Protein 101: The Best Way to Fight Belly Fat & Build Muscle

Foodscape

Dec 18
protein_weight_loss

Do I need to have protein shakes?

Is too much protein bad for me?

What kind of foods contain protein?

How much do I need to lose weight?

WHAT YOU’RE GONNA LEARN

  • What protein actually is and why it’s important
  • Can your body only process a certain amount at once?
  • How much you need for toning up?
  • How much you need for building muscle?
  • Must you have protein shakes, and what do they do?
  • What foods contain protein?

MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT PROTEIN

WHAT IS PROTEIN?

The food you eat is made up of three main macronutrients or macros for short. Protein is one of these macros, with carbohydrates (carbs) and fat being the other two big players

.Protein can be further broken down into compounds called amino acids, nine of which are essential, meaning your body cannot make them – you have to get them via the food you eat.

WHAT DOES PROTEIN DO FOR THE BODY & WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Derived from the Greek word proteios meaning “first”, protein serves many vital functions and serves as the very building blocks needed for growth and repair in your body.

Everything from skin, nails, hair and of course muscles require protein to build and grow. After setting total number of calories needed for a goal, protein requirements is the first macro I focus on when it comes to setting up my clients nutritional plan.

Even if you’re intuitively eating, I recommend a good source of protein with every single meal (yes even breakfast) due to its benefits on health, strength and looking great naked. [1] [2]

whey_protein_weight_loss

CAN MY BODY ONLY PROCESS A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF PROTEIN AT ONCE?

Ah the good old “You can only absorb (x) amount of protein per meal” myth. Let’s debunk this one straight away. All the protein you eat can and does get absorbed and used by your body. [3]

Now, a larger amount of protein will simply take longer to digest and use, especially if it’s a slow digesting source such as, red meat or dairy (casein), but make no mistake – your body can use it.

The confusion comes when talking about the muscle building process – more and more research suggests a finite amount of protein can be used at any one time for this.

Or at least it caps out at roughly 30 grams at a time, but you will still absorb all of the protein you eat. [4] If you want to maximise muscle building, you may want to split your protein portions into 3–5 servings per day.

protein_mens_health

This approach is truly the icing on the cake – optimising your total daily protein amount is more important in the grander scheme of getting fantastic results. [5]

WHY IS PROTEIN IMPORTANT FOR WEIGHT LOSS?

Now, here is where protein really shines, I like a decent amount of protein for fat loss for three key reasons:

Feel the Burn!

All the food you eat has to go through a digestion process (thermogenesis) before it can be used by you body. This process requires energy and your body has to spend more energy converting protein than say carbs or fats. [6]

This is awesome for weight loss as it means 20–35% of the calories from protein are burned purely through digestion! [7]

Fuller Longer

Due to the way it’s digested, protein scores very highly when it comes to satiety – you’ll generally feel more satisfied and full after eating a protein-rich meal. [8]

Feeling fuller for longer means you’re less likely to snack or mindlessly eat – hello fat-loss success!

Muscle Retention

Targeting fat rather than total weight is paramount for any successful weight-loss programme. One piece of the puzzle for keeping your muscle mass intact is, of course, strength training.

The other piece being eating enough protein. Setting your protein amounts correctly can help massively with maintaining your muscle as you get rid of body fat – leaving you with a lean, chiseled physique.

WHAT DOES PROTEIN DO AFTER A WORKOUT FOR OUR MUSCLES?

Remember how protein is useful for the repair process and growth of cells? In the gym, we cause tiny micro-damage to muscle fibres as a completely normal part of training.

Feeding your body enough protein (as well as overall calories) after training and throughout the course of the day heals these micro-tears and over time muscles grow bigger and stronger resulting in better muscular development.

It was once very firmly believed fitness dogma that there was a strict window of opportunity for eating protein post-workout to reap the benefits of training.

Some went as far as to say that without consuming protein within 30 minutes of your final set – your entire workout was a waste of time.

Utter nonsense! [10] Post-workout protein timing is only important if you’re a distance or endurance athlete – not for the few-times-a-week gym-goer for health and looking awesome naked.

Saying this, it is still probably a good idea to get a decent amount of protein within two or so hours of your workout if possible to maximise any potential muscle gains.

Again … icing on the cake stuff here – focus on the big picture and get in your protein quota within the post-24-hour period.

