Welcome to the 7th habit in the #GiveMe30HabitProject!!
See this post for all the details and backstory!
This month’s habit is to
prioritize your protein intake!
Note: I REALLY geeked out on this month’s introduction and resource info. I think it will be a fantastic place to refer back to for clients and readers on #AllTheThings related to protein. If you just want the challenge points, you can skip to the end, but I really think the info I have collected is INVALUABLE to help you understand the importance of protein and how big of a tool it is in your weight management / body comp goals. Also, definitely listen to this podcast where JJ Virgin interviews Dr. Gabrielle Lyon (online link here, iTunes link here) for the most important things related to protein in dietary recommendations, myth busting, health implications, and longevity. Dr. Gabrielle Lyon is the protein expert!! I have summarized things below, but of course it always helps to hear it straight from the source!
I plan to update this post to include more info as I come across it since I plan to use it as a reference for my clients and readers. That way, you can check back every so often for more 😉
Also, I just finished a new freebie for you which may help with this month’s habit challenge!! It is my Healthy Grocery Shopping List which includes all the things that I stock up on, tips on the best places to purchase the items I recommend, what stores run BOGOs, etc. You can download here! Feel free to share it with a friend!
Protein—our best weapon for weight and body comp change!
You probably know by now that sufficient protein intake is important for a variety of reasons. It helps to preserve our muscle mass as we get older, keeps us full and satisfied, aids in fat loss, helps with healing and immune function, just to name a few of its many benefits.
Something that comes up quite frequently with my coaching clients is adequate protein intake. Many of them, but not all, have goals for changes with their body, specifically body recomposition (think fat loss, not just weight loss, while also keeping / adding muscle definition). Regardless of whether someone is looking to maintain or change their physique, protein is one of the most important factors—of course sleep, stress management, and strength training are also big factors as well!
Adequate protein helps preserve lean muscle tissue. Most women talk about wanting to have that “toned” look and what they really mean is that they want to look strong, and not jiggly! 😂
Especially for someone who is strength training, it’s no surprise that protein is important. It is the source of the tissue we are trying to build and preserve to achieve the shapely look… Muscle!
Muscle tissue and protein as a nutrient (more in that below) are both highly metabolic. Meaning that they boost metabolism. Muscle itself burns more energy to maintain itself than does fat tissue. More muscle mass = higher metabolic rate.
What you may not realize is that protein affects your weight management in many other ways as well, not just those associated with muscle building!! This means that you can eat strategically for your goals!
On a physical level, protein takes a while for your body to digest, so it slows movement of food through the digestive system, which helps keep you feeling fuller for longer. At a hormonal level, it helps regulate blood sugar so that your body knows that adequate energy is available and it can turn off the drive for food.
Protein helps to your regulate hunger—both the physical sensation of fullness (satiety) and in terms of mental satisfaction and the end of the desire to eat (satiation). (Source)
These signals that assist with decreasing cravings and increasing fullness are a major asset when it comes to energy balance and food consumption!
Everything you eat throughout your day affects your choices at the following meals as well as your physical hunger and cravings. No meal happens in isolation (Source). For anyone struggling with hunger, energy, and/or cravings, one of the first things I do is recommend starting your day with a high protein meal or a meal with protein and non-starchy carbs. You can also structure your meals to your advantage by consuming macronutrients in a specific order.
Hormones have different effects under different sets of circumstances; i.e. the macronutrient “environment” you create can influence for example if insulin works to store energy as fat or put it to work to build muscle (Source).
Protein requires more energy to break it down into a useable fuel source than fat and carbs so. To an extent, exchanging some of our fat and carbohydrate intake for protein can boost the amount of energy our body expends creating energy for us to use. (Source 1) (Source 2).
A Few Tidbits About Protein:
- Protein is more than just muscle tissue. Protein molecules serve as building blocks and key components for all kinds of structures and chemicals in our bodies. Organs, cells, bones, blood, DNA 🧬 …protein is everywhere and serves as messengers, transporters, catalysts, enzymes, hormones, and more.
- For those under high stress or who have medical conditions, protein turnover can potentially be increased, and so an adequate supply will help keep your body from getting to depleted and turning to your own muscles as a source of the building blocks it needs.
- When you think about consuming protein, certainly prioritize real food sources like lean meat, eggs, dairy if you tolerate it, etc. over supplemnets, but supplements can also have their place (Source).
- I have mixed feelings about sources of soy, like protein powders and tofu, especially with what I know to be our soy supply in the United States (the sources of soy in other countries are not as concerning). Read this article for more. That being said, some things, like edamame or bean sprouts, I don’t have a problem with consuming regularly. If you want to avoid soy you can use liquid aminos (a soy sauce alternative), check labels (especially for things like hidden things like soy lecithin), and do a quick google search and you’ll find all kinds of possible things to look out for. This post is a good start. Still, (as long as you are struggling with major hormone related concerns, thyroid disorder, and a few other health issues) avoiding all soy is a small rock in the grand scheme of your health. Focus on big rocks first.
