You know that bodybuilders and powerlifters have to chow down the protein, but what about the rest of us?
How much protein do you really need in a day if you’re not actually working out specifically for strength or size?
What about those of us who want to burn fat or just keep our cardio up, how much protein are we supposed to be eating?
The general recommended protein intake for the average adult is around .36 grams per pound of body weight.
Of course, that number may vary up or down depending on your lifestyle and how much exercise you’re getting. If you’re doing intensive workouts, you’re going to be safer taking a little too much protein than not enough.
If you’re worried about getting a big, bulky physique when you’re more interest in lean male muscle growth or just burning fat, don’t be. Nobody just accidentally wakes up one day looking like The Rock. The protein is just fuel for your body. You’ll tell your body what to do with it based on the exercises you’re performing.
Truth Behind Why You Should Eat More Protein
Why should we should get a little more protein in our diets even if we’re not specifically looking to build big muscles? Here are some of the main reasons:
You’ll Be Less Hungry
A number of studies have shown that protein is more filling than fats or carbs. Your body feels hungry because of a hormone called ghrelin. Protein helps to reduce ghrelin levels in your body, and it boots peptide YY, the hormone that leaves you feeling satisfied after a meal.
In one study, a number of overweight women doubled their protein intake and found themselves eating around 441 fewer calories a day with no intentional dietary restrictions. They were simply less hungry.
For many of us, the challenge in losing weight comes down to snacking. We stick to our exercise routine, we limit our portion sizes. But we wind up having a handful of potato chips here, a couple crackers there, and before we know it, we’ve added a whole extra meal to the day.
Eating a little more protein with each meal can help you to curb those little appetites throughout the day and stick to your diet plan.
It Boosts Your Metabolism And Burns Fat
Eating will boost your metabolism thanks to TEF, or the Thermic Effect of Food. Different foods produce the TEF to different degrees, with protein being the most effective. By simply adding a little more protein to a meal, you could burn another hundred calories a day without changing your activity at all.
One study even saw the subjects burning an extra 260 calories a day, which is about what you would burn with an hour long workout.
It Helps You Maintain Your Fit
No matter how you get into shape, if you suddenly drop your healthy habits, you stand to lose everything you’ve worked for.
So how can we maintain our fit?
One way is, of course, eating more protein. Because of the boost in metabolism you’re getting, and because the extra muscle density will help to burn calories faster, people who up their protein intake find that they have a much easier time keeping the pounds off.
A twelve month study saw a high-protein group of overweight people lose 53% more body fat than the low-protein group despite eating the same number of calories. Another study saw a boost in protein of just 3%, from 15% to 18% of daily caloric intake, reduced the odds of regaining weight by half.
Will you still need to exercise and watch what you eat? Sure. But you may find it much easier to do so if you add a little extra protein to your diet every day.
Eating More Protein Is Crucial To Recovery From Injury
Actually, this is why bodybuilders love protein so much. When we work our muscles, what’s actually happening is that we’re creating thousands of microscopic tears in the muscle fiber. When these tears heal over the next 48 hours or so, they bounce back stronger than ever.
So it’s actually not the lifting that builds muscle, it’s the rest days. We essentially beat ourselves up at the gym, knowing that the healing process will leave us in better shape than we were when we started.
And it’s protein that’s used to heal those tiny tears.
But that’s not the only way it helps us heal. Protein is the basic building material of the human body, and it can help cuts and bruises to heal more quickly, and even broken bones. And there’s a lot of science to back this up.
You’ve probably had days where you were just feeling worn out. Maybe you weren’t even working particularly hard that day, you hadn’t injured yourself and you thought you were eating enough, but you’re just sore all over.
Well, that could simply be because you’re not getting enough protein. Every little bit of energy you exert will stack up if you’re not providing your body with what it needs to recover from it, and that’s why you may feel like you’ve spent a day lifting monster truck tires when all you’ve been doing is filling out spreadsheets.
Importance of Why You Should Eat More Protein
So that’s all well and good, but how do you actually get more protein into your body?
What if you’re a vegetarian?
What if you don’t always have time to sit down for a meal? What if you just prefer a nice salad to a sixteen ounce steak?
Don’t worry. No matter your dietary restrictions or preferences, no matter how much time in a day you may have for eating, there are plenty of easy ways to get a little more protein into your diet. Here are some ideas to get you started:
For Vegans And Vegetarians
If you’re a vegetarian, eggs are going to be your best friend when it comes to getting more protein. You can mix them into just about anything. Have a fried egg sandwich in the morning, poach one in your ramen noodles for lunch. Eggs go in almost everything.
You can also get a lot of protein from milk, so sneak that into your diet whenever you get a chance.
If you’re a vegan, you still have a lot of options. For instance:
- Peanut butter
- Wheat gluten
You can find protein in basically every living thing, animals and plants alike. So it’s not hard to find non-animal-based alternatives to bacon and steak.
For Light Eaters
Maybe you have no problem with eating meat, but you’ve never been the type to chow down on big hamburgers and roast beef sandwiches.
So what are your options?
Here are just a few to get you started:
- Chicken salad. Grill or bake some chicken breast and keep it in the fridge. You can cut it into slices and throw it onto your salad for lunch without feeling weighed down by eating too much meat.
- Tuna. Tuna is a nice light, lean meat that you can throw on crackers or bread for a quick meal. This will get you the protein you need without leaving you feeling like it’s Thanksgiving.
- Anything with beans. A quesadilla with some refried beans, a three-bean salad, tortilla soup. There’s plenty you can do with beans for a meal that’s light on the plate, but heavy on the protein.
When You Just Ain’t Got The Time
It’s always best if you can sit down and enjoy a meal. When we’re rushing from one place to the next, we’re not giving our food time to digest. If you really want to stay in great shape you should sit down and enjoy yourself when you eat, taking small bites and pacing the meal out rather than rushing through it.
But, that’s not always an option. So when you simply have to get something in your stomach before work, here are a few options:
- Protein shakes. The great thing about supplement shakes is that they’re really popular with bodybuilders, so it’s really easy to find protein and creatine powders that you can throw in the blender with some milk and maybe a few fruits of your choice, and have a whole breakfast you can take in the car with you. You can double up the protein and add some flavor by putting some peanut butter in the blender, too.
- Breakfast bars. Some of them are designed to deliver protein, others just have a bit of fiber. So shop around and look for something that’s high in protein. Breakfast bars are a great snack when you can’t sit down for a meal because they’re small enough to digest quickly and leave room for a full plate later in the day.
- Peanut butter sandwiches. A quick shot of protein and fiber to keep you going. Add a tall glass of milk to keep it from sticking to the roof of your mouth and you’ve got the equivalent of a decent hamburger without even having to spark up the grill.
- Mixed nuts. A handful of peanuts and almonds is a great way to put a little protein in your stomach without having to stop and make a meal out of it. Keeping a jar of mixed nuts handy means you can always get yourself a little protein no matter how pressed for time you may be.
Now and then, it’s nice to treat yourself to a nice big protein-rich meal, a steak, a burger, a big ol’ omelet, but it’s best if you eat protein consistently throughout the day rather than trying to get it in all at once.
Many bodybuilders will eat six smaller meals throughout the day rather than three big ones, because this allows your body to process the protein more evenly and keep a steady supply running through the body. Your stomach may be your gas tank, but you can’t just store the extra food for later, it has to digest. So go ahead and enjoy that steak, just don’t think it makes up for having nothing but a bag of M&Ms for lunch.