Proteins 101: why we should eat them?

Proteins 101: why we should eat them?

You want to lose weight? Gain muscle? Your are injured? You deal muscle soreness? The answer to all the above questions come down to one single word: proteins. In this article we will talk about the importance of the protein in weight loss, how it helps us get lean and cuts down the cravings and whether too much proteins are harmful or not.

What are proteins?

Proteins are the key-materials of the body. Think at them as the main building blocks used in construction. They can be found in every cell of our body: muscle, tendons, organs, skin, enzymes, even in neurotransmitters.

How are they formed? It all starts with smaller molecules called amino acids, which are linked together like the letters of the alphabet that form a word. The linked amino acids form long protein chains( propositions), which are then folded into complex shapes (phrases).

Most of the amino acids we get from the diet, but the body can produce some of them too. The ones our body can’t provide are called the “essential” amino acids.

When we talk about proteins, we do not talk only about the quantity, but also the quality. There are 2 types of proteins: the ones we get from animals(meat, fish, eggs or dairy), and the ones we get from vegetables. It is well-known that the animal protein provides all the essential amino acids in the right ratio for us to make full use of them.

For those who are vegetarians is a bit difficult to get all the essential amino acids that their body needs.

Biggest weapon against fat gaining

When it comes to losing weight, proteins are our biggest ally. Why? Cause they can change our metabolic rate by increasing it (calories out) and cutting down the appetite (calories in). It has been scientifically proven that high protein diets( around 25-30% of calories) boost metabolism by up to 80 to 100 calories/day, compared to lower protein diets.

One of the biggest part of the proteins in weight loss process, is its ability to reduce appetite, being more satiating than both fat and carbs.

In one study in overweight women, eating protein at 30% of calories caused them to lose 11 pounds (5 kg) in 12 weeks, without intentionally restricting anything.

Increase muscle mass

The muscle tissue is mainly formed by proteins, so when we talk about muscle loss/gaining, we immediately think about proteins. Thus, it seems pretty logical that if we want to increase our muscle mass, we must  increase our protein and total caloric intake.

In order to do so,  there has to be a larger quantity of synthesized muscle proteins than the broken-down ones. In this way, we will prevent muscle loss and help our body to recover from injuries.

Reduce Cravings

For most people, what’s “worse” than going on a diet, is going on a diet and experiencing cravings. Those are the main reason why we tend to fail in dieting.

Our body takes its energy from three macronutrients: fats, carbs and proteins.  We would normally think that fats are the most filling, but that’s where we are wrong. Studies have shown that proteins are the most satiating macronutrient.

They work on two battlefields.  One is that it reduces the sensation of hunger by cutting down the level of the hormone ghrelin( responsible for hunger feeling), and on the other one it boosts the sensation of satiety by increasing the hormone in charge of that, peptide YY.

This graphic compares a high-protein diet to a normal-protein diet in overweight men.

As we can see, the ones from the high proteins group (blue one) reduced cravings and late-night snacking by half.

In conclusion, if we want to eat less, we have to increase the protein intake.

Other benefits:

  • Reduce appetite and hunger

  • Improve bones health

  • Boost metabolism

  • Lower the blood pressure

  • Speed up body recovery after injury

  • Prevents sarcopenia( as we age, our muscle tend to shrink)

Negative effects

Osteoporosis and kidney damage are one of the many diseases that proteins have been blamed for, although none of these affirmations have science-backed evidence.

It’s true that a protein restriction comes in help for those who have already pre-existing kidney problems, but there’s no proof that proteins can lead to kidney damage in healthy people.

As a matter of fact, it has been shown that a higher protein intake leads to a lower blood pressure, helps fight diabetes, and even prevent osteoporosis.


Too much proteins?

The amount of proteins that we need to function properly depends on different factors like gender, physical activity, age. the athletes have a higher proteins requirements than the ones who don’t exercise often.

The average quantity is about 56-91g/day for the average male and 46-75g/day for the average female or a much easier way 1,5-2,2g/kg.

There’s no evidence that a higher amount of proteins is harmful. The excess is usually broken down and used for energy, so nothing is lost.


Foods high in proteins

  • Eggs: 1 large egg = 6 grams of protein

  • Almonds :6g proteins/28g serving

  • Chicken breast: 1 roasted chicken breast without skin = 53 grams,

  • Oats:  ½ cup of raw oats = 13 grams of protein

  • Cottage cheese:  A cup (226 g) of cottage cheese with 2% fat = 27 grams of protein

  • Greek yogurt:(non-fat)  one 170 gram container = 17 grams  of protein

  • Milk: 1 cup of whole milk = 8 grams of protein

  • Broccoli:  1 cup of chopped broccoli (96 grams) = 3 grams of protein

  • Lean beef: (85 g) serving of cooked beef with 10% fat = 22 grams of protein

  • Tuna:canned in water. A cup (154g) = 39 grams of protein

  • Quinoa:  One cup (185 g) of cooked quinoa =  8 grams

  • Whey protein supplements: Varies between brands, can go over 90% of calories, with 20-50 grams of protein per serving.

  • Lentils :1 cup (198 g) of boiled lentils = 18 grams of protein

  • Pumpkin seeds:1 ounce (28 g) =  5 grams of protein

  • Turkey breasts:One 3 ounce (85 g) serving = 24 grams of proteins

  • Salmon: 85g = 19 grams of protein

  • Shrimp:  A 3 ounce (85 g) serving = 18 grams

  • Brussels sprout:  Half a cup (78 g) = 2 grams of protein

  • Peanuts: One ounce (28 g) =  7 grams of protein



This article has been written by Oana Mocian – Registered Dietetician

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