Down to a Science
Answering the “WHY” of Protein
If you’re reading this, you probably already know that protein is an important part of your diet—especially when it comes to staying healthy and strong. Today we want to pause to take a little bit deeper of a dive into why. Why is protein intake so vital to our health? Where does it go once it enters our body?
Building and Repairing Muscle
This first point doesn’t just apply to people wanting to bulk up. Muscle is for everyone. Protein intake is particularly important after a workout, when your body goes into recovery mode. In simplest terms, protein is the building block of muscle. That’s why consuming protein enables your body to maintain muscle, and build new muscle and strength. Those building blocks can be used by your body where they are needed—to repair and strengthen existing muscle, or to build new muscle.
Protein works much the same way after injury: your body kicks into hypermetabolism—that’s basically high gear-- utilizing protein to repair damaged tissue, muscle, and cells. Studies have shown that not enough protein can actually slow healing rates in patients, due in part to your body not being able to produce as much collagen—a protein that makes up your bones, skin, ligaments, and tissues. The key takeaway: proteins are what our muscle, tissue, and organs are made of, so it’s no surprise that protein can help support recovery after being injured and even after certain types of surgery.
Quenches Hunger, Curbs Appetite
You’ve probably heard it, and you’ve likely experienced it for yourself: eating protein-rich foods not only fills you up, it keeps you feeling full for longer. It’s not magic, it’s science. Protein’s thermic effect—that’s the amount of energy needed to digest it—is very high. It’s higher than any other macronutrients, like fats and carbohydrates. There are two ways this works to your advantage: 1) It reduces your appetite because digestion is a longer process, and 2) Your body has to work harder to digest it, giving you a short-term metabolism boost.
Here’s a little science lesson for you, while we’re on the subject of appetite: protein helps keep weight-regulating hormones at bay. One of those key hormones is ghrelin, or the “hunger hormone.” It is produced in your gut, when it gets the signal that your stomach is running on empty. It then travels through your blood to your brain, carrying with it the message that you should eat something- STAT. Now ghrelin isn’t all bad—its valuable job is to be sure you get all the nutrients you need so you don’t starve. But as you might imagine, increased levels of the hunger hormone can cause overeating, or too much idle snacking. This is where protein comes in: since protein takes longer to digest and keeps you satisfied for longer, it keeps ghrelin levels lower.
Putting these benefits of protein to the test, scientists conducted a study and found that participants who ate high-protein Greek yogurt in the afternoon ate 100 fewer calories at dinner than those eating crackers or chocolate for a snack. The key takeaway: protein combats hunger, and keeps you feeling satisfied longer. Try this for yourself! Replace your afternoon munch session with a Protein Shake, some nuts, or these Chocolate Almond Protein Energy Bites and see if you notice a difference.
Immune Health Support
Keeping our immune systems performing at their peak is more important now than ever, along with a healthy lifestyle and diet, one weapon you can use to arm your body is—you guessed it—protein. The same way you need protein to fuel your recovery after a strenuous workout, giving your body ample protein helpsfuel your immune system. Our immune systems rely on protein to build antibodies and white blood cells. The key takeaway: Protein is a luxury you can provide your body to keep it performing its very best.
We’re not saying protein is a literal fountain of youth, but it can help with some of the frustrations that come with aging. As we get older, we tend to lose strength and muscle mass—our muscles begin to break down. One of the reasons for this is what doctors call sarcopenia, a natural loss of muscle due to aging and living a more sedentary lifestyle. Research shows that adding moderate protein to our diet as we age can slow the process, and keep activity levels higher for more of those golden years. The key takeaway: maintaining a protein-filled diet and exercising is just as important—if not more!—as you age.
The benefits of a diet rich in protein go further and deeper than the results we might see from day-to-day, or even month-to-month. So keep finding new ways to add protein to your diet: swapping in eggs for those breakfast carbs, adding nuts to your snacking regimen, grabbing a protein shake after your workout. It’s about preventative maintenance: fueling our bodies with the stuff they need to perform at their best. Give your body the love it deserves, and it will love you back.