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Five things about protein that might surprise you

Updated: Jan 20

These days, we hear so much about whether we should all be eating high fat/low carb or low fat/high carb that sometimes poor old protein gets forgotten. (Except for bodybuilders. They never forget about protein.)


Read on to learn five things you might not know about protein and why you shouldn’t underestimate it for your health, body and performance.


1. Protein is in every cell in your body. Most people know that protein is good for building muscles but actually it’s good at building a lot of things. Protein is in every cell in your body and plays a role in the structure and the function of your cells.


Almost half of the protein in your body is in your muscles, but there’s also a lot of protein in your bones, skin, blood and other body tissues too. Hormones, antibodies, enzymes – they’re all proteins designed to perform a specific function to keep you alive and kicking.


2. Protein increases your metabolic rate after eating. This change in metabolic rate is known as the ‘thermic effect of food’ and protein has a high thermic effect compared to carbohydrate and fat. Up to 30% of the calories you eat from protein are burned just by digesting, processing, absorbing and storing protein in your body.


3. Eating more protein during weight loss can increase fat loss and preserve muscle. When we lose weight, a significant chunk of the weight we lose usually comes from muscle. However, studies have shown that eating a higher proportion of protein during calorie restriction improves the quality of the weight lost – helping people to lose more body fat and reduce waist size, while maintaining more of that hard-earned muscle.


4. We need more protein as we age. Getting enough protein is so important as we get older. From about the age of 30, we start to lose muscle size and strength, which can lead to worse health and a lower quality of life in our later years. Protein, along with exercise, is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle to help maintain that muscle as much as possible.


People in their twilight years do need to eat more protein to get the same beneficial effect that you would get from a lower protein intake in younger adults. Unfortunately, in reality seniors tend to eat less protein, right at the time when they could really do with having a bit more.


5. When you eat protein may make a difference. The typical Kiwi diet usually involves three square meals and eating most of our protein in the evening, with less protein eaten earlier in the day – especially at breakfast. But if you’re trying to build muscle, having protein more regularly (e.g. every 3 – 4 hours) and spreading it out more evenly across the day may be better a better way to go.


Eating protein around the time of a weight lifting session – particularly after training – can also be a useful way to stimulate muscle growth.


Now, go eat some protein and get them ‘gainz’.


So that means I should eat all the protein?


I know the saying “everything in moderation” sounds a bit clichéd but there’s good reason for it. Click here if you want to know more about how much protein you should be having and whether you can have too much of a good thing.


High protein meal with salmon and vegetables

This blog is intended for information purposes only. Speak to a registered nutritionist or dietitian for nutrition advice tailored for your specific needs.


References


Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ, Wildman R et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: diets and body composition (2017). Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 14: 16; doi 10.1186/s12970-017-0174-y


Baum JI, Kim IY, Wolfe RR. Protein consumption and the elderly: What is the optimal amount of intake? (2016) Nutrients 8: 359; doi:10.3390/nu8060359.


Cuenca-Sanchez M, Navas-Carrillo D, Orenes-Pinero E (2015). Controversies surrounding high-protein diet intake: satiating effect and kidney and bone health. Advances in Nutrition 6: 260–266, 2015; doi:10.3945/an.114.007716.


Jager R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise (2017). Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 14:20; doi 10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8


National Health and Medical Research Council and NZ Ministry of Health (2014). Protein. Accessed 26.01.21 at https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/protein


University of Otago and Ministry of Health (2011). A Focus on Nutrition: Key findings of the 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey. Wellington: Ministry of Health.

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