Protein is one of the three macronutrients (nutrients that we need in large amounts for energy). The two that we eat in the largest quantities are fats and carbohydrates. I am not suggesting that you go on a diet of chicken breasts and pea protein, however there are some amazing benefits to eating a little more. Even if you are on a high protein diet to get the health benefits of protein you should focus on eating a large amount of other nutrient dense foods so that you get a good range of nutrients and remember not to over do it as you should get the majority of your energy from healthy fats and lower-glycemic carbohydrates.
1) Protein boosts your metabolic rate.
One gram of protein holds four calories of energy. This is roughly the same as the energy density of carbohydrate, however the human body isn’t very efficient at using the energy from protein. This causes a “thermic effect” which burns up 25-30% of the energy from protein before your body can even use it. If you consume 200 calories from protein rather than carbohydrate then you will be absorbing 50-60 less calories. Also holding muscle raises your metabolic rate as well and people who eat a higher protein diet tend to have more muscle mass than those who consume less protein.
2) It helps you maintain bone and muscle mass.
Protein is necessary for maintaining bone density and muscle mass. Each amino acid is a building block of muscle and a low protein intake has been associated with a higher risk of bone fractures and having a lower bone density. However, it is important to note that if you eat too much animal protein then there is some evidence that suggests your body could excrete some calcium. If you are eating enough calcium (which most people are) then this should not be an issue.
3) It keeps you full for longer.
Protein is extremely satiating. Nobody is sure why yet, however there have been many studies where people have gone into labs after fasting and have had their levels of hunger tracked for a period after being given different types of food to eat. Protein was found to be extremely effective in reducing hunger levels for a long period afterwards. If combined with fibre and some healthy fats you are much less likely to have a crash of energy afterwards.
4) It can help stabilize blood sugar levels.
Exactly how protein stabilizes glucose levels in the blood is not yet fully understood however one theory suggests that because protein takes longer to be converted into usable energy than carbohydrates or fats do it slows down the rate at which all of the energy (even the energy from fats and carbohydrates) that has been consumed is absorbed.
In all non diabetics protein only causes a very small rise in blood sugar levels because insulin is released to slow the gluconeogenesis process (the process in which energy from amino acids is turned into glucose energy that the body can use).
There is also some evidence that when high quality protein is eaten a hormone called glucagon is released which stimulates the production of glucose and that this process is responsible for the stable glucose level and high energy levels that protein rich foods often give you.
5) It helps slow the deterioration of bone and muscle mass as you grow older.
As you grow older your bone density and muscle mass are likely to come down which can eventually lead to issues in older age. A lower muscle mass will also lead to a lower metabolic rate and low levels of strength; a lower bone density could lead to a higher risk of fractures. A higher protein intake has been directly associated with a lower risk of fractures in men and this is likely to be the same in women.
6) It can help improve your mood.
Due to the fact that protein stabilizes blood sugar levels you are likely to have a high level of energy which will in turn boost your mood. However, some people will still get “hangry” at some point if they don’t consume it with a low glycemic carbohydrate (like quinoa or sweet potato). You have to experiment with your diet and see what foods keep you full and gives you the most energy.
7) It helps keep your brain sharp.
Protein is absolutely vital for brain health as brain cells communicate with chemical messages known as neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are made from amino acids (which are the different types of proteins), therefore if you don’t have enough protein in your diet your brain health and cognitive function could become compromised.