Trying to get in shape? Including lean protein at every meal can help.
by Bonnie Bayley
From poached eggs to grilled salmon to lentil salads, protein is a staple of a healthy diet. Alongside carbohydrates and fat, it’s the third main macronutrient that your body needs to function properly. As well as being an energy source, protein is the major building block of muscle and other body tissues, and it’s vital for cellular growth and repair and healthy muscle, nerve and immune function. It’s also needed to produce hormones, enzymes and haemoglobin in the blood. All up, protein is quite the multi-tasker.
The weight loss connection
If you’re trying to lose weight, including some lean protein in every meal is a smart move. Research shows that higher-protein meals are more filling than lower-protein ones1, which can in turn curb the urge to overeat or snack between meals. A 2013 University of Missouri study2 found that people who ate a high-protein breakfast felt fuller, plus they had reductions in brain activity that drives food cravings. The benefits continued into the evening, causing them to snack less on fatty, sugary foods.
Protein can also help you avoid a weight loss rebound, with a 2010 University of Copenhagen study3 revealing that people who stuck to a high-protein diet were better able to maintain their weight loss than those on a lower-protein diet. ?Other perks of protein: getting enough of it in your diet is linked to less abdominal fat4, plus a faster metabolic rate5.
How much protein do we really need?
Before you reach for that second helping of crispy bacon, consider this: most Australians actually eat more protein than they need. The recommended daily intake for sedentary men and women under 70 years is 0.8g-1kg per kilo of body weight.6
So, an average 70kg woman should aim for around 52.5 grams of protein per day. To put that in context, two eggs contain 12.7g protein, a small tin of tuna has 15.7g, 65g of grilled lean fillet steak has 20.7g, two slices of cheddar cheese have 11g, 30g of almonds contains 5.9g, and a serve of IsoWhey Ivory Coast Chocolate shake has 15.2g of protein. ?Another handy guideline is to aim for 2-3 daily serves of lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes/beans, and between 2.5-4 serves of milk, yoghurt, cheese or dairy alternatives (depending on your age and gender). For example, a serve could be one cup of lentils, 65g cooked lean red meat, two eggs or 200g yoghurt.
However, if you’re exercising approximately 4-5 times per week with moderate intensity (45-60 minutes), you may need to up this intake to 1-1.2kg protein per kilo of body weight. When in heavy training, our bodies require extra protein to assist in the muscle repair and recovery process after exercise. Plus, if you’re looking to gain muscle size and function, you may require more protein in the early stages of very intensive resistance exercise.6
1. Dhillon J, Craig BA, Leidy HJ, et al. The Effects of Increased Protein Intake on Fullness: A Meta-Analysis and Its Limitations. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2016.01.003
2. Leidy HJ, Ortinau LC, Douglas SM, et al. Beneficial effects of a higher-protein breakfast on the appetitive, hormonal, and neural signals controlling energy intake regulation in overweight/obese, 'breakfast-skipping,' late-adolescent girls.American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2013; 97 (4): 677 DOI:10.3945/ajcn.112.053116
3. Larsen TM, Dalskov SM, van Baak M, et al. Diets with High or Low Protein Content and Glycemic Index for Weight-Loss Maintenance. New England Journal of Medicine, 2010; 363 (22): 2102 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1007137
4. Loenneke JP, Wilson JM, Manninen AH, et al. Quality protein intake is inversely related with abdominal fat. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012; 9: 5.
5. Paddon-Jones D, Westman E, Mattes RD, et al. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5).
6. Burke L and Deakin V. Clinical Sports Nutrition, 3rd Edition, McGraw-Hill Australia Pty Ltd, 2006.