Protein is such a buzz word in the fitness world. It’s one of the 3 macronutrients that you need for a balanced diet (protein, carbohydrates and fat). Including various sources of protein in your diet will help your weight loss goals, mass gaining goals and strength goals. I’m going to focus on weight loss though, because that’s what I work with most of my Clients on. You’ll notice above that I said protein is 1 of 3 macronutrients needed for a balanced diet – I’m keen to point out that this articles is about the role protein plays in a balanced diet, this is not about a high protein diet e.g. Atkins or Ketogenic.
Why do you need protein in your diet?
* To protect your existing muscle mass, and increase it; when you’re reducing your calories and increasing your activity levels (creating a calorie deficit) you’ll be losing weight, yet that will be a combination of body fat and muscle. You need to protect your muscle, so eating protein will help maintain it, and actually increase it when combined with resistance training.
MYTH CHECK: Resistance Training or increasing your protein intake is not going to ‘bulk you up’. Ladies, as I’ve said before in my most popular blog post #1 fat burning tip; start Resistance Training today! I promise by starting resistance training you will not turn into the incredible hulk, you will become a leaner, more shapely version of yourself. Sounds amazing right? Women don’t produce enough testosterone to build muscle easily, it takes a lot of heavy lifting and consuming a large amount of food to get that bodybuilder physique. So rest assured you won’t get bulky. Muscle takes up less space than fat, which is why you’ll see everything tighten up and get that ‘toned’ look most ladies are working towards.
* It can significantly boost your metabolism and burn more calories; “That’s because the body uses energy (calories) to digest and make use of the nutrients in foods. This is referred to as the thermic effect of food (TEF). However, not all foods are the same in this regard. In fact, protein has a much higher thermic effect (20-35%) than fat or carbs (5-15%).” (1)
* It fills you up and keeps you fuller for longer. Carbs fill you up temporarily, but then leave you wanting more. Increase your protein intake and you’ll feel more satisfied. “Part of the reason is that protein reduces your level of the hunger hormone ghrelin. It also boosts the satiety hormone peptide YY, which makes you feel full.
This effect can be powerful. In one study, increasing protein from 15 to 30% of calories made overweight women eat 441 fewer calories each day, without intentionally restricting anything.” (1)
Now that we’ve established that it’s well worth including protein in your diet, let’s look at the different sources waiting to jump into your shopping basket:
- Extra lean mince
- Grass Fed Steak
- Turkey breast
- Chicken breast
- Tuna Steak
How much protein should you eat each day?
The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound.
This amounts to:
* 64 grams per day for the average sedentary man weighing 80kg (12st 8lbs)
* 52 grams per day for the average sedentary woman weighing 65kg (10st 3lbs).
However, this is a very modest recommendation and everybody’s requirement will be different based on their current state of health, activity levels, goals etc. I recommend looking at your diet as a whole, tracking it for a week on myfitnesspal and reviewing your macronutrient charts. I find that when female Clients first come to me and we review their macronutrients, protein only accounts for 15-20% of their daily calories (if they are meat eaters), and I ask them to increase that to 30%, which will help them with their weight loss goals under my ongoing coaching.
An important point here is the 52g stated above is not 52g of cooked chicken, the 52g is the amount of protein that your body actually gets from the food.
You can find out the protein content of any food in a few different ways:
- looking at the nutrition label (read my blog post on reading labels for guidance)
- entering the food into myfitnesspal app
- entering the food into nutritiondata.self.com
- using this quick reference guide below:
The following list is by no means exhaustive, it’s a quick reference of commonly consumed foods, both animal and plant, and their protein content, usually per 100g (2).
Protein Content of Commonly Consumed Foods
Meat and Fish
- Chicken, breast, skin off, roasted, 100g: 34 g of protein
- Lamb, chops, 100g: 28g of protein
- Beef, 100g: 27g of protein
- Snapper 1 x fillet (approx. 170g): 45g of protein
- Salmon 1/2 x fillet (approx. 180g): 39g of protein
- Tuna, tinned, 85g: 22g of protein
- Ham, 100g: 17g of protein
- Bacon whole rasher, grilled, 100g: 22.2g of protein
- Sausage, beef, grilled, 100g: 13.9g of protein
- Sausage, pork, grilled, 100g: 16.8g of protein
Dairy and Eggs
- Eggs, 1 x large, poached: 6g of protein
- Milk, cow’s, full fat, 100mL: 3.5g of protein
- Milk, cow’s, skimmed, 100mL: 3.7g of protein
- Cheese, cheddar, full fat, 100g: 24.6g of protein
- Fetta, goat/sheep, 100g: 17.4g of protein
- Ricotta, reduced fat, 100g: 10.1g of protein
- Cream cheese, full fat, 100g: 11.1g of protein
- Haloumi, 100g: 21.3g of protein
- Yoghurt, natural, full fat, 100g: 6g of protein
- Red lentils, 100g: 6.8g of protein
- Yellow split peas, 100g: 6.6g of protein
- Quinoa, 100g: 4g of protein
- Chickpeas (garbanzo), tinned, 100g: 6.3g of protein
- Cannelini beans, tinned, 100g: 6.2g of protein
- Kidney beans, tinned, 100g: 6.6g of protein
- Tofu, firm, 100g: 12g of protein
- Tofu, silken, 100g: 8.1g of protein
Nuts and Seeds
- Almonds, raw, 25g: 6g of protein
- Walnuts, raw, 25g: 4g of protein
- Brazil nuts, raw, 25g: 3.6g of protein
- Cashew nuts, raw, 25g: 5g of protein
- Peanut butter, no salt or sugar, 1Tbs: 6g of protein
- Pumpkin seeds, raw, 25g: 6.1g of protein
- Sunflower seeds, raw, 25g: 6.7g of protein
Bread and Grains
- Bread, white, 100g (approx 2 slices): 9.7g of protein
- Bread, wholemeal, 100g: 9g of protein
- Bread, gluten free, 100g: 9.8g of protein
- Bread, rye, light, 100g: 9g of protein
- Oats, whole, raw, 100g: 2g of protein
- Pasta, white, 100g: 4.2g of protein
- Pasta, wholemeal, 100g: 4.9g of protein
- Rice, white, 100g: 2.7 of protein
- Rice, wholegrain, 100g: 2.9g of protein
- Pearled barley, 100g: 2.9g of protein
- Polenta, cooked in water, 100g: 2.6g of protein
What about protein powders and bars?
