A vital component of every cell in your body, protein provides the raw materials for building and repairing tissues, including muscles, bones, and skin. Proteins are also used to produce the enzymes that activate your metabolism. So how does protein help keep your energy levels consistent throughout the day? Let’s break it down.
Protein Is an Essential Macronutrient
There are three categories of macronutrients: fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Proteins are made up of amino acids, commonly referred to as the “building blocks of protein.” You can find proteins in a variety of food sources—beef, pork, poultry, and fish are the most common.
There’s also plenty of protein in seeds, nuts, and beans, as well as in animal by products such as eggs.
Protein is different from other macronutrients in that our bodies don’t store excess protein (as we do carbohydrates and fat). When cells require protein, there is no reservoir to draw from, so you can see why it’s important to have enough protein in your diet.
Many nutritionists recommend individuals consume about half a gram of protein per pound of body weight. For example, a 160-pound person would need at least 80 grams of proteins per day. Athletes, elderly persons, and pregnant or nursing women require more protein.
Why Protein Keeps You Feeling Full Longer
Clinical studies consistently demonstrate that high-protein diets increase the feeling of satiety and decrease hunger pangs. It may be especially beneficial to start the morning with protein, since a high-protein breakfast can help with weight loss. Researchers at the University of Missouri recently discovered that teens who consumed a high-protein breakfast were more likely than those who ate a moderate protein breakfast or no breakfast to prevent body fat gain, reduce overall daily food intake, and stabilize glucose levels.
That last part is key. Foods high in carbohydrates cause a spike in blood sugar, followed by a crash. During digestion, your body converts this flood of carbohydrates into glucose, causing a sharp rise in blood glucose levels. This signals the pancreas to release insulin to carry the glucose to cells for immediate usage or convert it to glycogen for storage. When there is suddenly no longer glucose available in the bloodstream, the “crash” sets in.
However, when insulin remains more stable (as is the case when you eat protein), glucose is removed from the bloodstream at a much slower rate, preventing a crash. In a nutshell, foods higher in protein make you feel full longer.
Nutritionists agree that this is an important reason why you should incorporate protein into most meals and snacks. For a snack with staying power, try combining a protein with a healthy carbohydrate or fat, such as an apple with nut butter, Greek yogurt with berries, or a hard-boiled egg with a small piece of cheese.
If you want to keep going strong throughout the day—and avoid a carbohydrate crash—amp up your protein intake at breakfast and make protein a mainstay in your diet at meals and snack time.