Brad Schoenfeld, muscle building expert says this on the topic:

“The anabolic window for consuming protein after a workout is really more of an anabolic barn door. This window of opportunity extends for at least 17 hours of post-exercise recovery, where the ingestion of protein results in greater net muscle protein accretion.“ [11]

HOW MUCH PROTEIN PER DAY TO BUILD MUSCLE?

The fitness industry loves to sell protein products to young men like it’s a necessity for them to consume protein muffins, cookies, bars and shakes.

whey_protein_mens_health

The truth is though … yes, more protein than government recommendations is needed to maximise muscle building, but it isn't nearly as much as is commonly touted in the industry.

1.8 grams of protein for every kilo of body weight (or 0.82 grams per lb) will maximise your body’s ability to build muscle. [12]

Many in the fitness space consume far beyond this in the hope of gaining more muscle, but there’s a finite amount of muscle you can add to your frame each day. Going over the 1.8 mark will not give you better results.

Now, that’s not to say that you can’t eat more protein, of course you can if you prefer these foods. Just be mindful of the importance of the overall balance of macros – getting enough carbs and fat too, are important for testosterone production … amongst other things. [13]

HOW MUCH PROTEIN PER DAY TO LOSE FAT?

To maximise muscle building using the above numbers you also need to be eating more calories than you need your body has enough building material for new growth.

However, when it comes to fat loss you need the opposite – eating less calories than needed, making sure that you’re losing fat and not muscle.

Evolutionary speaking, your body has no real reason to do this and it doesn't care that you want to look great naked. Muscle is metabolically costly for you to keep and it will preferential hold on to fat in times of famine or starvation.

It hasn’t caught up with the fact you can just stroll down to the corner shop whenever you feel like it and eat thousands of calories in a matter of minutes.

Saying this, we need to make sure protein is nice and high – higher than when muscle building – so that you won’t start to it break muscle down for fuel.

One of the greatest researchers and coaches of recent years, Eric Helms, suggests during periods of caloric restriction that 2.3–3.1 grams per kilogram of body weight is sufficient to stave off muscle loss. [14]

Now, let’s simplify this – while losing body fat I actually like my clients to hit the 2.3 end of this range. Reason being – there is more room for fat and carbs and I have seen absolutely no detrimental results at this level.

One gram per pound of bodyweight or 2.2 grams per kilogram will do the trick here.

CAN TOO MUCH PROTEIN BE HARMFUL TO MY BODY?

Yes – if you have a pre-existing kidney disease, but that’s not the vast majority of readers.

So no, you're not going to harm yourself eating too much protein. [15] If you are a healthy individual then protein intake has no harmful effects on your kidneys, liver or bone health. [16]

This has always been argued due to lack of long-term studies for very high protein intakes, as commonly seen amongst athletes and those wanting to improve the way their body looks.

However, a recent year-long study published by Jose Antonio found ridiculously high protein intakes of 4.4 grams per kilogram of body weight had no harmful effect on kidney function or blood lipid profiles etc. [17]

Again, this is double what I’m recommending, so rest assured if you're healthy and active, you’re good to go when it comes to protein.

WHAT IS WHEY PROTEIN & HOW DO I USE IT?

whey_protein_muscle

Whey protein is a wonder supplement that will get you to your dream physique in a matter of days, all you have to do is …

I hope there are some raised eyebrows here because although whey protein does have some promising health properties, it isn't a wonder supplement. [18]

Whey protein is the ingredient in the majority of protein shakes on the market and is a byproduct of milk. It contains all of the amino acids, but is specifically rich in branch-chained amino acids (BCAA) – the ones critical for muscle growth and retention.

More recently whey has become popular with the longevity and anti-ageing crowd for its promising positive effects and is super-popular with the fitness community because of its marketability, cost effectiveness, efficacy and versatility. [19]

Whilst you can get many different types of whey protein; isolates, concentrates, blends etc., I would generally go for a whey protein concentrate from a brand you trust that does third-party testing of their supplements.

Whey can be consumed in the form of protein shakes, protein bars or even used as a baking ingredient if you so wish.I will often add a scoop to some Greek yogurt for an easy pre-workout meal that won’t sit too heavily in my stomach before training.

WHEN TO TAKE WHEY PROTEIN

Honestly … whenever you want. Remember, total protein intake is ultimately going to make the most significant impact on your results.

Having a whey supplement is simply a good way (pun intended) of making sure you reach your protein goal of 1.8–2 grams per kg.

