8 February 2019
Protein Explained & A List of High Protein Foods
“Are you hitting your protein?” If you’ve ever set foot in our facility, then you’ve likely heard a number of our coaches at JPS asking this time and time again. The reason that we ask this question so frequently, is because after dietary adherence (priority 1) and calorie control (priority 2), total protein intake…
“Are you hitting your protein?”
If you’ve ever set foot in our facility, then you’ve likely heard a number of our coaches at JPS asking this time and time again.
The reason that we ask this question so frequently, is because after dietary adherence (priority 1) and calorie control (priority 2), total protein intake is the next most important nutritional factor for body composition (fat-loss and muscle-growth).
At JPS, we like to focus on the big rocks. Not little pebbles.
Protein intake is definitely a big rock.
So for every singular time, if ever, you hear us talking about supplementation or organic versus nonorganic, you’ll hear us mention calories and macros at least a thousand times over.
Prioritise the priorities!
Simple, sound advice.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of nutritional misconceptions out there. Especially about protein.
Hopefully, this article will give you a better understanding of the majors components of protein intake, as they apply to body composition.
Protein is often touted as the building blocks of the body.
Whilst this is good, basic summary, it somewhat undersells the importance of sufficient protein in the human body, as it is responsible for a countless number of roles.
Not ONLY muscle-building.
Some of these additional roles include, but certainly aren’t limited to: Helping to provide material for the construction of tendons, organs, skin, hair and nails. As well as aiding in the formation of different enzymes, hormones and various chemicals in the brain.
However, as we are primarily concerned with body composition, we will focus the the rest of this article on protein, as it specifically relates to body composition and other subcategories of dieting and training.
So, without further ado, let’s get into it!
The Benefits of Protein for Body-Composition
Building More Muscle – As you may be already aware to some extent, our muscles are composed primarily of protein. Resistance training (or just exercise in general) increases the requirements of protein in the body, due to microscopic damage and tears that occur as a result of repeated muscular contractions. By eating more protein, up to a certain point (~2.2g/kg of body weight), we can help shift the net balance of protein turnover into a positive state. This just means that we are making more protein (muscle tissue) than we are breaking down, which results in more muscle over time.
For further reading on muscle growth – https://www.jpshealthandfitness.com.au/7-reasons-youre-not-getting-bigger/
Losing More Fat – When it’s time to shred up for summer, the best weapon you have in your arsenal, is a caloric-deficit. This WILL ensure weight-loss. However, what we are more concerned with (or should be anyway) is fat-loss. Along with resistance training, consuming adequate protein will help to protect against muscle loss and thus the result will be an improved ratio of fat lost and lean mass retained.
For further reading on fat-loss – https://www.jpshealthandfitness.com.au/4-things-you-need-to-lose-body-fat/
Improved Appetite Control – To an extent, calories are just calories. However, when you’re looking to optimize your approach or make your current one a bit more sustainable, then you must begin to look a little further and dig a little deeper into the details. In this instance, at the macronutrients. Not all macros are created equal and they affect the body in various different ways. In regards to appetite control, protein is the clear standout. Not only has it been shown to decrease levels of the hunger hormone Ghrelin, but it has also been shown to increase levels of a satiety hormone known as Peptide YY (satiety absence of hunger). This influence that protein has on both these hormones that help to regulate appetite makes for a home-run when dieting.
For further reading on appetite control – https://www.jpshealthandfitness.com.au/how-to-avoid-overeating/
Increased Metabolism – There are many factors that influence our metabolic rate (energy we burn) and there is many reasons why some people can eat a lot and seemingly never gain weight. It isn’t quite as simple as someone having a fast or a slow metabolism as most people make out. One of these factors is the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF). What this is exactly, is the amount of energy it takes in order to digest and utilise the nutrients within the food we eat. We don’t just automatically receive all the energy from the food we eat. We get most of it, in return for some of it. The TEF is kind of like tax. It’s a small portion that gets taken out in return for certain functions to continue. Of the 3 macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats), protein has the largest thermic effect – somewhere in the range of 20-35% of total protein calories. Carbohydrates and fats are vastly less energetically “expensive” when it comes to digestion, they have thermic effects of 5-15% and 0-5% respectively. What this means is, substituting more protein into your diet in replace of more energy-efficient macronutrients will lead to a greater increase of caloric expenditure, if all other variables are held equal. This can then be useful tool when looking to create a caloric deficit or limit your caloric surplus.
Although protein is found (to some extent) in almost any food, animal products in general tend to contain both a higher percentage and ratio of protein comparatively to other sources.
Yes, lentils may in fact be a great source of protein. However, if you’re trying to hit your macros and you need 30 grams of protein and only have 5 grams of carbs and fats to spare, a lean cut of meat or some egg whites are likely to be much better options (in the context of hitting macronutrient goals) than lentils.
A smaller consideration than total protein intake, but something to keep in mind nonetheless if you are trying to maximise your results, is the issue of protein quality.
Protein quality is concerned with both the percentage of leucine a protein source contains as well if it contains the full spectrum of amino acids in sufficient amounts required by the body to synthesise skeletal muscle.
Building muscle is like a construction site.
The amino acids are like all the different raw materials that get combined to complete the structure: nails, wood, cement, nuts and bolts etc. You may have plenty of everything you need, except nails, and if that’s the case, construction will stop, once you reach a point where you can’t go any further, until you get more nails.
