As an athlete, your weight is not the most important factor around your performance, but for some, managing your weight is vital in order to make sure you can compete.
Whether you are managing your weight because of a competition or because you are getting ready for a holiday, protein will play a massive role in ensuring that you can reach your goals.
The clearest reason protein is useful in managing your weight is because of its effect on appetite. We have already written a blog around this area, but to summarise, protein affects appetite through increasing satiety and decreasing hunger.
Satiety is increased when you eat protein because our stomach releases hormones called peptide YY (PYY) and cholecystokinin (CKK). These are responsible for communicating with the brain that we are full and therefore will curb our need to eat more.
You may notice that when you eat foods low in protein, you feel like you can eat more than you would be able to if you were eating a protein rich snack. This is because protein releases more PYY and CKK then other macronutrients.
Protein also has a role in ghrelin suppression. Ghrelin is the hormone in our body responsible for telling us we are hungry and is produced in the stomach. When our stomach is empty, ghrelin levels will increase which will signal to the brain that we need to eat more.
Protein helps slow down the digestion of food and will therefore keep food in our stomach for longer. This in turn will delay ghrelin release since we will not have an empty stomach for a longer period of time.
Protein is the most important macronutrient for making sure we are retaining our muscle mass. If we get enough protein, we can retain more muscle mass which will lead to more successful weight loss journeys compared to if we were losing higher amounts of muscle mass.
Protein is vital in this as our body will actively try to use muscle mass as a source of fuel when we are losing weight. If it is successful, we will lose the muscle that we have worked hard for in combination with fat. By having high amounts of protein, our body is able to prevent the use of muscle mass as energy and we will therefore largely only lose fat when losing weight.
This is important for both short-and-long term reasons.
Short term, more muscle retention means we can reach our body composition goals faster than if we were losing muscle during weight loss. This means less weight will be needed to
be lost to achieve the same results. This is important as weight loss is a difficult journey. Being able to reach our goals in a shorter period of time without an excessive energy deficit is very beneficial.
For weight loss, the protein recommendation for optimal muscle retention is 2-2.5g/kg of bodyweight
It is tempting to try to take the magic pill, whether that is carnivore, keto, atkins, or paleo. But the reality is that long term, having a restrictive diet is going to be incredibly difficult. The best way to maintain your weight is to learn to eat a healthy and balanced diet.
Protein plays an important role in a balanced diet. Having a source of protein in each meal as well as carbohydrates and fats will ensure we are giving our body everything it needs to perform at its best.