An optimal diet has been defined as one that maximises health and longevity and, therefore, prevents nutrient deficiencies and reduces risks of diet-related chronic diseases (Nestle, 1999). Here, we will focus on one macronutrient in particular- protein and look in to more detail exactly why this nutrient is so important in supporting our goals as part of a healthy lifestyle.
1) Fuelling The Tank– As we exercise and undertake daily activities we put stress on our bodies, and without the correct nutritional intake we will not recover as well. In particular, we should look to protein-rich sources as they are packed with amino acids, which act as the building blocks to aiding muscle recovery. This is particularly important for athletes and those involved in high-intensity exercise, as amino acid/protein ingestion has been found to promote increases in muscle protein synthesis and helps to ensure that we recover fully between sessions/events.
2) Bodily Functions– Our bodies rely on proteins to produce important molecules in the body and for this reason, maintaining the amounts of protein in muscles and organs is essential. In that, an increase in regular protein intake can assist in the processes of various hormones, enzymes and antibodies which can utilise and fuel cells for supporting bodily functions. For example, protein has been found to increase the levels of hormone glucagon, which is released when blood sugar levels go down, and in turn can help to control body fat. In terms of an everyday health benefit, this can improve our mood and diminish irritability and cravings that can occur due to fluctuating blood sugar levels.
3) Bulking Not Sulking– Nowadays you ask people what their goal is? On the whole, it is building muscle or stripping fat. In terms of adding on size, protein serves both as a substrate and a trigger for adaptation after both resistance and aerobic exercise. By packing protein in to our diet, we are putting ourselves in a positive net protein balance, which will help to maximise the adaptive responses to our training bouts. Whey protein in particular is highly enriched in amino acids and especially leucine, which has been cited as the trigger amino acid in stimulating muscle growth.
4) “Quality” Shredding– The second part of the paradox mentioned above is weight loss, in particular the loss of weight with the highest possible fat-to-lean ratio. This can be optimised through altering your macronutrient consumption, so a high protein intake isn’t just important for those looking to put on muscle and bulk up. In fact, protein is just important for those who are looking to cut down and can improve the amount of fat loss and preservation of lean tissue.
5) Ageing like a fine red wine– As some things are well known to get better with age, a high protein diet can allow you to be in that category. A diet that has adequate levels of protein helps to slow the aging process by keeping muscle mass intact, supporting strong bones, and maintaining high cognitive and immune function. This is particularly important as the ability to create amino acids on our own decreases as we age, so the regular intake of protein rich foods can not only have positive weight related implications but also keep us in a balance of homeostasis, so even as we get older, we will still be sharp, energetic and strong.
Protein is an essential component of a healthy and balanced diet and above we have discussed exactly what it can do for you. Whether you are looking to bulk like Arnie’ or just want to stay healthy, it would be silly not to make the most of your hard work in the gym by polishing it off with a tasty protein shake or snack.
Written by John Keary (BA Hons).