- The older we get, the less efficient our body is at using all of the protein we consume, meaning that, in order to hit requirements, we need to eat more protein at each meal / snack in order to absorb the same amount as when we were younger. This is discussed here, however, I don’t have a good reference for what the % adjustments are in order for you to calculate a specific target for age.
- There is research which supports the fact that the body will continue to “pressure” us to consume food until our necessary protein intake for the day has been met. This means that if we are conscious of meeting protein needs, our unwanted desire to eat beyond what we actually need in order to lose or maintain weight may diminish!! (Source)
A Few Myths About Higher Protein Intake
A lot of people have heard and believe several myths about high protein intake. I’d like to clear a few things up:
- It is not true that a higher protein diet it is bad for your kidneys. The truth is that the majority of us don’t have to worry about that. Unless your doctor / medical provider has specifically told you that you need to reduce or monitor the amount of protein in your diet, it’s unlikely that you will eat enough to do any damage to your body systems (Source 1, Source 2).
- It is also not true that protein interferes with bone density (Source 1, Source 2).
- Limiting protein to 30g per meal becuase we “can’t absorb more” is not correct. While it takes time for the body to absorb it all, we can assimilate more than a 30g serving consumed at once (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3).
- It isn’t necessary to worry that high protein intake leads to concerning levels of glucose and / or problems with insulin in the average person. Protein does have an impact on blood glucose, but it does not elevate it to the extent some would lead you to believe. The type of protein (more specifically the amino acid profile of the protein) makes a difference to how much of an impact is noted on glucose levels and insulin levels. (Source 1, Source 2). If you are strict keto, you may need to monitor protein more closely to stay in ketosis, but otherwise, don’t worry about it.
- Higher protein intake is not assoiciated with increased risk of cancer (Source which includes additional references).
- The standard recommendation for adults needing 0.8g to 1 g of protein per pound of bodyweight daily is not entirely accurate. That is the minimum needed to prevent deficiency (Source).
- We are told that any extra above the recommended intake will be stored as fat and won’t have added value to muscle gains / strength gains. This is not true!! In fact, the opposite has been demonstrated (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4).
So How Much Protein Do We Need?
I majored in dietetics in undergrad. This is the degree you get as the first step to becoming a Registered Dietitian. I was taught during my nutrition courses then (and even in my masters level courses when I earned my medical degree) that a good target range for most people is somewhere between 0.8 and 1 g of protein per pound of body weight per day. As I mentioned before, new research indicates otherwise, but curriculum hasn’t yet caught up. This lag time is not unusual.
Based on my continuing education, the nutrition coaching certifications I have earned, and review of new literature since my initiation education, I now lean towards 1g per lb per of your *ideal body weight* per day as a minimum for those who have body comp change in mind (i.e. muscle maintenance and fat loss). For example, if you are 160 lbs, but your ideal body weight is in the 121-158 range, you’d take the average of that range (139.5) and just round up to the nearest whole number. You minimum protein intake, in my recommendation, would be 140g/day. If however, you are 160 lbs and that weight is within your ideal weight range, then you would consume 160g/day.
You can also think about it in terms of how many grams per meal. So something like 30-45g per meal and 15-20g per snack would be a good target as a generalization, assuming 3 meals and 2 snacks per day.
If you want something more custom, which includes carbohydrate, fat, and total calorie targets specifically for you and your goals, I do offer a custom macronutrient program. You can find the details here.
This article is a fantastic resource with a summary and recommendations on daily intake for both those who are maintaining weight vs those who are seeking weight loss and with regard to resistance training and meal timing. Scroll to the bottom for the summary (recommendations are in g/kg not g/lb though, just a heads up). The findings support the higher daily intake recommendations (which I noted that I prefer to use with clients) for those seeking to preserve lean body mass while also losing weight.
Again, this podcast discuses the higher levels of protein that are on par with what I recommend.
A few good quotes / references:
“The protein leverage hypothesis is the concept that protein intake is regulated more strongly than energy intake and we will continue to feed until our protein need is met. This often results in overeating to get to the desired protein intake the body is driven to consume.”
—Dr. Gabrielle Lyon’s summery of the PubMed article Protein leverage effects of beef protein on energy intake in humans.
“You will “absorb” 95% of the animal protein and about 80% of plant protein you ingest, no matter HOW much it is.”
