There’s a reason why bodybuilders and gym-goers fill their plates with protein. The benefits of protein are far-reaching, and eating more of this macro can help you lose weight, keep your metabolism humming, and both build and maintain lean muscle, which translates to more strength and less body fat (hello, toned arms and abs!).
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for a sedentary adult is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. That comes out to an average daily intake of 46 grams of protein for women and 56 grams of protein for men, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Despite these public health-focused recommendations, research shows that many of us should be aiming for much more—sometimes even double these numbers. A 2016 review published in the journal Food & Function noted that an adequate daily protein intake for simply maintaining physical strength should be 1.0, 1.3, and 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for individuals with minimal, moderate, and intense physical activity, respectively. Getting 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight was shown to help spur muscle growth when coupled with resistance training, according to a 2018 Nutrients study.
Protein has an effect on our hormones that regulate hunger, in particular the hormones ghrelin and peptide YY (PYY). “Ghrelin helps by suppressing hunger signals and PYY has been shown to reduce food intake and increase energy expenditure,” says Megan Hilbert, MS, RDN, a dietitian with Top Nutrition Coaching.
Research shows that eating a high-protein meal can help suppress ghrelin (the hunger hormone) while increasing PYY (which helps suppress appetite), acting as a double whammy against cravings.
Protein is a satiating nutrient, meaning it can help keep you feeling fuller for longer, and if you’re not as hungry as you usually are, you’ll likely end up eating fewer calories. Translation: You’ll support your weight loss goals.
“Protein has a higher thermic effect of food (TEF) compared to carbohydrates and fats, meaning your body burns more calories in the process of digesting, absorbing, and utilizing protein,” says Jordan Hill, MCD, RD, CSSD, with Top Nutrition Coaching. “Because muscle mass is more metabolically efficient than fat mass, the more we have of it, the more calories we burn at rest compared to someone who may have more fat mass.”
That’s why getting enough protein when you’re trying to lose weight is so important. “Eating adequate protein can assist in muscle mass maintenance, leading to a higher caloric burn at rest compared to those losing muscle mass during their weight loss journey,” Hill says.
One of the most well-known benefits of protein is its ability to support muscle building. Building muscle is key to staying lean and strong, and you can’t grow or maintain your muscles on a low-protein diet. “Protein plays a crucial role in building and maintaining muscle through a process called muscle protein synthesis (MPS),” Hill says.
Muscle protein synthesis is exactly as it sounds: It’s the creation of new muscle protein molecules to repair and grow muscle tissue. “Combining adequate protein intake with resistance training and proper meal timing can optimize muscle protein synthesis and contribute to muscle development and overall strength,” Hill says. So if you’re regularly lifting at the gym, don’t let your efforts go to waste by skimping out on protein.
Everyone’s looking to boost their metabolism these days, but what does that really mean? Simply put, “boosting the metabolism” refers to increasing the rate at which your body burns calories or expends energy, Hill says. This can help support weight management, energy levels, nutrient utilization, and blood sugar control.
Now, here’s where protein comes into play: “Protein can contribute to a boosted metabolism through its higher thermic effect of food compared to carbohydrates and fats, and in its role in muscle maintenance,” Hill says. Because of its high TEF and its ability to help build and maintain muscle, protein can help your body burn more calories at rest, which indicates an increase in metabolism.