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The Power of Protein

Your Guide to Optimal Protein Intake for Weight Loss and Muscle Building.

Mia West
February 2, 2024
Medically-reviewed and fact checked by Ryan Lester, PA-C

Protein has become synonymous with a healthy lifestyle, particularly as we age and begin to lose muscle mass. Whether you're an athlete looking to optimize performance, someone aiming for weight management, or simply seeking to maintain overall well-being, optimizing protein intake is an essential component to leading a healthier and more fulfilling life.

However, as we continue to turn to social media for advice, it’s easy to become confused about how to successfully integrate protein into our diet. For example, the 30-30-30 rule is the most recent TikTok weight loss method to trend which involves eating 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up, followed by 30 minutes of low-intensity exercise. The jury is still out on whether this method is helpful or harmful with the Mayo Clinic reminding adults that nutrition, lifestyle and weight loss need to be highly individualized and to consult with your healthcare provider and registered dietitian.

This guide will provide details on the latest research along with practical advice on harnessing the power of protein.

Protein Benefits

From aiding in weight loss to building muscle and enhancing workout performance, the benefits of a protein-rich diet are vast. 

  • Building Muscle: For fitness enthusiasts and those looking to build muscle, protein is your go-to nutrient. Protein supplies the essential amino acids (the building blocks for the body) necessary for muscle repair and growth, making it an indispensable component of any muscle-building regimen. 
  • Weight Loss: Wondering how protein can be your ally in the battle against the bulge? Research suggests that a higher protein intake can increase feelings of fullness, helping to curb unnecessary snacking and reduce overall calorie intake. Moreover, protein has a higher thermic effect, meaning your body expends more energy digesting it compared to fats and carbs, contributing to a higher metabolism.
  • Fat Burning: Protein plays a vital role in fat metabolism. It encourages the body to use stored fat as an energy source, facilitating fat loss. Additionally, a protein-rich diet helps maintain muscle mass during weight loss, preventing the loss of lean tissue.
  • Blood Sugar Regulation: Muscle is our largest storage depot for glucose (blood sugar). High blood sugar leads to diabetes (insulin resistance) and increases one’s risk of the most common chronic diseases that we’re trying to avoid - cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke), dementia, and cancer. Maintaining muscle as we age is one of the best ways to regulate your blood sugar and to do so, we need adequate daily high quality protein.  
  • Workout Performance: Protein isn't just for recovery; it's a potent ally in enhancing workout performance. Consuming protein before and after workouts aids in muscle repair and recovery, reducing soreness and fatigue. This, in turn, allows for more consistent and effective training sessions.

How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

To answer this question, we first need to understand how muscle is made. Muscle protein synthesis is made from amino acids, the building blocks of protein. The most important essential amino acids for building muscle are leucine, lysine, and methionine. Determining the right amount of protein for your body is the first step towards reaping its benefits. The protein guidelines1 established by outdated low quality studies suggest a conservative 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This likely represents the bare minimum for the average adult to avoid muscle loss.  For someone aiming to optimize their lean muscle, strength, and mobility, more recent and rigorous studies demonstrate closer to 0.8 gram per pound of body weight is required. There are several free online protein calculators that can serve as a starting point, but it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional or nutritionist who can make personalized recommendations for a balanced, nutritious diet. Individual needs may vary based on factors such as age, weight, and physical activity level. 

As for optimizing protein intake timing, recent research suggests the original notion that the body can only absorb 20-30g of protein per meal is inaccurate rendering the practice of “protein spacing” null and void. This potentially means if you ingest a high amount of protein in one meal, you don't have to worry that anything over 20 grams will go to waste.

Tailoring Your Protein Intake for Weight Loss

For those with weight loss goals, the National Academy of Sports Medicine2 (NASM) suggests a daily protein intake between 1.6 and 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (.73 and 1 grams per pound), and 2.2-3.4 grams of protein per kilogram (1-1.5 grams per pound) for athletes and avid exercisers.

Healthy Protein Sources

When it comes to incorporating healthy sources of protein3 into your diet, it's important to add diversity to your diet and not rely solely on powders and bars. Animal protein sources such as beef, chicken, turkey, and fish are best as they provide the ideal amino acids and are highly absorbable. They also provide  essential nutrients like iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Plant-based sources like legumes, beans, tofu, and quinoa, while they can be rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, are lower in methionine and have a significantly lower absorption rate as the fiber that the protein is attached to, cannot be digested. Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, chia seeds, and flaxseeds, are rich in protein and heart-healthy fats. Including a variety of these sources ensures that you not only meet your protein requirements but also benefit from a spectrum of nutrients that contribute to overall well-being.

When considering protein powders, shakes, and bars, it's important to scrutinize their nutritional profiles4 to ensure they align with your health goals. Opt for protein powders derived from high-quality sources. Whey protein concentrate and isolates will render the best amino acid profiles and absorption for muscle building followed by casein and then plant-based alternatives like pea or hemp protein. Be wary of added sugars, artificial preservatives, and excessive additives, as these can compromise the healthiness of these products. Similarly, when choosing protein bars and shakes, prioritize options with minimal added sugars and whole-food ingredients. Reading labels and opting for products with recognizable, natural ingredients will help you make informed choices and maximize the health benefits of incorporating protein supplements into your diet. Remember that these supplements should complement a balanced diet rather than serve as a primary source of nutrition.

In conclusion, optimizing your protein intake is a multifaceted approach that can positively impact weight loss, muscle building, and workout performance. Whether you're a carnivore, herbivore, or somewhere in between, finding the right protein balance is a key component of a healthy lifestyle.







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About the Author

Mia West

A former journalist, Mia brings a high energy approach to communications rooted in insights, culture and brand DNA. She is driven by helping brands crystalize their story and foster meaningful, emotional connections with audiences. Over the years she has collaborated with prominent brands such as Petco, Keurig Dr Pepper, Jaguar Land Rover, Revlon, and Procter & Gamble Beauty, as well as many others in the retail, health & wellness, beauty, lifestyle, and sustainability realms. A California native, she lives in San Diego with her family at the beach.

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