you can take from this to help you work towards your goal of 30g of protein per meal. But do remember, it’s not an exact science, it doesn’t have to be perfect and it’s not supposed to be stressful!! Small, gradual changes are what it’s all about as you start to notice how your body responds, performs and changes over time.