For years now, people have been touting the benefits of protein for weight loss. The Atkins diet was even built around cutting out carbohydrates almost entirely, and replacing them with more protein. In recent years, experts have advocated a more measured approach. Protein certainly offers benefits for weight loss and exercise, though we don’t fully understand exactly how it works.
Protein and Appetite Suppression
Studies have shown time and again that protein makes people feel full longer. This is partially because it takes your body longer to break down proteins and use them in the body, but it may also be because protein causes a different reaction to hunger hormones in the brain. It’s this aspect of protein and brain chemistry that researchers still haven’t figured out.
However it works, it’s true that eating more protein can help you combat the munchies. Our bodies also use protein for a variety of functions, so getting it from the right sources can only help your body! Experts recommend that normal, healthy adults get 10 to 35% of their daily calories from protein. That’s a huge range. For weight loss benefits, aim for about 120 grams of lean protein per day. You’ll find that in lean meats, poultry, and fish, along with tofu, legumes, nuts, and low-fat dairy products.
Protein and Your Workout
You may have seen people downing protein shakes or eating protein bars before or after their workout. Your personal trainer may also have recommended a protein supplement for you, depending on your fitness goals. But is there any real benefit?
Research says yes! If you’re considering a post-workout protein shake, consider this:
- Recent research shows that exercise can actually induce over-eating for some people. A high-protein snack right after your workout can help curb the cravings for a hamburger (or two), protecting you from sabotaging your own fitness goals.
- Protein helps your body recover from prolonged exercise. Endurance athletes (think marathon runners) swear by their post-run protein snacks for a reason; their bodies recover faster and more completely. Even if you’re not a marathoner, your body will appreciate the boost.
- Your body needs protein to repair itself, especially your muscles. Strength athletes like competitive bodybuilders need extra protein to rebuild muscle tears after intense weight lifting sessions.
Even the amateur athlete can benefit from some protein after a trip to the gym. If you run, lift, or workout at least a few times per week consider packing some protein in your gym bag. You may not need a full protein shake, which can have more calories than the average person needs. Instead, opt for a low-fat yogurt or a handful of almonds.
If you’re not sure about how much protein is right for you, talk to your personal trainer. He can recommend appropriate protein sources and portion sizes for someone at your fitness level.