Have you ever wondered why Doctors, Nutritionists, Fitness experts always recommend foods that are high in protein? Do you know that your muscles, hair, nails, skin and eyes are all made of protein? So are the cells that make up your liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, nerves, brain and your sex glands. Next to water, protein is the largest substance in your body, to the extent that if all the water in your body is squeezed out, almost half of what is remaining would be protein. Yes, you are protein.
What is Protein?
If you ask a little child “what is protein?” He or she will readily tell you “protein is what we need to repair our worn-out tissues” or “we need protein to grow up properly’ hence, in a lay man’s definition, protein is what you must eat every day to make your body function optimally.
It is almost impossible to indulge in a weight loss program that does not include a high protein diet. And of course, a weight loss program must also include physical activities and so on.
So where can we get protein from? A lot of people today, especially mothers, often get confused when asked what foods are high in protein. In fact, some of us cannot confidently give 5 examples of foods that are high in protein. At most and very often, they will always tell you “is it not beans na?”
I’m sure some of us who went to the boarding house would remember that a day hardly passed without us having beans as an item on the menu for the day, under the guise that it was highly proteinous, and so “ … would help us grow better and taller.” As true as it may have sounded then, for the majority of us, the thought of beans alone, was bad news for that day. Not just because we didn’t like the taste, also we didn’t have enough varieties to choose our protein from. I doubt if up to ten percent of the student population liked beans back then. As a matter of fact, what was common was that we would add a lot of sugar to the beans and combine it with soaked garri, (cassava flour} with an even higher dose of white sugar, to satisfy ourselves that, at least, we were eating protein.
Today, I often come across questions like “shey we even get protein for this our naija chop” or “which one be high protein again? Abeg protein na protein, I no wan waste money.” These are just some amongst the regular reactions I get.
Now, where can we get this thing called protein from, especially in our beloved country Nigeria?
Sources of Protein
For the purpose of simplicity, I would be dividing these proteins into groups, so we can identify them better. These groups are: meat sources, vegetable sources, dairy & egg sources, seafood sources, canned food sources, snacks and nuts sources.
The meat sources include: chicken, turkey, goat meat, cow meat, sheep (ram), pork
The vegetable sources include: soya beans, green peas, our regular white and brown beans, black beans
Dairy & egg sources include: yoghurt, eggs, cheese, milk, whey protein
Seafood Sources include: shrimps, octopus, fish (‘titus’, tilapia and many more.)
Canned food sources include: tuna, corned beef, sardine, sausages
Snacks and nuts: peanut butter, cashew, peanuts, almonds, ‘kilishi’
Why is Protein Essential for Weight Loss?
At one point in time or the other, either from an aerobics instructor, a nutritionist, probably on the radio or maybe even on television, I am sure a lot of us must have seen how protein is often referenced or highly regarded when it comes to this issue of burning fat or shedding some kilos. So why then is protein so important when it comes to fat burning ?
First of all, amongst the three major macro nutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fats) that constitute what we derive in our everyday meals, protein takes the longest time for our body to break down. This means that unlike carbohydrates and fats, which the body breaks down first, protein on the other hand is not only broken down last, but as a matter of fact the body spends more time and energy breaking down protein. This means more calories are being burnt anytime the body has to break down and digest protein. Hence the more protein we consume, the more calories the body burns.
Protein also helps us retain our lean muscle mass, especially when we are on a rigorous fitness training program, or fat burning training program. For most women, we always talk about how we want our bodies to be firm, toned and even more curvaceous LOL. But what often skips our minds is that having a toned, firm and curvaceous body is made up of not only a low fat percentage but also a higher lean muscle mass. Yes Muscle!
Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks for lean muscle in both men and women. So for those of us trying to burn fat, and build up our hips, or glutes (bum), or for our men trying to burn fat and build lean muscle in their Pecs (chest) or arms and so on. We all, both men and women must not forget that protein plays a very important role, in both the burning of fat and building of lean muscle.
Protein keeps us feeling fuller and satisfied, hence reducing hunger. This is because protein slows down digestion. It is almost impossible to embark on a weight loss program without dropping the amount of calories one consumes in a day. This is usually the toughest part for most of us besides the working out aspect. So having adequate amount of protein in our meals helps us to curb out hunger and feel fuller longer.
How should I eat Protein?
How do we know how much protein we must consume as individuals? And how frequent we must consume protein throughout the day? Well, like every other macro-nutrient (carbohydrates, fats), protein is also measured and weighed in grams. In fact, every source of protein can be measured in grams, so this helps us to know how much protein we are getting from a meal. For example, a whole egg usually gives about 6 grams of protein, a glass of milk gives about 2-4 grams of protein, a can of tuna about 20-23 grams of protein, and a tablespoon of peanut butter about 2 grams of protein… and so on. But you need not worry about how to calculate grams for now; I will be covering more on that in my later posts.
What we need to focus our attention to, is whether or not we are even consuming protein. It is equally important to be aware of where the protein is coming from in any meal we eat, especially for those of us who are trying to burn fat.
For the average woman, 50-60g of protein a day is reasonable. But Of course these grams have to be distributed throughout the meals we have for that day. So for example, we cannot eat one meal that gives us 60g of protein, and feel as though we have met our daily intake of protein. This is because the body can only absorb about 25-30g at a time. So rather have these grams distributed throughout the meals for the day. For example you can have 20 grams from breakfast, 15g from lunch and probably 25g from dinner. This would look something like this:
Breakfast – 4 egg whites alongside the meal
Lunch – a can of tuna alongside the meal
Dinner – 2 chicken drumsticks alongside the meal
For the average man, 1gram/1kilogram of body weight is reasonable. That is if you weigh 60kg; try getting 60g of protein each day. If you weigh 80kg, try getting 80g a day.
For someone trying to burn fat, a rule of thumb is to have about 25-30g per meal. Keep an eye on the portion sizes of the protein, so you don’t consume more than you need. This may result in a higher amount of calories you do not need.
In summary, not everyone needs the same amount of protein. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, athletes or fitness addicts, dieters trying to burn fat, vegetarians and vegans usually require more protein than the average person.
Signs You May Not Have Adequate Protein
Lack of sufficient protein in the body can sometimes be visible to the physical eyes. Some of the signs can be one or more of the following:
1. Low immune system.
If you are always in and out of the hospital, that is, you fall ill a lot, It may be that you lack sufficient protein in your body. We need protein to protect and boost our immune system.
2. Injury that refuses to heal on time.
We need protein to heal and rebuild new cells and tissues. No wonder medical doctors will always recommend foods that are high in protein for a diabetic patient.
3. Rapid or Sudden Hair Loss
Rapid or sudden hair loss may be due to lack of protein in your body. If your hair is thinning out, protein deficiency could also be responsible. Although this may not be noticeable for some months, until suddenly…. However, the good news is that the moment you increase your protein intake, you start seeing positive changes. Ladies, let’s eat more protein to preserve our crowning glory.
4. Lack of energy during intense workout
Having insufficient amounts of protein, especially for active individuals, or those of us who are loyal to the gym or any other form of exercise, may experience drop in energy levels. This means our protein intake should be adequate and sufficient anytime we embark on fitness programs or workouts.
Clearly, we can all see why protein is very important in our daily diet, whether or not we are trying to burn fat or build lean muscle. For more on protein, protein recipes, the importance of having a protein supplement and so much more on this fantastic macro-nutrient, stay tuned and don’t forget to subscribe and like our posts on beforeandafter50.com