Let’s chat through 4 reasons you might want to focus on prioritizing protein in your meals and snacks!
Do you think you consume enough protein? And…why does it even matter?
Protein is one of the three main macronutrients your body needs for optimal health. It works as a powerhouse in the body with a wide range of benefits and functions, including:
– Build and repair tissue throughout the body
– Help balance blood sugar
– Promote lean muscle mass
– Aid in feeling fuller for longer
– Support healthy immune system
Powerhouse, see? Literally every cell in the body is comprised of protein, making it crucial that we consume adequate amounts of it on a day to day basis.
Let’s zoom in on 4 specific reasons you might find it helpful to focus on prioritizing your protein intake.
4 Reasons to Prioritize Protein
1. It makes building and maintaining muscle easier.
If you’re pushing yourself in the gym, eating a higher protein diet can make building that hard-earned muscle easier. More muscle = higher metabolism. Higher metabolism means you burn more calories in the day (even at rest), which will generally equate to being able to eat more food and maintain your weight.
When we don’t eat enough protein (or just calories in general), our body will break down our muscles to use as fuel. Nooo bueno if we are wanting to get stronger or sculpt more “toned” muscles. So, eating enough calories AND sufficient protein is paramount to build and maintain strong, lean muscle.
2. It helps balance blood sugar and decrease cravings.
When we pair protein with carbohydrates at meals and snacks, it leads to better blood sugar control than if we ate either separately/alone. Eating carbs alone (i.e. a banana, or apple, or handful of chips, or slice of bread, or donut) leads to a rapid rise in blood sugar, and a subsequent blood sugar crash when our bodies crank out more insulin to shuttle that sugar into our cells and out of the bloodstream.
However, when we pair those carbs with a protein source (I offer some examples below), our blood sugar stays stable and better controlled, so we don’t get the sugar rush and crash. This means we are less likely to experience crazy cravings and energy crashes, and more likely to feel full, satisfied, and energized after our meals and snacks. Yes, please.
3. It helps you eat less without feeling so hungry all the time.
Protein is very satiating and helps you to feel fuller longer, which can naturally result in eating less without having to employ ungodly amounts of willpower or restriction. **Sigh of relief**
Don’t believe me? Try an experiment: have 2 palms of protein at each meal for one whole day. The next day, replace that protein with a carb source. Compare your hunger.
Important to note: this isn’t about eating the least amount of calories possible or restricting. You should still be eating meals and snacks every 3-4 hours, however the inclusion of protein at those eating times helps to put you back in the drivers seat and in control of crazy cravings.
4. It supports a healthy thyroid and hormone levels.
Adequate protein is needed in order for the liver to do it’s over 500 jobs effectively — one of which being the popular one of detoxing. Sufficient protein is also needed to convert thyroid hormone in the liver. If we don’t consume enough, then we will have poor thyroid conversion, which will negatively impact hormones and lead to a slower metabolism.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Generally, aiming for 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is a good place to start, but you may find you need more…or maybe less. Check out THIS post for more info on calculating protein requirements as well as to see some daily examples of how this shakes out.
Seem too daunting to tack on THAT much protein at once? Start by adding 10-20 extra grams of protein per day for a few weeks and gradually increase as tolerated.
My Favorite Protein Sources
We all have our favorite protein sources, so it’s important that you find ones and ways to prepare them that you enjoy! Here are some of my go-to protein sources. Some I have daily, others are here and there, and some are a stretch that I’m working on. The goal is variety, and trying to eat “nose to tail”, aka eating the whole animal — so, having all of the chicken vs. just boneless, skinless breasts.
- Grass-fed beef (all cuts)
- Eggs (pasture-raised if possible)
- Organ meats (like liver!!)
- Fish (cod, halibut, salmon, mahi mahi)
- Chicken (try buying a whole chicken to cook, or cheaper cuts like thighs or wings or legs)
- Bone broth
- Jerky (I love Vermont, Chomps, local Hickory Nut Gap)
- Equip Foods protein powder (hands down my personal fav, you can use code CLARA15 for 15% their website HERE)
- Further Food collagen peptides and gelatin (I have the chocolate collagen daily…sooo good on it’s own in hot water or in coffee! Use code CLARA15 for 15% off HERE)
What About Plant-Based Protein?
While several plant-based proteins do contain all the essential amino acids (such as quinoa, hemp, chia seed, tempeh, soy), they also contain certain “anti-nutrients” that can inhibit the absorption and use of those proteins in the body. Essentially, the protein in plant-based sources is less “bioavailable”, or useable, by the body. Thus, you will need to consume larger portions to meet your needs, however you’ll have to consider you’re also taking in larger amounts of either carbs or fat as well which can make it a challenge to balance macros.
I do say, strive for variety — we aren’t striving for legalism or totally writing off foods. That’s usually not sustainable, freeing, or enjoyable for most people. I normally recommend making most of your protein sources animal-based to ensure you’re meeting your needs, but that’s not to say you couldn’t pair them with some plant-based options to add flavor, variety, and different dimensions to meals.
Hope these four reasons to prioritize protein gave you a deeper appreciation and understanding of the incredibly important role protein plays in your overall health!