If you are engaged in strength training, want to lose weight or build muscle mass, hear and read a lot about protein. Protein can be found in eggs, chicken, fish and meat, and nuts, dairy and legumes. Also, almost everyone nowadays uses dietary supplements such as protein shakes and protein bars to get more protein easily. But why? What exactly is the importance of enough protein and how much protein do you need? In this article, I explain more about the phenomenon of protein and why proteins are important in fitness!
Why protein is important in fitness.
Proteins are the building blocks of our bodies. Our body cells and muscle cells are made up of proteins. With physical exertion such as fitness and strength training, you strain the muscles until tiny lesions (cracks) in the muscle fibres. To restore this, your body needs amino acids, and this amino is extracted from proteins.
So why proteins play such an important role in fitness is mainly related to the repair and build-up of muscle tissue. This contributes to increasing your muscle mass and muscle strength.
How much protein do you need?
If you don’t exercise and have an office job, you don’t need that much protein. You will need about 0.8 grams to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight every day. When you exercise, your protein requirement goes up. Endurance athletes need about 1.2 grams to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If you do strength training or bodybuilding, your protein requirement will increase dramatically; you will need 1.8 to 2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. These proteins are needed for the recovery of the muscles.
By training the muscles, there is slight damage to the muscle tissue. The next day or days to feel is like muscle pain (although muscle pain is not an indication of a good workout!). By repairing and overcompensating the damage to the muscle tissue, we become stronger. The body immediately creates a little extra muscle tissue to prepare for a new future heavy load. For this process, the body needs proteins. If we exercise intensively and eat too little protein, we achieve the opposite effect with training. The damage to the muscle tissue can then be not sufficiently repaired, and instead of stronger, we will become weaker. This principle is called super-compensation, and you can read more about it in this article.
Difference for Athlete
If you are a recreational athlete, you have a daily protein requirement of 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. Endurance athletes have a protein requirement of 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight, depending on how intensively and for how long they train. If you exercise while you’re still growing, you’ll need about 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, depending on how hard you train.
- Non-athletes = 0.8 – 1 gram protein per kilogram of body weight
- Recreational athlete = 1 gram protein per kilogram of body weight
- Endurance athletes = 1.2 – 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
- Strength athletes / bodybuilders = 1.8 – 2.4 grams protein per kilogram of body weight
The importance of sufficient protein when losing weight
If we’re losing weight, there’s a risk that we’re not getting enough protein. When we lose weight, we do it by eating fewer calories than our bodies need. Because we eat less, we will also get less protein. Especially if we are losing weight in combination with fitness, then a protein deficiency is quickly lurking.
Because of the fitness, we already have an increased protein requirement, which means that we will soon be too low in protein on a diet with fewer calories. Therefore, it is important to ensure that enough protein is ingested during dry training.
Low-carbohydrate and high in protein
If we want to lose weight and reduce our daily calories, we can do it best by reducing the calories obtained from carbohydrates and reducing our protein intake. This is why low-carbohydrate and high-protein diets are so popular.
A low-carbohydrate diet does not mean that you can no longer have carbohydrates at all. It would help if you had carbohydrates as the main fuel to perform your training work. With a low carbohydrate diet, the consumption of carbohydrates is reduced. After you’ve calculated how many calories you need to eat per day for fat loss, you can follow the following guidelines:
- 2 to 2.5 grams protein per kilogram of body weight (1 gram protein delivers 4 kcal)
- 1 gram fat per kilogram of body weight (1 gram of fat delivers 9 kcal)
- The remaining calories required are from carbohydrates (1 gram carbohydrate delivers 4 kcal)
Do you find it difficult to apply this yourself? Take a look at the possibilities of a tailor-made nutrition schedule at Voeding-en-fitness.nl Online Personal Training!
High protein foods for maintaining muscle mass
Eating high protein while we are losing weight has several important benefits. The main advantage is that we can maintain our muscle mass. The loss of muscle mass should be prevented when we are losing weight. First of all, you become weaker when you lose muscle mass, but muscle mass also has major consequences for our metabolism.
Our metabolism depends very much on the amount of muscle mass we have. For every kilo of muscle mass, we burn about 80 kcal per day. If we lose a kilo of muscle mass, our daily calorie requirement will drop by 80 kcal. If we want to lose weight and keep up weight, maintaining our metabolism is our first gain. Because even on days when we do nothing, we will burn more calories thanks to our muscle mass.
Protein creates a saturated feeling.
Eating high protein has several other benefits when losing weight. A nice side effect of protein is that they give us a long-term saturated feeling. Proteins are about twice as difficult to digest than carbohydrates, so high-protein foods stay in our stomach twice as long. This will keep you full for longer and make it easier to reach your daily calorie target.
Digesting proteins takes more energy.
Digesting proteins also costs our body more energy than digesting carbohydrates. To digest proteins, our body consumes about 30% more energy than for digesting carbohydrates. We burn more calories with high-protein foods when we don’t have to do anything for it.
Proteins ensure stable blood sugar levels.
In a ‘normal’ (what is normal nowadays?) diet consists of carbohydrates. The sandwiches or cereals at breakfast, the sandwiches at lunch and the potatoes, the rice or the pasta at dinner. All these carbohydrates will convert our body into simple carbohydrates (glucose) before they can absorb them and use them as an energy source. After every meal, our blood sugar levels will rise due to the increase in glucose in our blood. After an hour or two, the carbohydrate-rich meal is digested, and our blood sugar levels drop again.
This drop in blood sugar triggers our feeling of hunger. We’re getting hungry again. And the temptation to snack and snack beckons. And of course, we’re not waiting for that when we’re dry training. Snacking and/or snacking between meals is often why we do not achieve our goals (promptly).
If we want to reduce our fat percentage within the target period we set, we, therefore, have a strong interest in keeping our blood sugar levels stable as much as possible. As a result, we will be less tempted to snack and/or snack. And with that we come back to protein: after consuming a protein-rich meal, this has little effect on our blood sugar levels. This one stays pretty stable.
There is always a loss of muscle mass when losing weight.
If we want to lose weight, there will have to be a negative energy balance. With a negative energy balance, there will always be the loss of muscle mass. This is not preventable; this is inherent in a negative energy balance. However, by eating high protein, we can minimize the loss of muscle mass. That is an important reason why proteins are so important in fitness. In the end, you want to lose as much fat as possible, while maintaining as much muscle mass as possible. This leads to more muscle definition, and so you can show what you worked hard for that time in the gym!
In this article, I explained to you why proteins play such an important role in fitness. Of course, everybody reacts differently to certain nutrients, and you must find a good working balance for yourself. Do you exercise fanatically? Then your body needs more protein than if you are not active. Even when you lose weight, it is wise to make sure that you get plenty of protein! Of course, you can get enough protein from normal foods, but supplements like protein shakes or protein bars can help you get your needed protein more easily.