When you think of protein, what comes to mind? A muscle bound body builder in a gym? A twenty ounce piece of beef in a steak house? Well, protein plays a very important role in all of our lives and when you are trying to lose weight, adequate protein consumption is a requirement.
Proteins are called the “building blocks of life”. At any given moment, even at rest, your body is breaking down and building up protein (i.e., muscles). Muscles don’t just appear from lifting heavy weights at the gym. Muscle synthesis is triggered each time we consume quality protein. In fact, muscle synthesis after a protein rich meal, can last for three or more hours.
Proteins are defined as “a dietary component” composed of amino acids, which our bodies and the cells of our bodies need to function properly. Our body’s structure, functions, tissues, organs and the regulation of our body’s cells, cannot exist without proteins. Proteins account for a large percentage of our total body weight, including our muscles, skin, bones and other body’s parts. So why is this so important when you are trying to lose weight?
Proteins, which breakdown into amino acids, are used to build lean muscle. Lean muscle not only makes you stronger and more toned, but also helps to fuel your calorie burning engine, otherwise known as your metabolism. The more lean muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate will be. In other words, you will be able to burn more calories during activities and even at rest. Carbohydrates and fats cannot boast the same function. Quality protein is not only important in helping to build lean muscle, but it is also important in sustaining muscle during weight loss. Often times, when we go on a crash weight loss diet that is inadequate in quality protein, we do lose weight. Unfortunately, along with the weight loss, there is also a degree of muscle loss and muscle loss sets us up for failure. The loss of muscle translates into a slower metabolic rate. Therefore, even a slight loss of muscle, along with a slight increase in calorie intake will result in a return of the pounds lost and often even more weight gained.
Proteins are large molecules. They take time and energy to breakdown (i.e., digest). It takes much longer to breakdown a piece of chicken in your gastrointestinal system, than a handful of pretzels. The increased time in your digestive system translates into an increase and prolonged feeling of satiety. Increased satiety helps to reduce the possibility of over consumption or snacking on low nutrient foods.
Protein plays a vital role in blood glucose stability. Stable blood sugar levels throughout the day, cannot only maintain a steady energy level, but it can also help you feel less hungry throughout the day. Your brain relies on a constant supply of blood glucose for fuel. Each time we consume carbohydrates, they are immediately broken down into glucose and either used for quick energy or stored as glycogen in the liver for future use. A high carbohydrate meal will stimulate a response that forces your body to burn glucose for energy rather than stored body fat. Protein, in appropriate quantities, is used to rebuild and repair muscles and organs. This allows your body to tap into its fat reserves for energy. Protein intake stimulates the release of glucagon, which maximizes your body’s ability to burn stored body fat for energy.
As you can see, without an adequate amount of high quality protein in your meal plan, your weight loss efforts will fall short. So the next time your dietitian harps on how important it is for you to consume your protein throughout the day, know that she is helping you succeed in your journey to lifelong weight management!!