Protein: Your "Concrete" Foundation
Since you've decided to not “putty up” your diet, let's see what food you can add to make it most productive for your goals!
Proteins, Fats, and Carbohydrates form what are commonly referred to as “macro-nutrients” or “macros” for short. And these macro-nutrients are the three major classifications of food the body uses to derive its “raw materials”. We begin with the “base” of the macros: Protein, because every great building must begin with the best material foundation.
Just like basements and beams provide shape and stability to a sturdy building, proteins provide structure and support to most of our tissues (muscle, hair, bone, etc.). So without them, we would be formless and unable to stand! Proteins also serve by helping our bodies heal from wounds, injuries, and exercise. When you workout or strain your muscles, you cause tiny amounts of damage to the tissue; and proteins help repair that damage. This process makes muscle stronger and more resilient for the next time you workout...but that’s STILL not all protein is used for. Your DNA and other chemicals made by the body require amino acids derived from protein to assemble. Therefore, without enough protein, your tissues will degrade, you’ll find yourself sore longer, you'll feel fatigued and overall be unable to recover/regenerate appropriately. To avoid these dysfunctions, everyone should incorporate balanced protein sources CONSISTENTLY throughout the day. Planning at least one of these sources with every meal is a valuable rule of thumb to achieve most needs. Some of the best examples of complete protein would include poultry (chicken breasts and thighs, turkey, etc), lean red meats (bison, beef, etc) and lean fish. In most cases, resolving protein deficiencies are a major part of any nutritional intervention; so here are my three biggest reasons why starting with protein will help balance out your diet.
First, making protein (especially meat protein) your first priority in meals is paramount for proper digestion. Meat sources are most effective because they best stimulate stomach acid to begin the digestive process. This acid is the catalyst for releasing enzymes needed to breakdown fat and complex carbohydrates as the food makes its way through the bowels. Think of it like the different macros are the ingredients needed to make reinforced concrete (rebar, sand, crushed brick/gravel), while stomach acid is like the actual cement. Too little cement and the rest of the mixture will remain unset. We need to ensure that enough cement (stomach acid) is added to make the robust and sturdy basement levels we want. Not only that, but the amino acids found in these foods are used to make the tissues mentioned before (just as metals found in different types of stone are refined to make steel beams). If you instead decide to go a plant-based protein route, then things become more complicated. You can use less efficient materials to accomplish a lot of the same ends, but you’ll want to consider that wooden foundations and beams are much easier to warp and degrade. Making meat-based protein your first priority will ensure that the most productive digestive pathways are activated, and your foundation is most structurally sound.
Reason #1: Meat-based protein as your foundation optimizes digestive function and structural integrity
The second reason to start meals with a protein foundation is that proteins are important in managing body fat and cravings. They take longer to digest and require more energy to break down/absorb than any other macro, making you feel more full for longer. For my clients dealing with these issues, I typically first recommend increasing protein at lunch and dinner. Simply increasing protein at those times, keeps their hunger at bay and fat loss becomes easier! Next, we zero in on the timing and sizes of their meals to regulate blood sugar/energy balance, but I’ll dive into those in a later article.
Reason #2: Higher protein consumption improves fat loss and decreases cravings!
The third reason why proteins are the base of an ideal meal plan is that they are higher in protein per ounce compared to the other macros. This makes planning your meals much easier to accomplish since most protein sources contain some of the other macros (fat and carbohydrates) in them to get your meal started. Taking time once or twice per week to prepare the protein servings you want for the week sets the “rebar” of your foundation (essentially reinforcing your nutritional base). This cooking trick will free up more of your schedule, leaving only your fats and carbohydrates (which take significantly less effort to make) when it’s time to eat. Therefore, deciding on your choice of protein after preparing your fats/carbs would be like trying to install a foundation after the entire house has already been built. That would be tedious and expensive, right? Exactly! So, don’t make this same mistake in your meal planning. Efficiently set up your foundation by planning and prepping your protein servings ahead of time!
Reason #3: Prepping your protein sets your nutritional foundation and saves you time.
After reading this far, you have a better understanding of what proteins are and how they work in achieving your goals. To summarize, they 1) provide the raw materials needed to make and regenerate your tissues, 2) help decrease body fat and sugar cravings, and 3) save time in your schedule by reducing hours spent cooking. Now that you understand the foundational purposes of protein, you’re ready to build your plan like a pro!
If you’re like me and always wondering “what’s next?”, don’t worry...my next article will be about putting up the walls and functional aspects of your building with “Fats”. In the meantime, check out our other blog postings. They will teach you how to pick devices, set up your MyFitnessPal account and everything else you need to get started on your journey. For more individualized approaches, make sure to track your food and fill out our Needs Assessment so that we can help you get there even faster!
Until next time, remember to build a proper protein foundation and continue learning on the way to the optimal you!
edited and curated by SYX