“…above the level at which protein intake contributes directly to muscle building, it starts to do other things. Good things. Protein increases satiety via the CCK pathway (linear even above 30 g, it keeps increasing satisfaction to go from 40-50 grams and above …Protein blunts appetite via elevated amino acids in the bloodstream, also linear, and this effect may even increase ABOVE the threshold for muscle utilization (essentially having EXTRA protein and nitrogen compounds in the blood seems to be part of the appetite suppressing effect).
Protein also moderates the glycemic response to carbohydrates, decreases muscle breakdown rate, increases (slightly) the thermic effect of food), and displaces sugars, refined carbohydrates and processed foods which have verifiable negative health impacts. All of these benefits do not top out at 30 grams of protein per meal.”
—Georgie Fear; Can We Really Only Absorb 20-30 Grams of Protein at a Time?
“For the most part, says Hu, the answers are “yes.” Protein can be converted by the body into glucose for energy, but it takes twice as much effort as converting carbohydrates or fats into glucose. The extra effort translates into fewer calories available, Hu said at a recent symposium on the science of obesity.”
“What you eat at one meal directly impacts how much you eat, what you will crave, and how soon you will want to eat your next meal. Your meals are not mutually exclusive; this a critical understanding.”
Physical Hunger vs. Emotional Hunger:
Physical builds gradually; Emotional develops suddenly. Physical strikes below the neck (i.e. growling stomach); & Emotional occurs above the neck (i.e. a taste for ice cream). Physical occurs 3+ hours after a meal; & Emotional occurs at random times. Physical can be temporarily offset by drinking water; & Emotional still persists after drinking a glass water. Physical goes away when full; & Emotional still persists after a good deal has already been eaten. Physical is satisfied with food; Emotional leads to guilt after eating food. Physical can be suppressed with stress; Emotional is activated with stress. Physical enhances taste; Emotional does not.
—Brian Wansink Ph.D., Mindless Eating
“Foods high in protein and fibre are satiating. Sensory and cognitive signals generated during consumption are important for satiety. Satiety is moderated a combination of cognitive, sensory and physiological signals. Food products can be manipulated to enhance the consumer’s experience of satiety.”
15 Hormonal Influencers of Fat Loss—The various purposes and roles of hormones with regard to energy balance and hunger.
OK, so now that you have an idea of what the habit looks in practice and the benefits of practicing it, it’s your turn! You don’t have to do every single one of these, but these are some ideas for you to implement.
For the next 30 days:
- Try to get at least 30g of protein at meals and 15g of protein at snacks.Practical Tips: Plan ahead by having a go-to list of your favorites in case you blank on ideas. Stock your fridge, freezer, cabinets, and purse! Use this guide for some of my favorites. Or, download my Healthy Grocery Shopping List!
- Make your first meal of the day predominately protein and non-starchy carbs (AKA higher fiber/lower glucemic index).Practical Tips: Use this reference for non-starchy carbs.
- Ask a friend or your partner spouse to join you in this habit.Practical tips: Check in with one another and share your struggles so that you can help each other troubleshoot ways to overcome them.
- Make a mental note of how you feel in terms if energy, hunger levels, and any improvements you notice throughout your day after you have practiced this habit for several days.Practical tips: Call these benefits to mind whenever you don’t feel like following through on your habit.
Don’t forget to share this project with others! You can share the link to this blog post as a status/post on Facebook. Feel free to save and use the image from this post, or use the ones I’ll have on my Instagram page. Whatever other means you have to get more involvement will make this project more fruitful! Tweet, email, pin on Pinterest, etc.
Also, I encourage you to keep track of your journey and use the hashtag #GiveMe30HabitProject on social media. Please tag me in your habit progress and insights! I’ll also be glad to troubleshoot sticking points. I’m Kaci M Byrd Cheesemanon Facebook and @CheeseGirlPA on Instagram.
If you want to check in daily for accountability, you can post either a photo and/or status and use #GiveMe30HabitProject #Day1, #GiveMe30HabitProject #Day2, so on and so forth. I’d love to see how it goes and repost—only if you give me permission, of course! I’ll be searching the hashtag to see who is joining in.
Remember: What is it you want to achieve? Who do you want to become? How do you want to serve others? You may not know how to get there, or even how to get started. I just ask that you trust me and help spread the message to others so they can become involved. Keep showing up, and together we will get you there, one 30 day habit at a time!
Are you ready? Let’s get growing!!
P.S. If you are interested in working on a specific habit and need someone to help you troubleshoot, keep you motivated, and hold you accountable, I offer coaching a variety of ways, which you can learn more about here.
My specialty is habit change and my approach is to work on mindset alongside the habit, so that it is healthy and sustainable, and this is best done via 1:1 Coaching which you can learn about here. Whether it involves your health, finances, nutrition, exercise, relationships, or personal growth, habits are the key to success. We are the outcome of what we repeatedly do. Without addressing that, there can be no change. Learn more here!