Weight loss and protein
You know the drill: to see a shift on the scales, the most important thing is creating an energy deficit, which means if you burn more energy than you take in, you’ll start to lose weight. But while that equation confirms there’s no magic food bullet when it comes to weight loss, it is true that some types of food will help you out more than others. Our pick? Protein. And that’s not just because the way SmartPoints® are calculated encourages you to eat high-protein foods; research backs us up, too.
More protein means more muscle
This is true particularly when you pair it with strength training. When people did that as part of an Australian study carried out in 2014, their muscles were 18 per cent stronger after four months, compared to people who exercised minus the protein. In fact, research also shows that if you eat more protein when you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll lose fat but will retain more body muscle. What’s so good about muscle? For one thing, it’s important for long-term weight loss because muscle actually burns kilojoules, so the more of it you have (or can keep) the easier you might find it to lose weight, and maintain the loss.
It’s a key reason why people eating a higher-protein diet as part of a weight-loss study conducted overseas lost 38 per cent more body fat than people eating a typical diet, even though they were eating the same amount of kilojoules overall. The bigger protein component of their diets helped preserve their muscle, which made losing body fat easier.
Protein for curbing appetite
When you include a source of lean protein in a meal you’re likely to feel fuller for longer. Research has found that when protein replaced fat in meals containing the same number of kilojoules, satiety was significantly increased. The power of protein for weight loss doesn’t necessarily lie in eating more protein. Rather, it’s about getting adequate, varied intake from lean choices, which are spaced evenly across the day.
Protein for strength training
Most people consume protein with the main evening meal but need a little nudge to boost protein intake at other times. High-quality protein after a workout helps muscle repair and there appears to be a window of around 30-60 minutes after a workout to pep up with protein and promote optimal recovery. You don’t have to add more food into your eating plan – just time meals and snacks around that gym session.
Protein for healthy ageing
We start to lose muscle mass from our mid-thirties. Ageing typically makes people feel stiffer and slower as their muscles start to lose tone and strength. Losing muscle mass also lowers metabolic rate, which can lead to weight gain. However, growing scientific research points to protein’s possible ‘anti-ageing’ effect, helping to slow down muscle loss – in combination with a healthy lifestyle and strength or resistance training.
Here’s how to get the most out of protein
1. Be picky about the type of protein
Various foods are rich in protein, including meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, but there are also some plant-based sources of protein, like soy products, legumes and nuts. But not all protein is created equal, and some will even give you a hefty hit of saturated fat. Example? Bacon is a source of protein, and while it’s fine to enjoy it occasionally, there are much healthier everyday choices. As a general rule, choose lean cuts of meat and low-fat dairy products, and think about what else the protein-rich food provides, too. For example, lentils are a good source of protein, and they also provide dietary fibre. And a serve of lean steak offers protein plus all sorts of other goodies, like iron, zinc and vitamin B12.
2. Spread it around
Rather than ‘protein loading’ by eating a huge serve in one meal, usually dinner, try to spread your protein intake out more evenly across the day. Research proves that even when the amount of protein in question remains the same, eating it across all three meals in a day, rather than just the one, is more effective at building and maintaining muscle. So aim to include some protein with most meals.
3. Do the maths
As for how much protein to eat, the ‘official’ guidelines and recommendations differ depending on your age, body weight, how active you are and even whether you’re a man or a woman. But according to one of the latest studies to put the link between protein and weight loss under the microscope, it’s eating at least 25g of protein per meal that makes managing body weight easier. To get an idea of what that looks like, a 100g serve of tinned tuna contains 22g of protein, half a skinless chicken breast contains 26g, and two poached eggs plus a ¾-cup serve of baked beans contains 25g.
10 healthy protein sources
1. Greek yoghurt. As a snack with fresh or frozen berries.
2. Eggs. With thyme and mushrooms in a brekkie omelette.
3. Chicken breast. Skin removed, then poached into a spiced vegetable broth.
4. Salmon. Barbecued with lemon pepper.
5. Almonds. For a quick snack on the run.
6. Cheese. Sprinkled onto a big bowl of veggie minestrone.
7. Tofu. Wok tossed with soba noodles and Asian greens.
8. Lean pork loin. Oven roasted with char siu sauce, brown rice and broccolini.
9. Chickpeas. Whipped into a hummus for dipping vegetable crudités.
10. Kangaroo fillet. Dusted with dukkah and chargrilled.