Weight loss is one of those subjects that’s always been popular among people, or as it’s most commonly known: “fat loss” or slimming down. In this process, all the macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) play a crucial role with its own function in our bodies. As we all know, protein is the one word most often referred to in the fitness community. It is always given top priority, even though the other two macronutrients: carbs and fat play an equally important part in weight loss, as well as muscle growth.
But why is protein deemed so important? In this article, we’ll give special attention to the importance and function of protein during weight loss whilst giving examples of what needs to be done in order to avoid the unwanted loss of lean muscle mass.
Fat loss principles
In order for the weight loss process to start, you need to put your body into a state of caloric deficit, which means spending more calories than consuming them, which will create a negative energy balance. This balance is commonly achieved by caloric restriction and increased physical activity, which increases the expenditure of energy.
One of the most common consequences of losing weight is the reduction in lean muscle mass, which in turn negatively impacts our metabolic function and physical performance. In order to avoid this and minimize the loss of muscle mass, we must take the necessary precautions.
Precautions we need to implement during weight loss
1. Do resistance training, such as weightlifting or bodybuilding. You can also do cardio exercises which are commonly associated with weight loss since they stimulate the body to spend more calories, but at the same time, they can cause loss of lean muscle mass.
2. Consume an appropriate dose of protein each day.
3. Follow a diet which doesn’t have a severe daily caloric restriction
The importance of protein during weight loss
Protein plays a fundamental role in the formation of muscle tissue and its repair because protein is the main building material of our muscles. Amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, are the ones who stimulate the process of protein synthesis in the muscle tissue. Protein synthesis is crucial for the maintenance of lean muscle mass during caloric restriction which happens in the weight loss process.
When the body is in a state of negative energy balance, the rate of muscle protein breakdown can exceed the rate of protein synthesis which will ultimately result in the loss of lean muscle mass. In order to balance this process, it’s recommended to combine proper protein consumption with a well-designed resistance training program.
It’s important to note that resistance training is essential for the growth of new muscle tissue, however, too much of it can cause the loss of existing muscle tissue and protein breakdown (which is the opposite of muscle tissue building and maintenance). This is why in order to ensure the building, maintenance, and recovery of your muscle tissue, it is crucial that you give your body enough protein.
The general recommendation for protein consumption in a time of caloric restriction lies within the range of 1.5-3.2 grams of protein per kilo of body weight per day as indicated in the study named “Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Exercise Training”.
The quantities will mostly depend on the training intensity, the type of physical activity the individual is involved in and the current amount of body fat. When it comes to losing weight, the more body fat someone has, the easier it’ll be to preserve lean muscle mass, which means that protein consumption can be at the lower end of 1.5 grams per kilo of body weight.
If a person already has a low body fat percentage, the lean muscle mass will suffer more from weight loss, which means protein consumption needs to be increased. However, people who have more training experience show a tendency to preserve more muscle mass than a total beginner. In addition to the aforementioned impact on muscle tissue, protein takes longer to be digested, which means it will keep you feeling full for longer periods of time and curb your appetite which is always a favorable situation in the weight loss process.
Diet recommendations which can help the weight loss process
Divide your daily protein doses into even amounts in every meal of the day. Make yourself a high-protein meal before going to bed, for example, 30-60 minutes before bedtime. The reason for this is your body will be deprived of nutrients for at least 8 hours and protein is essential to prevent muscle tissue breakdown.
An individual weighing 80 kg (177lbs) and who has a recommendation for daily protein intake of 2 grams per kilo of body weight, should consume around 177 grams of protein. This amount can be divided into five meals during the day (for easier consumption), which is approximately 32-33 grams of protein in each meal. Below is a list of foods and its quantities that have 30 grams of protein per serving:
– 125 grams of lean meat (chicken, beef, turkey, pork)
– 125 grams of fish
– 250 grams of eggs ( 5 large eggs)
– 300 grams of Greek yogurt
– 140 grams of cheese
– 730 grams of dried fruit (nuts) or seeds (~ 5 cups)
– 415 grams of legumes (2.5 cups)
– 370 grams of tofu (1.5 cups)
Having these food suggestions in mind, we can create a daily menu with all the appropriate quantities of protein for this specific individual. This is, of course, just a list of a few examples, and there are lots of other food options which should suit the tastes and needs of any person.
Taking protein supplements can certainly help with this process, considering that they are a much more concentrated source of protein.
Taking into account that the human body doesn’t work like an exact machine, it’s important to note that this negative energy balance we’re discussing can cause different results from person to person, which is ultimately a variation in the amounts of fat and muscle tissue loss.
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The recommendations listed in this article are general guidelines which can help the weight loss process and make each individual achieve their weight loss goals with greater quality. However, each person’s specific needs should always be kept in mind, which means these numbers aren’t necessarily static and can be adjusted for each person according to their personal characteristics.