Protein Essentials

What it is, why you need it, and how much you should be eating

Have you ever wondered how much protein is enough? Do you even know why protein is so important to losing weight and to building a lean, firm body? When they first start lifting, many women underestimate the importance of this macronutrient. You might think eating too much protein will only lead to you getting big and bulky— but this is far from the case. Protein is actually an essential nutrient, with many benefits beyond just building muscles. If you are confused and misinformed on protein, read on to learn everything you need to know!

Why is protein so important?
Protein has many functions and benefits when it comes to building a great body. A diet high in protein helps increase lean body composition, builds muscle, aids in recovery, and repairs and maintains your muscle. Protein helps regulate important processes and enzymes in the body related to metabolism. It can also help produce essential hormones, maintain immune function, and support storage and transport of important nutrients to the muscles.

What makes up protein?
Proteins are made up of complex chains of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids in total, of which 12 are made by the body; the remaining eight must be obtained from the foods we eat, since the body does not have the necessary enzymes to assemble them. A dietary protein source is said to be “complete” if it contains all eight of these essential amino acids. Only complete proteins such as chicken, fish, red meat and whey protein powder can support muscle building. Without protein, it is impossible to support the development of lean muscle, or support the development of healthy hair, clear skin or strong nails. Adequate protein elevates your metabolic rate, helps maximize fat burning, and supports your immune function.

How much protein should I eat in my diet?
Research shows that active women should consume at least one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight each day. That means if you weigh 120 pounds, you need to consume 120 grams of protein. The best way to get in all this protein is to break it up into five or six meals, which means you will get about 20 to 24 grams of protein per meal. The body does not store protein the same way it stores carbs, so it should be ingested every two to three hours to provide a constant supply of amino acids. This will help keep your muscles in a positive state of nitrogen balance, which will ensure you maintain your hard-earned muscles. If you want to progress in the gym and obtain the body of your dreams, be sure to eat protein and don’t let anyone tell you that women don’t need to eat protein!

If I eat too much protein, will I bulk up too much?
Absolutely not! Just because you are eating a diet high in protein doesn’t mean you will get big muscles equivalent to the size of the guys in your gym. Men have the power of the anabolic hormone testosterone on their side. Testosterone helps in the development of building muscle and strength. Women have on average about one tenth the testosterone of men, which means their potential for development of strength, power and ultimately muscle is limited. For both men and women looking to gain and maintain muscle, the same rules apply: in order to achieve lean muscles, you must eat adequate amounts of protein! When you work out, you break down muscle tissue and in order to repair that muscle tissue, gain lean muscle and become stronger, you must give the body protein to supply the amino acids needed for recovery. If you do not get enough protein in your diet, your body will not have enough of the essential building blocks to rebuild and recover from your workouts.

Can protein in the diet help me lose fat?
First of all, protein has a thermic effect in the body. The body uses energy to break down proteins during the digestion process. Research has shown the average thermic effect of protein is 20 to 35 percent of the energy we consume. What’s more, when you derive a greater proportion of your caloric intake from protein versus carbohydrates, you will remain satisfied longer between meals due to the protein satiating effect. And as mentioned before, it is extremely difficult for the body to store excess protein calories as fat!

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Lauren Jacobsen

Lauren is the creator of Sexy, Strong and Fit Online Coaching Services specializing in transforming women to fitness model condition. Lauren has over 15 years of experience as a trainer, supplement consultant and nutrition expert. She is also the TV show host of "Body Fuel," a competitive athlete and regular contributor to various fitness publications.

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