Time and time again I see women who are tired, aching, feeling flat and always snacking and time and time again I see they are not eating anywhere near enough protein. I surprised myself when tracking my own eating just recently that even I am not eating enough protein sometimes.
Trust me when I say you might think you are eating enough but I bet you aren’t especially if you are female.
Eating enough protein can be a game changer. Look at what it does in the body and you will see why it is so damn important.
- Protein is needed for our structure. Hence the adage ‘we are what we eat’. Collagen is the trendy ingredient at the moment and this is a type of protein that is fundamental to bone, tendons, ligaments and skin health. Elastin is also a protein that does what it says – provides elasticity- to our skin, our uterus, our lungs and blood vessel walls – it helps provide the stretch and return. Keratin keeps our hair, skin and nails strong and healthy.
- Protein is also needed for the growth, maintenance and repair of all our tissues which are constantly turning over. There is an even higher turnover of tissues if we are active, ageing, or unwell.
- Enzymes are proteins that speed up chemical reactions in the body. They basically stop the ‘plug hole getting clogged’ and usually have to hold hands with vitamins in order to do this (another reason to be eating lots of veggies and fruit). In order to digest and absorb the nutrients from our food we have digestive enzymes, some of us don’t have specific enzymes (e.g. lactase) which is why when we drink milk we feel like shit. Enzymes are also responsible for energy production, blood clotting amongst many other things. So if we don’t eat enough protein we may feel fatigued and we may not be absorbing our nutrients.
- Protein is also required to be ‘taxis’ for our nutrients to get them into our bloodstream and in and out of cells. Lipoproteins are an example of a ‘fat taxi’ that takes cholesterol and triglycerides (fancy name for fat) around our body. Haemoglobin transports oxygen, Transferrin transports iron and GLUT transporters taxi glucose.
- Protein is a fundamental part of our immune system. It makes antibodies and immunoglobulins. In this day and age having a robust immune system is important. Antibodies basically recognise viruses and bacteria as being ‘bad’ and tag them so the white blood cell SWOT team can come in and kick some pathogen butt.
- Protein helps to act as a buffer for the acids and alkaline in our body to balance pH.
- Protein is required for fluid balance. When we don’t eat enough protein we can end up with fluid retention (oedema). Albumin and Globulin are specific proteins that help to attract and retain water in our blood. When we are deficient in protein then there is nothing there to hold the water and so it moves in between the cells causing oedema.
- Protein is a building block of hormones (chemical messengers). Hormones are the body’s equivalent of Facebook messenger. Cholesterol is the building block to our reproductive hormones but protein is the mother of insulin, glucagon (both needed for blood sugar balance) and also leptin and ghrelin (needed for appetite and satiety control).
- Protein affects our brain function. Protein helps to regulate the brain, get nutrients to the brain AND is required for the production of many neurotransmitters such as serotonin (happy), dopamine (pleasure), acetylcholine (focus).
- Protein gives us energy. It contains about 17kJ per gram. Some protein can also be converted to glucose for energy and is also required for the production of dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine all of which increase energy.
- And if that’s not enough. Protein helps with weight loss. It prevents us losing muscle when we restrict our energy intake (kj) through dieting, it increases our metabolic rate which ‘burns’ off that fat, keeps us full for longer (so we are less likely to snack on shit) and has been shown to protect against obesity (1). One study showed that it prevented weight gain in those who had dieted by a whopping 50% (2). Another study showed that eating a good amount of protein also reduces that damn belly fat (3).
We get protein from our diet, our body breaks it down and makes other proteins that it needs. if we don’t eat enough our body can’t make enough unless it pulls our body apart to recycle it. So the next time you feel tired, achey, grumpy, wrinkly and just generally blah. Look at your diet first. I promise you that marmalade on toast, a cucumber salad and stir fried broccoli will not be giving you enough protein to thrive on or lose weight on.
We cover the topic of protein in depth on our programme and on our coached programme your diet will be analysed and advice given on how to improve your protein intake so you can feel like you again (if not even better).
The next blog will address how much we should be eating, the myths about eating too much, how much is too much and best sources.