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June 7, 2022
Protein Is Important: Here Are 3 Ways It Elevates Your Health
Are you reclined on the couch right now? Or maybe slouched forward in your comfiest chair?
Does the thought of getting back up seem like the hardest thing in the world at the moment? Maybe the afternoon slump is hitting, and your limbs feel heavy. You got enough sleep last night, you didn’t do anything tiring today…and yet you’re exhausted.
Here’s a question that might help: How much protein did you eat today?
If you don’t get enough protein—and especially if you load up on carbs and saturated fats instead—your energy will lag.
We take protein for granted sometimes. But it’s so much more powerful than we give it credit for. Eating more protein can boost your energy levels in days, but that’s not the only reason to add more of it to your diet.
In fact, if you want to improve your health, protein is one of the very first things you should add to your life. Protein is a cornerstone: When you’re eating enough of it, the rest of your wellness habits improve with it.
Why Is Protein So Important?
Protein is the only macronutrient that is deemed essential (the other two macronutrients are carbs and fat). One look at protein’s health benefits makes it easy to see why…
- Protein Is Good for Your Overall Health
- Protein Can Help with Weight Management
Protein is far more filling than carbs and fats, and it can help you feel more full while eating less food (4). Increasing your protein intake can also help maintain weight loss and stave off gain (5).
- Protein Works on a Physiological Level
Protein is hard at work within your cells making you a healthier, more youthful version of yourself. One physiological change involved is increasing your lean muscle mass and preventing muscle loss.
The Flaw of Our Food Industry
One reason we don’t always intuitively reach for protein is that the food industry makes it easier to fill up on addictive, low-nutrient foods instead.
Most modern foods contain a blend of carbohydrates and fats—a combination that almost never appears in natural food. Aside from milk (which includes all three macronutrients), all-natural foods consist of a combination of carbs and protein, fat and protein, or fat on its own.
The problem with these mass-produced modern foods is that while they are filling and tasty, they don't contain the nutrients you need…
So if you eat a full meal of low-nutrient carbs and fats, you’ll be craving more soon after because your body is still hungry for the nutrients it didn’t get from your meal. You may also feel tired after eating a meal like this—that’s because your body thinks it’s starving of nutrients and wants to conserve energy.
Carbs and fat certainly have their place if you enjoy them in moderation, but not all carbs and fat are created equally—and the ones we’re bombarded with in our modern food culture usually aren’t the healthiest.
We need balance! And we need a lot more protein.
3 Reasons to Make Protein a Part of Your Daily Routine
Still not convinced that protein is the solution to many of your health problems? Well, here are three science-backed ways it upgrades your quality of life.
1. It Speeds Up Your Metabolism
Just as many of you take collagen for weight loss daily, you can do the same with protein-rich meals. Digesting protein burns calories, and eating more protein can increase your metabolism (8, 9, 10).
Protein has a high thermic effect (also called TEF), which refers to the number of calories your body uses to digest your food and put its nutrients to use. The thermic effect of protein is 20-35%, versus just 5-15% for fat and carbs (4).
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that increasing the amount of protein in your diet could account for an extra 100 to 300 calories burned per day compared to carbs and fat (11).
2. Protein Curbs Your Appetite without Deprivation
If late-night snack cravings are a familiar frenemy, protein might be your solution. When you eat more protein earlier in the day, you could prevent those sneaky cravings from even showing up in the first place.
Protein is very filling and quells your appetite with less food than other macronutrients (4). One of the ways protein does this is by reducing your level of ghrelin, a hunger hormone, while boosting a hormone called peptide YY that is associated with feeling full (12, 13).
In one study, this effect was so powerful that increasing protein intake from 15% to 30% of calories helped a group of overweight participants eat 441 fewer calories each day without feeling hungry or even trying to cut back (14).
If you want to trim some belly fat, one easy move is to replace some of the carbs and fats in your regular routine with protein. No need to make drastic changes—the change could be as easy as slightly trimming that serving of rice and adding a few bites of grass-fed beef in its place.