These products are available to supplement a balanced diet. Your diet should be packed with nutrient rich meals, and if you’re not quite hitting your protein quota or need to get some in quickly after a workout then a shake is very convenient. Protein shakes and bars should not be used as meal replacements for long-term results. I’ve been there, done that, with shakes and I know that it’s not a sustainable approach.
“Women may actually benefit more from protein powder than men do,” says certified strength and conditioning specialist Marie Spano, R.D. “Men who are involved in a general fitness program typically have enough protein in their diet, whereas many women fall short. Protein powder can help fill in the gaps.”
“When you’re strapped for time, eating on the run, or trying to cut down on your meat habit, getting that much protein can be challenging. That’s where protein powder comes in. Mixing it into a shake or smoothie can help you hit your protein goals wherever you go. Meanwhile, sprinkling some powder in your pancake batter or soups or putting some on top of your oatmeal can also help make every meal and snack into high-protein one.” (3)
I have compiled a top 3 of Protein Powders for women with a weight loss goal. These are brands that are available in the UK, Ireland and Australia – one I even order from the U.S. so everyone else should be able to find at least 1 of these locally or online.
Please note: I am not affiliated with any of these brands. This top 3 has been compiled using my own independent research.
1) JYM Pro (available from www.bodybuilding.com)
Description: Made with the Highest Quality Whey, Casein, and Egg Protein. Multiple flavours available, the flavours vary depending on which site you buy from. Also available from gnc.com I’ve tried a few flavours of this brand – Vanilla, S’Mores and Cookie Crunch. Due to the combination of protein sources the shake is nice & thick with plenty of flavour.
Nutritional values per serve (S’mores used as an example): 38.5g serving size, 150 calories, 2.5g total fat, 8g total carbs (including 3g sugar), 24g protein
2) Optimum Nutrition Lean Whey (available from Holland & Barrett – UK Retailer, also available online)
Description: Lean Whey delivers 20g of high quality whey proteins which can be easily digested and absorbed into the body. Each great tasting shake is only 98 calories and less than a gram of fat.
As well as its high protein, low calorie benefits, Lean Whey, also supplies a beneficial blend of ingredients including: Conjugated Linoleic acid (CLA), Green Tea Extract (GTE) and L-Carnitine.
Nutritional values per serve (Chocolate Milkshake as an example): 26g serving size, 98 calories, 1.2g total fat, 1.4g total carbs (including 0.6g sugar), 20g protein
Other options from Optimum Nutrition include the ‘ON Gold Standard 100% Whey’ in various flavours.
3) BodyScience (BSC) Hydroxyburn Pro. Diet (available from www.aminoz.com.au)
Description: Whey protein powder, potent fat burning blend and full amino acid profile + vitamins + minerals
Nutritional values per serve (Chocolate Fudge as an example): 40g serving size, 133 calories, 0.7g total fat, 4.1 total carbs (including 3.7g sugar), 21.1g protein
It’s time to wrap this up…the more research I did, the bigger this post got, yet it’s important to let you know how important protein is to have in your balanced diet. There are various sources of protein listed above, start adding them in to your diet and try one of the protein powders above too. As usual I’ve given general guidance for women looking to lose weight, the advice above doesn’t cater for any individual circumstances.
However, it’s safe to say that you could all benefit from some extra protein in your diet to:
* protect your existing muscle mass, and increase it
* significantly boost your metabolism and burn more calories
* fill you up and keep you fuller for longer.
Peace out for protein!
If you would like weight loss coaching – exercise programming, nutrition coaching and support just click here for more info.
Would you like a FREE workout guide?
Sign up to receive your download link, and weekly emails with PT + nutrition tips.