By Michael Ormsbee, PhD, Florida State University
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily
You probably know that protein is essential for building muscle, but it’s also a key component in slimming down, and it’s vital for overall health. Dr. Ormsbee describes the many reasons why you would be wise to include more protein in your diet.
According to Dr. Ormsbee, protein is the most underrated macronutrient of all when it comes to controlling body composition. Carbohydrates and fat tend to get all the attention as dieters try to eliminate one food group or the other, but protein has many benefits including maintaining or even increasing muscle mass, losing body fat, increasing metabolism, and making you feel full for longer.
You might think that you should only worry about protein if you want to add muscle and bulk up, but protein offers many benefits beyond its ability to turn on muscle building—a process called muscle protein synthesis. Proteins are an integral part of your cell membranes; your cytoplasm; and your organelles, like the mitochondria.
Proteins are also components of your tendons, skin, and hair. They make up enzymes and assist in metabolic reactions.
Proteins are essential elements in hemoglobin, the oxygen transport protein found in red blood cells, and plasma proteins, which help transport various substances in the blood. They are also very important in buffering acidity in your blood and in your cells.
They assist in your body’s natural immune system response, too. Many hormones, like insulin and growth hormone, are proteins as well.
Proteins are large components of muscle, and they produce movement in your muscle tissue because they contract to help you bend your arm, stand up, or just get around. These proteins are called actin and myosin.
Proteins can even be an energy source to provide adenosine triphosphate (ATP) or the actual energy currency of your body used to produce work for all of your metabolic needs and daily activities. Overall, proteins are involved in just about every bodily process that we have.
Protein and Body Composition
In terms of your body composition, eating protein can help boost your metabolism. In fact, a number of foods and supplements are thought to boost your basal metabolic rate—how many calories you burn at rest.
“Research from my lab and from other exercise and nutrition scientists suggests that you can do that by including more protein in your diet and by eating lean protein with every meal, foods like chicken, turkey breast, fish, and lean beef,” Dr. Orsmbee said. “Plant protein sources like beans, legumes, some grains, and tofu can be incorporated as well.”
This strategy can be controversial, but much of the current research supports the fact that protein should make up around 20 to 30 percent of your diet. This is higher than the 10 to 15 percent that has traditionally been recommended. This latest recommendation applies to healthy individuals, since protein could be an added stressor to the limited-functioning kidneys of an individual suffering from kidney disease.
Protein is especially important when trying to lose weight. This is because protein helps to increase the feeling of satiety, or fullness, while naturally reducing ghrelin, which is known as the hunger hormone.
This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for Wondrium Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for Wondrium Daily.
Michael Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University. He received his MS in Exercise Physiology from South Dakota State University and his PhD in Bioenergetics from East Carolina University.