The best thing about this effect is that unlike other things people lean on to curb appetite—take caffeine, for example—you can be assured that you’re still getting all the nutrients you need while shaving off calories. Instead of masking hunger, you’re stopping hunger at the source by making sure your body is well fueled by the food you do eat.
3. Protein Supports Your Muscles
Nutrition is about more than weight loss. It’s about supporting a full and vibrant life that allows you to be your healthiest self.
Protein plays a part in this by increasing your lean muscle mass, protecting you from muscle loss, and supporting soft tissue repair (15, 16). Building healthy, lean muscle can help improve your overall health while increasing your metabolism and quality of life (17, 18).
And of course, for women, strong muscles gain an additional layer of importance as we age. Healthy muscles help keep our bones strong and lower our odds of developing osteoporosis and life-disrupting fractures. That in itself makes protein worth its weight in gold (19).
So, How Much Protein Should I Eat?
If you’re in a pinch, the easiest move is to opt for one to two palm-sized portions of protein with every meal. You can track your protein intake over time with apps like MyFitnessPal and Cronometer.
On days when you have time to measure your meals versus using the palm method, here’s how to calculate how many grams of protein to aim for in each meal based on your goals.
Low Protein Serving: For those with larger amounts of body fat to lose
Body Weight in lbs x .65
Moderate Protein Serving: For those aiming for recomposition or fat loss that isn’t more than 15 to 20 lbs
Body Weight in lbs x .875
High Protein Serving: For those who exercise or lift weights 5 times per week, aren’t trying to lose weight, and want to maintain muscle mass.
Body Weight in lbs x 1
Heavy Protein Serving
Body Weight in lbs x 1.1
Important Tip: Choose High-Quality Protein Whenever You Can
When choosing your protein, look for nutrient-dense options that have the least amount of modern-day impact.
Animal protein is our preference here at NativePath. It’s more nutrient-dense than other forms of protein and contains the highest levels of amino acids, which help your body maintain its overall health (22, 23). As for the other macronutrients, animal protein usually contains fat. Very few animal sources besides dairy contain carbs.
Plant protein contains a lower density of amino acids than animal protein, and usually also includes carbs. Plant protein is more likely to contain digestive irritants or content that causes inflammation (24).
The Difference between Grass-Fed And Grain-Fed Beef
You are what you eat eats. Nope, that’s not a typo! The diet of the livestock that will become your protein makes a difference in your own health.
The difference between grass-fed and grain-fed beef is massive. Whenever you have the choice, opt for animal protein that says grass-fed, free-range, wild-caught, pasture-raised, or local on the label.
Grass-fed beef comes from cows who were raised eating what nature intended for them to eat, and the result is a healthier and cleaner protein source. For one, it has a better omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, making it less inflammatory (25).
Grain-fed beef is a different story. Sadly, 95% of beef comes from cows raised in facilities called CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations (26). There, they are fed a grain-based diet (something cows are not meant to eat) in order to fatten them up as quickly and affordably as possible.
How to Properly Eat & Digest Protein
To make the most out of a protein-rich meal and digest it more easily, eat slowly. Take your time chewing, and savor the taste. Take note of the protein’s fatty acid profile, and routinely rotate which types and cuts of meat you eat.
Don’t drink water with your meals. Don’t get me wrong, water is great for you—just try to drink it at other times in the day when you’re not eating, and enjoy it later after your meal is over.
If eating protein causes digestive issues or an upset stomach, even after chewing it thoroughly, an HCL supplement or digestive enzyme can help. These are typically taken by people with low levels of stomach acid because they help the body break down, digest, and absorb nutrients like protein (27, 28). As always, consult with a healthcare professional before adding any new dietary supplement to your regimen.
The Bottom Line
Protein is the forgotten building block for a healthier, more energized life.
There will always be more steps we can take to fuel our bodies better—but it all starts with protein.
Make protein a part of each meal. (If you’re stumped on what type of protein to eat, we have ideas for you!) Eat the protein on your plate, savor every bite, and feel great about it—because you’re making the most powerful move you can toward a healthier diet.
As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.