With the constant bashing and back and forth blaming of carbs and/or fat for the obesity epidemic, one macronutrient seems to be lost in limbo (hint: it’s not alcohol, sorry).
That macronutrient is, you guessed it, protein. Who knows, maybe Taubes and the other “scientists” will realize they’re wrong about carbs, and shift the blame to good ol’ protein (hey, anything’s possible).
Anyways, yeah, that protein stuff is pretty important. No bros, I’m not just talking about the protein powder that you mindlessly suck down less than five minutes post-workout because you’re afraid you’re going to lose your precious biceps.
Protein is more than just a powder that helps us bros achieve maximum jackeditude.
It is, in my opinion, the single most important macronutrient to regulate with regards to diet, and if you want to be successful, you must be able to use protein to your advantage.
The problem is that the general public is, for the most part, completely ignorant to the fact that they should be putting more emphasis on protein consumption. This is partly due to personal diet failure and lack of knowledge about basic nutrition, but the fact that the Recommended Daily Allowance for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram also plays in.
But, the RDA doesn’t account for people trying to build muscle and unfortunately, this recommended amount is grossly insufficient for someone attempting to achieve this ultimate goal. The problem is that the RDA is essentially laying out the minimum to maintain nitrogen balance, which doesn’t tell you a whole lot pertaining to what you need to build or maintain lean muscle tissue.
So, what I’m trying to say with all of this incoherent rambling is that you need more protein in your diet. Shit, I need to get better at this whole writing thing.
Anyhow, below I’m going to give you several reasons why you should place more focus on protein intake and why it is so important when trying to build muscle, and even more so when dieting.
Let’s do it.
Muscle Growth (Duh)
Getting the obvious out of the way immediately, adequate protein intake is essential to maximizing your muscle growth potential, namely when you’re following some sort of resistance training protocol.
Something that’s important to understand: you require less protein when trying to gain muscle (in a caloric surplus) than you do when you’re dieting (in a caloric deficit), for reasons that I will discuss shortly.
So, around 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is a good number. Going above this won’t hurt, but keep in mind that consuming higher amounts protein will limit your consumption of carbohydrates (essential for gym performance) and dietary fat (essential for living, among other important things).
Like I said, 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight should be more than enough. You can find a bunch of arbitrary numbers scattered around throughout the world of bodybuilding nutrition, and you could argue that you don’t even need 1 gram per pound, but rather safe than sorry.
Muscle Retention When Dieting
When you diet, you’re gonna lose some muscle mass. This is undeniable and inevitable, and it’s just something you’re going to have to deal with (unless you’re on some “special supplements”, nomsayin’?).
So, knowing that you’re more prone to muscle loss when in a prolonged caloric deficit (a diet), protein requirements are significantly higher due to the reduced overall energy intake.
Ensuring that protein intake is high enough when dieting can go a long way towards sparing hard earned muscle tissue. For males, typically 1 gram to 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight is sufficient. Females might not need as much, but even then it is relative to bodyweight (and activity level, body fat percentage, etc.)
When dieting, I’d rather be safe and lean towards the higher total, as there don’t appear to be any negatives of going a bit beyond these guidelines, but consuming insufficient protein can cause muscle tissue breakdown and can be extremely detrimental to your physique.
Just understand that eating 500 grams of protein isn’t going to give you any extra advantage (not that it’s even practical, anyways).
Something else that’s important to note is that blood glucose levels are typically a good deal lower than they would be if you were in a caloric surplus, and this is extremely important to look at if you’re following a low carb diet.
If you’re on a low carb diet, protein requirements are even higher, considering the fact that your body will derive some of its glucose needs from protein, via a process called gluconeogenesis. Of course, you don’t want your body to be breaking down muscle tissue to meet its glucose needs, so consuming plenty of dietary protein becomes much more pertinent if you wish to retain muscle mass on a restricted carbohydrate diet.
Tangent here: this is typically why low carbohydrate diets are more filling. Not because of the low carbohydrate intake, but the increased protein intake that often comes along with it. Just a thought.
