Protein is made up of non-essential amino acids (can be converted in the body), and essential amino acids (must be obtained from food). Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle repair and growth. Most of us know that when we want to try and put new muscle on, we need to make sure we are taking in enough protein.
What you may not know is that protein is crucial for weight loss as well! Protein is the most satiating nutrient. It fills us up, and the digestive system has to work harder to digest and synthesize it. This alone causes a metabolic increase and starts us on the right track. When we consume protein, we want that protein to go towards repairing and rebuilding our muscles; we do not want it to be burned up for energy. We want our energy to come from burning our fat stores, and from the complex carbohydrates we consume.
Even for those who are looking to lose weight, adequate protein consumption is necessary. The question is, how much protein do we need? There really is not one answer for this question; everyone has different needs and each body will respond differently to varied amounts of protein. The general rule I like to recommend is 0.8 grams to at least 1.1 grams per pound of bodyweight, with the smaller number being used for those looking for weight loss. Lets look at an example:
A female weighing 150 lbs wanting to lose weight-
150 lbs x .8 grams (per pound of bodyweight) = 120 grams of protein daily.
A male weighing 150 lbs wanting to gain muscle weight-
150 lbs x 1.1 grams (per pound of bodyweight) = 165 grams of protein daily.
Taking in over 100 grams of protein daily may seem like a daunting task, but if we look at the percentage of our daily calories coming from protein, it is not that much:
A female weighing 150 lbs wanting to lose weight, eating 1200 calories daily-
protein = 4 calories per gram, 120 grams x 4 cal = 480 calories.
So, out of 1200 daily calories, 40% are coming from protein. That leaves room for 40-50% carbs and 10-20% fat.
Another important factor is the time of protein consumption. We should consume about 30 grams of our daily protein in our first meal upon waking up. Our bodies have been in a deficit while fasting over night, and we need to replenish our protein stores right away.
Lastly, we need to look at where we should be getting our protein. Fish, chicken, turkey, eggs, and all dairy are good sources of protein, and they are highly bio-available, meaning we can make good use of most of the protein they contain. There are other good sources of protein as well, such as nuts, beans, etc., It is important to remember that these choices are not complete proteins, and the bio-availability is less, so mixing and matching is good with other non-animal sources.Vegetarians and vegans have to work a little harder to get sufficient protein, but it is possible. Focus on legumes, seeds, nuts, tofu, tempeh, etc.
Protein is an essential component of any fitness goal, whether it is weight loss or muscle/weight gain. Strive for a minimum of 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight, and make sure you are spreading it evenly throughout the day. Protein will also help keep you full longer and prevent over eating for those who need to further restrict calories!
Good luck on the journey, and remember, the best diet is one balanced in protein, carbs, and healthy fat!