On the other half of the protein quality issue, is the amino acid leucine, which is often referred to as the “trigger for muscle growth”. Leucine is like the foreman, it initiates the building process.
This is why protein quality can be a concern for people utilising vegetarian or vegan options for the majority or all of their protein intake.
Using the analogy above, we can now see how maximal muscle growth will likely not occur in an environment that either:
Severely lacks one or many of the amino acids, as the absence of required raw materials will cause a rate limiting issue for muscle construction.
Lacks leucine, as the absence of adequate amounts of the leucine will prevent the initiation of the maximum construction rate.
In essence, there is not one without the other.
It does not matter if you have all the supplies in the world, if there is no one there to tell the workers to start the construction process. Alternatively, it doesn’t matter if all the builders have been told to work, if they have insufficient supplies to build anything with.
In saying all of this, if you are consuming adequate protein (~2.2g/kg of body weight) provided you aren’t doing anything too silly, you are likely fairly well covering your bases in regards to adequate amounts of all amino acids, including leucine.
The issue of deficiency in a certain amino acid is only likely to arise if there is large amounts of exclusion or lack of variety in your diet, for extended periods of time. It doesn’t matter so much if your only major source of protein for 2 days was tinned tuna. But if you’re only consuming tinned tuna for weeks on end, you’re very likely to end up with deficiencies.
This isn’t just in regards to amino acids either.
By ensuring that you eat a varied diet, you will inevitably consume a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, phytonutrients, fibre types, essential fatty acids and antioxidants.
Remember: A diet that includes foods is superior to a diet that excludes foods!
Lastly, and certainly least in regards to effect-size and thus order of priority, is protein timing.
With the way that fitness media is these days, you would not be blamed for thinking that protein/nutrient-timing plays a much larger role in body composition than it actually does.
But it’s true – And I will say it one more time as well, just so it sinks in.
Protein timing only has a minute and near negligible effect on your fat loss and muscle growth results!
Ok, you get it.
But still you ask, what does this mean in a practical sense?
If were to take two clones and manipulate nothing but their protein timing, giving one extremely strict timing guidelines, while the other showed complete disregard for protein-timing, what kind of a difference would we see? Presuming all other variables were held equal (calories, total protein, protein quality, training, sleep etc).
Let’s examine this hypothetical situation further…
All year, Clone Number 1 perfectly timed his protein; drinking whey protein the second he woke up and finished training, ate steak or chicken every 3 hours and made sure he smashed his casein shake right before his head hit the pillow to go to sleep at night.
Provided he ate in a calorie surplus and progressively overloaded his training program, Clone Number 1 could potentially have gained 5kgs of muscle in 12 months. That’s a great year of training!
Now let’s examine Clone Number 2’s approach…
Throughout the year, Clone 2 fasted all day, trained on an empty stomach and didn’t eat until dinner time. Because he didn’t eat all day, he had heaps of protein left to eat and had to consume multiple meals of steak and chicken as well as some additional protein shakes.
Now, if you were to listen to mainstream fitness media, you could potentially believe that Clone Number 2 has been catabolic (breaking down muscle) all day and then consumed way too much protein at night, because the body can only digest 30 grams of protein at a time.
Well I am here to tell you that is FALSE!
Provided Clone Number 2 ate in a calorie surplus and also progressively overloaded his training volume, over 12 months, even with no regard for his protein timing, it’s very likely he would have gained 4.5kgs, or more, of muscle in that time. That’s still an outstanding year of training!
Now, admittedly 4.5kg is not as much as 5kg.
However, for almost complete disregard of protein timing, meaning there was no stress or pressure created by sticking to strict timing guidelines and to still gain 90% as much muscle as is potentially possible, it may very well have been a worthwhile trade-off.
This is where you must assess your current goals and constraints and decide whether timing your protein is a worthwhile consideration for you personally.
Another point I will make is that it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
As with pretty much everything, the best method usually lies between two extremes.
The research regarding protein timing shows that by consuming 3-6 meals, fairly evenly spaced throughout the day with roughly the same amounts of protein, you will have effectively gained all the possible benefits from “timing your protein”.
Well, that’s good to know… Just eat like a normal person. Can do!
You really don’t have to chug down a warm protein shake within milliseconds of finishing your 17th set of 50 reps on the Pec-Deck!
List of high-protein foods
|Name||% of Calories From Protein|
|Soy Protein Isolate||97.6%|
|Tuna in Water||95.2%|
|Greek Yoghurt (0%)||70.0%|
|Pork Loin Steak||66.0%|
|Sardines in Brine||50.0%|
So there you have it, that’s protein as it relates to body composition in a nutshell!
Take home points:
Sufficient total protein intake is a huge factor in nutritional success (surpassed only by adherence & calorie intake)
Protein has countless roles in the body, not just those associated with muscle.
Benefits of protein for body composition: more muscle, less fat, appetite control and increased metabolism.
Having an adequate protein intake will likely give you ~60% of potential benefits associated with protein
Ensuring that protein intake comes mostly from complete, leucine-rich sources of protein will likely provide an additional ~20% benefit.
- Spreading your protein intake evenly throughout the day and consuming some around training (within 2 hours before or after) will likely provide ~10% additional benefit.