Since whey is pretty fast digesting, there could be a case for having a shake first thing in the morning as you haven’t eaten for a while, which isn't great for building muscle. [20]

Likewise, after training, if the next solid meal is going to be a good few hours away, there’s an argument for having a shake if you're looking to eek out every bit of muscular potential.

WHAT DO PROTEIN SHAKES DO?

I remember, buying my first tub of whey protein when I was about 15 years old and my parents’ horror at the thought I was taking something dodgy.

Fact of the matter is – all protein shakes primarily do is offer convenience – allowing you to hit that daily protein target more easily.

They can be very helpful for those that naturally don’t get a lot of protein from food or those that are very tight on time. Eat an extra chicken breast … no one bats an eyelid, bring out the protein powders … everyone’s confused as to what it is.Let me make it absolutely clear – you don’t need protein shakes or any other supplement for that matter.

They can, however, be useful as a significantly-good source of protein due to amino-acid profile and high bioavailability (a measure of how much protein gets incorporated into body tissue). [21]

protein_muscle

WHEN TO DRINK PROTEIN SHAKES FOR MUSCLE GAIN

Whenever you want to hit your daily protein goal. Again, a case could potentially be made for first thing in the morning and after your workout, if a whole food meal is going to be some time away.

The only other situation where a protein shake might be applicable during a muscle-gain phase would be before your workout if you normally train fasted.

Completely fasted training, without any kind of amino acids readily available in your blood stream is not optimal muscle-building goals.

20-30 grams of whey before you train will do the trick. Again though, you do not HAVE TO take a protein shake, food will do the trick. After all, protein shakes are still a fairly recent thing and there were some pretty well-developed physiques back in the stone age as well!

PROTEIN FOODS LIST FOR WEIGHT LOSS

In the below list, I am going to highlight lean-protein sources specifically, because by nature they will be lower in calories and more useful in a fat-loss phase.

  • Chicken Breast
  • Casein Protein
  • Turkey Breast/Mince
  • Shrimp/Prawns
  • Egg Whites
  • 90-95% Lean Mince
  • 0% Greek Yogurt
  • Fat-Free Cottage Cheese
  • Skimmed Milk
  • White Fish (Cod, Haddock, Tilapia, Halibut)
  • Tuna
  • Fillet Steak
  • Rump Steak
  • Flat Iron Steak
  • Scallops
  • Whey

HIGH-PROTEIN FOODS FOR MUSCLE BUILDING

By all means incorporate the list of foods above in a muscle-building phase, but if you're struggling to get enough calories in, this list of higher-calorie and fattier-protein sources might be the missing link to packing on some serious size.

  • Whole Eggs
  • Whole Milk
  • Full-Fat Cottage Cheese
  • Full-Fat Greek Yogurt
  • Chicken Thighs
  • Rib Eye Steak
  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Cheese
  • Pork

PROTEIN-RICH FOOD FOR VEGETARIANS

Is it possible to build muscle as a vegetarian? Absolutely, you just need to be a little smarter with your food choices to ensure you are getting the full spectrum of amino acids, which can be achieved with intelligent pairing of foods.

Also, do be aware that a lot of the list below are high in carbs and fibre, as well as proteins so keep this in mind when designing your food plan.

  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Hempseed
  • Soy
  • Ezekiel Bread
  • Wholewheat pasta
  • Quorn
  • Rice
  • Beans
  • SunWarrior Protein Powder
  • Tofu

SMALL WINS

• Eat a large fist size of protein with every meal

• Supplement with whey protein for reaching your protein goals easier

• Cook in bulk so that you don't have to continually buy high-protein foods on the run

IN A NUTSHELL

• Protein is one of the most important macronutrients for overall health, muscle mass and fat loss.

• You can absorb all the protein you eat, but for maximising muscle mass - it’d be beneficial to split these protein servings up between 3–5 times per day at roughly 30 grams minimum per time.

• Protein is not harmful if you are otherwise healthy.

• Protein shakes can be very useful in helping you reach your total protein goal, but aren't magic and serve very little purpose other than convenience.

• 0.8–1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is likely all the protein you will need and maximises muscle growth.

• Higher intakes can be beneficial in a fat loss phase due to its powerful effects on satiety.

• It might be beneficial to get some protein within 2 hours or so of your workout, however reaching your total daily protein goal is more important.

References