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Why Is Protein Such A Big Deal?

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Protein is more than a trendy ‘buzzword’ that seems to be appearing on an ever-growing amount of food products – this mighty macronutrient offers many health benefits.  Nutritionist Vinny Russo takes a look at why protein is important for your fitness related goals.

Protein is a Greek word that literally means “of prime importance.” It’s the foundation to every human body, required by every cell in the body, and is an important building block for muscles, bones, blood, and cartilage. Just to give you an idea of how important protein is, here are a few functions that this macronutrient does within the human body.

(1) Protein makes up enzymes which help catalyse reactions in the body

(2) Helps guide most nutrients to the right places to be used in the body

(3) Acts as a “buffer” by making an alkaline environment less alkaline (same with acidity)

(4) Protein engages in the regulation of fluid balance

(5) Helps produce hormones

(6) Provides energy

(7) Needed to build tissue

Nutritionist Vinny Russo feels protein is of prime importance for your fitness related goals for two main reasons. The first reason deals with your gains! Yes! The hard work you put in at the gym when you’re throwing weights around needs to be supported by sufficient protein intake. How much an individual needs is going to vary person to person, and this is where your personalized macronutrient prescription comes into play.

The 2nd reason protein is of prime importance is due to its ability to facilitate fat loss! Does protein do this directly? Yes and no, so let’s explain a few ways protein takes part in this process.

Exercise in general is used as a way to burn body fat. Whether you are into resistance training or long distance running, it doesn’t matter. A trained body needs protein! Many studies have shown that in trained individuals, and in individuals going through a dieting phase, a higher protein diet was superior. It has been shown that higher protein diets led to greater muscle retention in a caloric deficit (Wycherley 2012) and increased fat loss (Laymen 2003). In a diet phase, the diet that consisted of higher protein, led to more maintenance of lean body mass which allowed the individual to lose more weight from their body fat.

Another way protein can facilitate fat loss is with higher levels of satiety. Why is satiety so important? Well, when one is in a caloric deficit (the only way to lose body fat), your leptin levels decrease, and ghrelin will increase causing you to become hungry and want to increase your caloric intake. Usually this effect will make people quit on their diet plans, or decrease their adherence to it. Protein being very satiating, helps to alleviate the experience of hunger which will increase the adherence to the plan and actually make the individual want to consume, and thus end up consuming fewer calories overall.

All of these factors together help show that a higher protein intake, or at minimum a sufficient protein intake, is important for fat loss, muscle retention, muscle building, and optimal body composition. Protein yields so many benefits that seem to be masked by its effects on muscle tissue, but this article was written to highlight the benefits it has with fitness related goals.

-Learn more about Nutrtionist Vinny Russo here.