What is Protein & Why Do You Need it?


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If you made your way through the series and arrived here, I will assume that you want to build muscle, lose fat, improve athletic performance or combination of those 3 goals in addition to being healthy, of course. 
I know that I did not necessarily instruct those of you who want to just lose or gain weight to read this article, but you should still read it. It’s optional, though. But knowing what protein is and what it does will still help you improve your health. So, no matter what your goal is, protein will be an essential part of your diet.

What is protein?

Protein is one of the 3 essential macronutrients. Those 3 macronutrients are: carbohydrates, protein and fat. Protein specifically is the most important macronutrient because it’s the building block of every single thing in your body. That includes organs, muscle, skin, bones, hair, hormones, cells…you name it! Protein will be an essential component of whatever it is in your body. Thus, eating an adequate amount of protein daily is essential to optimal health in addition to losing fat and building muscle.

Types of protein

Protein’s building blocks are amino acids. There are 20 different kinds of amino acids. There are two types of amino acids: essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids.

Essential amino acids: Amino acids that you need but your body cannot make. Those are only 9 amino acids.

Non-essential amino acids: Amino acids that you also need but your body can make them using essential amino acids. Those are 11 amino acids.

Because of those two types of amino acids, we have two types of protein: complete protein and incomplete protein!

Complete protein refers to protein that has the full spectrum of amino acids, more precisely, all of the 9 essential amino acids.

Incomplete protein refers to protein that does NOT have all the 9 essential amino acids, however, it has a few of them.

Thus, it could be said complete protein is high quality protein while incomplete protein is not as high quality.

When speaking about protein in general, know that I am talking about complete protein.

If your sole goal is to be healthy, a daily protein intake of 50-150 grams of complete protein will be more than enough for people with average weight.

But, if you are more interested in losing fat, building muscle or recomping, you need to understand why protein is your best friend and how much you need to eat of it.

Protein and building muscle

Muscle is mainly built of protein and water. Water is obviously not a problem. But, protein is the building block of muscle, hence where the name protein synthesis comes from, which is process that your body build muscle through. Protein to muscle is what bricks are to a house. You cannot build a house without bricks (the building blocks) and you cannot build muscle without eating an adequate amount of protein. If you do not eat the ideal amount of protein daily while lifting weight, your rate of building muscle will be sub-optimal.

Thus, the two main factors needed to build muscle at an optimal rate are:

  1. A caloric surplus. Your body needs extra energy to build muscle.
  2. An adequate amount of protein.

So, whether you want to only build muscle or build muscle and lose fat (recomp) or achieve any physical or performance related goal, you must eat an adequate amount of protein.

This is the importance of protein to building muscle. Moving on to fat loss, how can protein help you lose fat?

Protein and fat loss

In the how many calories should I eat to lose fat article, we clarified that your sole goal is to lose fat, not just weight since weight can be a combination of water, fat and muscle. I also explained that to preserve muscle mass and maximize fat loss, you need 3 things:

  • A caloric deficit so your body dips into fat storage and uses that as the alternate energy source.
  • Muscle stimuli. Use it or lose it! You must consistently add heavy stress on your muscle. And you can only do that through resistance training.
  • Eating an adequate amount of protein.

We explained above that protein is the building block of muscle. So, it makes sense that if we want to preserve muscle mass while losing fat, we have to constantly supply the body with a good amount of protein so it can use that to maintain and repair muscle tissue. Otherwise, your body has no reason to keep something that requires energy meanwhile you are starving (caloric deficit) and something you are not using either (no strength training).

In addition to preserving muscle mass, protein can help dieters commit to their diets better since it is the most satiating macronutrient compared to carbohydrates and fats. Have a look at this article to better understand how crucial satiety is in your weight loss endeavor:

Satiety Index: A Major Component Of A Successful Diet Plan

Thus, protein can help keep you fuller for longer when you are eating less calories than your body needs.

Thermic effect of food

What the heck does this mean?

Thermic effect of food simply refers to the amount of energy your body expends to digest food. In other words, when your body digests a certain food, it burns some energy in the process. That amount of energy depends on the macronutrient content of different foods.

Protein is by far the most energy-demanding macronutrient. Thus, your body will burn more calories digesting protein that it will digesting carbs or fats. So, it could be said that protein accelerates your metabolism which will help you lose fat faster. What is the difference between the 3 macronutrients in terms of TEF (thermic effect of food), you might ask.

Protein has a maximum thermic effect of 35%.
Carbohydrates have a maximum thermic effect of 15%.
Fat has a maximum thermic effect of 15%.

That is a 20% difference between protein and the other two macronutrients! So, 1/5th more of the food you eat will be burnt during the digestion process.

What’s next?

By now you should fully comprehend why protein is your best weapon in losing fat, building muscle, recomping or just overall health. The next step is to calculate the ideal amount of protein you need based on your goal and other factors. Let’s begin:

How much protein do I need to build muscle, lose fat or recomp?




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