One more important side note here: all of these protein recommendations are going to differ based on your current body fat percentage. If you’re dieting, and you’re at a fairly high body fat percentage, protein needs will drop a bit, simply because you have more stored body fat to access in an energy deficit. However, if you’re dieting and you’re already relatively lean, you’re going to have to be especially cognizant of getting sufficient protein because you don’t want to break down lean tissue for energy.
Blood Sugar Stabilization
Not only does consuming adequate protein assist in building and retaining muscle mass, it also acts as a regulator of blood sugar, which is essential for optimal energy levels and less hunger throughout the day.
Particularly common in diets consisting of large amounts of sugary carbohydrates is an incidence of hypoglycemia, which is when blood sugar crashes below normal after a meal. Ever eat a meal high in carbohydrates and crave sugar an hour later? Yep, there goes your blood sugar bro.
Being in a caloric deficit is a great way to regulate blood sugar in and of itself, but another great tool is protein, specifically the branched chain amino acid leucine (which is present in foods, so you don’t necessarily have to supplement). Leucine is a powerful stimulator of muscle protein synthesis and insulin, which are both important in muscle gain and muscle retention. Leucine also does a great job stabilizing blood sugar.
In a study conducted by Donald Layman and Jamie Baum, they found that “a high protein diet serves to stabilize the glycemic environment with delayed metabolism and less reliance on peripheral insulin actions.” (4)
Essentially, this means that protein (specifically the branched chain amino acids) is metabolized in a slower fashion compared to pure glucose, which means more stable blood sugar and less energy crashes.
Obviously, when your blood sugar crashes you become ravenous and need sugary carbohydrates, so the less blood sugar fluctuations, the less hunger and cravings you will have.
As you know if you’ve dieted for any period of time, hunger is the greatest issue you have to overcome. If you didn’t become overly hungry during a diet, no one would fail diets.
People fail because they are unable to deal with the constant thoughts of consuming the forbidden foods. Now, this could be an issue of being overly restrictive, which I covered in this post, but this is more of a psychological issue. I’m going to put more emphasis on the physical aspect for now.
Specifically during an energy deficit, calories from fat and carbohydrates are going to be restricted because, well, that’s how you create an energy deficit. This is where the satiating effects of protein will shine.
Studies have shown that subjects who consume a higher amount of protein in an early meal eat less calories in the meal following . This is a roundabout way of showing that the subjects were less hungry going into the next meal than those who did not consume higher amounts of protein (1, 2, 3).
So, more protein, more satiation, less cravings, less food, more fat loss. Sounds good to me.
That Shit Tastes Good
Probably the best reason of them all.
I mean seriously, who doesn’t love a nice juicy rib-eye or some properly seasoned grilled chicken? I don’t think I know anyone who would say, “Nah, I’ll take the salad” (except for the vegetarians, of course). Good tasting food is often hard to come by when on a calorie restricted diet, so I would suggest you take advantage of your increased protein intake and pound some meat (wow, that sounds bad… whatever.).
Dairy is another great tasting source of protein, assuming you’re not lactose intolerant. Cottage cheese, greek yogurt, plain ol’ milk, all great choices.
In addition, if you have trouble hitting your daily protein intake numbers and need to supplement, whey protein should be your top choice as it is the best protein powder on the market, and it is very well-priced per serving.
Yup, protein is that awesome. I hope you’re now convinced that protein is an integral part of your diet, regardless of goals, and that you should be ensuring proper intake if you wish to see great results.
I hope you guys enjoyed the post. If you did, be sure to share it. If you didn’t, let me hear it in the comments box, I love me some constructive criticism. Blatant hate is welcome as well.
If you have any questions, be sure to drop them in the comment box below as well, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.
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1. Anderson GH, Moore SE. Dietary proteins in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans. J Nutr 2004;134(suppl):974S-9S.
2. Anderson GH, Tecimer SN, Shah D, Zafar T. Protein source, quantity, and time of consumption determine the effect of proteins on short-term food intake in young men. J Nutr 2004;134:3011–5.
3. Bowen J, Noakes M, Clifton PM. Appetite regulatory hormone responses to various dietary proteins differ by body mass index status despite similar reductions in ad libitum energy intake. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2006;91:2913–9.
4. Layman DK, Baum JI. Dietary protein impact on glycemic control during weight loss. J Nutr. 2004;134:S968–73