MIGHTY FIT

The many benefits of protein outside of building muscle

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Most of us know that protein is the building block of muscle. Our bodies break it down into amino acids and then use those amino acids for muscle repairing and rebuilding. But protein does a hell of a lot more than just build muscle. It is essential to just about every function in the human body.


Digestion

The fattier the fish, the less protein is in it. Salmon comes in around 20g of protein per 100g.

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The protein you eat makes compounds that help digest food, known as enzymes. Contrary to popular belief, your stomach acid can't dissolve everything you eat as if it were a body in a 100-gallon bin of hydrofluoric acid--it needs digestive enzymes for that. Without an adequate supply of protein in your diet, you wouldn't be able to properly digest the nutrients in things like milk or carbohydrates.

Hunger signals

Chicken! It's finger licking good at about 31g of protein per 100g of boneless skinless breast meat.

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Most of us think the only way our body tells us it's full is when our stomachs literally fill up, which is the stomach stretch response. But there is so much more going on to tell us to be done eating. We have certain hormones that send signals to tell our brains to eat more or less, and these hormones are made out of protein. The hormonal response happens even when you eat foods that have no protein in them, but you need protein in your diet in order for the hormones to work properly.

A better brain

Eggs are basically a perfect food. About 6g of protein per large egg.

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Eating adequate amounts of protein will make you smarter and happier.

Tyrosine, one of the amino acids in protein, prompts the brain to create more neurotransmitters that make us feel good, like norepinephrine and dopamine.

You've probably heard of dopamine before. It's what you secrete when you do something highly enjoyable, like graduate basic training or finally get that DD214 you thought you wanted your entire career.

Norepinephrine is also called noradrenaline; it's one of those neurotransmitters that increases alertness. Its most notable claim to fame is in the fight or flight response, where it is often talked about with its partner chemical, adrenaline (epinephrine).

In other words, eating protein can help you feel rewarded, charged, and ready to perform physically.

Immune function

Tofu... It won't make you grow breasts, contrary to popular belief. About 20g of protein per 100g.

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The part of your immune system that actually kills and disposes of foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria are proteins.

Keeping an adequate amount of protein in the diet ensures that your immune system is chock full of troops ready to search and destroy anything that doesn't belong inside you... including things you inserted on a dare.

Protein and your kidneys

Nuts get a lot of love... they shouldn't. Almonds, at about 21g of protein per 100g, also pack nearly 50g of fat. That's an extra 450 calories that will almost guarantee a caloric surplus on the day.

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Okay, so this list is four things protein does do and one thing it doesn't do. Eating higher amounts of protein does NOT cause damage to your kidneys. This idea was a hypothesis that has been fully debunked. Studies have been done where very high protein intakes were observed. In one study, a 185 lb person consumed nearly 240 grams of protein per day. In terms of lean steak, that's over 2 lbs every day. That's a lot of steak! No adverse effects on otherwise healthy kidneys were shown.

So, how much should I eat?

Sashimi is a meal of basically pure protein. Especially when it comes to leaner fish like tuna at about 3g of protein per piece of sashimi.

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The recommendation for protein changes based on you. There is no one right answer; that's just the nature of being human. You will have to do a little math. The best starting place is to eat 1 gram of protein for every pound of lean muscle mass you have.

If you are 200 lbs and 20% body fat, then you are 160 lbs of lean muscle. So 160 grams of protein is how much you should eat each day, spread throughout all of your meals.

In practice, that can look something like the following: assuming you eat 3 meals per day and have at least one protein shake as a snack throughout the day (don't lose your mind over nutrition timing):

Chickpeas, AKA Garbanzo beans, have 19g of protein per 100g serving, but also come with over 60g of carbs to be aware of.

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Breakfast

  • 4 eggs = 24g of protein

Lunch

  • 200g (7oz) chicken breast = 60g of protein

Dinner

  • 200g (7oz) lean beef = 55g of protein

Shake

  • 1 scoop = 25g of protein

That's 164 grams of protein intake just including lean sources of the nutrient. You will be eating even more with the vegetables and complex carbs you eat with your meals, so much so in fact that you probably don't even need the shake.

Eat your protein

Milk has a modest 8g of protein per 1 cup serving. It is an excellent substitute for water if you are trying to put on weight.

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Protein is not just for muscle-bound meat-jerks: it makes your brain, immune system, blood, energy systems and more, all work much more efficiently the way they are intended. It's just a nice added bonus that it also helps you look much better with your clothes off.