Here’s Why Protein Is the Sexiest Macronutrient

I was recently having a conversation with someone going through Snatched in Six Weeks about their food. One question they had was…

“I don’t have to eat this much protein when Snatched is done, do I?”

During Snatched, we give people a calorie and macronutrient (protein, carbohydrate, fat) range and have them log what they eat on a daily basis.

While we don’t think this is necessary long term, tracking macros/cals and bringing awareness to what people are eating is a great educator and arguably the quickest way to see a change in body composition, aside from a six-week coke bender.

Most people have no idea how many calories they are eating, let alone protein.

Starting out, eating anywhere close to a gram of protein per pound of body weight seems impossible.

The idea of sustaining it over long periods of time is kind of like when you get your first job out of college. You are pretty excited about it for a few weeks, until you realize that you have to do it everyday until you die. Sad.

The reality is that you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to do – eat protein, go to work, help women carrying strollers with babies go up the stairs – but there are benefits to doing so.

Maybe no physical benefits to helping stroller-carrying women, but it would just make you a nice person. #karma

What happens in your body when you eat protein?

Before we can understand what protein does, we have to understand what it is.

Proteins are organic molecules, a group of atoms bonded together and made up of amino acids, the building blocks of your body.

Let’s pretend these Adams are amino acids, bonded together, and they are working to create your body and help it function. (Amy is my favorite.)

These guys do all sorts of cool shit, like:

  • Make up a large portion of our cells, muscles, and tissues
  • Give cells structure
  • Help transport and store nutrients
  • Help heal and repair tissue
  • Remove waste
  • Regulate almost all of the metabolic processes in your body

The reason amino acids/proteins can do this is because they contain nitrogen. Carbohydrates and fat do not.

We need nitrogen because we can’t form organs, tissues, muscles, cells, or hair without it. While there is nitrogen in the air and we have it in our lungs, it doesn’t absorb into our bodies that way. We need to get it through food. And the only food is protein.

Protein as food

With 4 calories per gram, proteins tie carbohydrates for lowest calorie count per gram consumed.

To give you some context, fat has 9 calories per gram and alcohol has 7. That means you could eat over double the amount of protein in grams than you could fat and still consume the same amount of calories.

I know what you’re thinking.

“Wait a minute. If protein and carbohydrates have the same calories per gram, why can’t I just crush carbs instead of protein?”

You can, but proteins and carbs do different things in your body, and your body responds in very different ways when you eat them.

Thermic Effect

One of the coolest things about eating protein is the thermic effect that results when you eat it.

The thermic effect is the amount of energy your body uses to process the food you consume, and accounts for about 10% of your metabolism.

The thermic effect of protein is around 20-35%. That means if you eat 100 calories of protein, or roughly 25 grams, your body is going to use 20-35 of those calories just in digestion.

Compare that to carbohydrates which have a thermic effect of about 5-15%.

In the same 100 calories of carbohydrates, your body only needs about 5-15 of those calories to help you digest and the rest gets used or stored as energy.

Fats have a thermic effect of a whopping 0-5%.

Alcohol, on the other hand, comes in a safe second in the thermic effect department. I’m not saying that means you should crush alcohol, but at around 15-20% energy expenditure, your body is doing some work to break it down.

Side note: Alcohol is not an essential nutrient. You could go your entire life without consuming any alcohol and have a beautifully functioning body. You just wouldn’t have as many friends. (j/k you’ll still have friends.)

Your body is expending the highest amounts of energy when eating protein.

Hormones

Protein and carbohydrates stimulate the release of two different hormones: insulin and glucagon.

When we eat carbohydrates, our blood sugar rises and our bodies are signaled to produce insulin, a master storage hormone. Think the ultimate super saver that can tip-toe on hoarding tendencies if not careful.

Insulin does awesome shit, like:

  • Lowers our blood sugar
  • Transports the food we eat into our cells for use or storage
  • Helps with protein synthesis, where cells literally build proteins using our DNA

Our cells rely on insulin to take glucose from the blood for energy. Our bodies string the glucose molecules together to form glycogen and store it in the muscles and liver.

We need glycogen for energy and brain function.

The challenge is that when we eat a fuckton of carbohydrates, our muscles and liver are filled to the brim with glycogen. Once the glycogen stores are full, our bodies are smart and have no problem packing shit away.

The liver is like, “Okay sweet. Thank god we got this extra shit. I’m going to put it in a storage unit I call mother fucking fat cells.”

Here’s where protein comes in to offset that. When we eat protein, our bodies are signaled to produce glucagon.

Glucagon is sort of the opposite of insulin. It’s a master mobilization hormone. If insulin is the pseudo hoarder, glucagon takes the hoarded shit, redistributes it and clears some of it out.

Glucagon raises our blood sugar by knocking on Mr. Liver’s door and asking for some of that stored glycogen to be broken down and released back into the blood.

Insulin and glucagon work together in a beautiful dance. Both are necessary to have healthy functioning bodies. While insulin is shuttling and storing, glucagon is moving and clearing.

What does it all mean?

“I don’t have to eat this much protein when Snatched is done, do I?”

No, but you can use this information to make more informed decisions and hopefully understand why eating protein is important.

Counting calories and macros is cool for a short period of time to raise awareness. Logging and meticulously calculating over long periods of time is not fun or sustainable without your quality of life taking a dip.

Eating a high protein diet doesn’t have to mean low carb. Remember, it’s a dance. You need both partners, along with fat, to make your body run smoothly.

If you want more information on how to make eating protein easy and adapt a sustainable way of getting it in, stay tuned for a big announcement coming from Mark Fisher Fitness.

We have some great nutrition support coming your way that will simplify the way you look at nutrition and make you a protein consuming machine!


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Amanda Wheeler is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Precision Nutrition L1 Coach. She is the cofounder of Formation Strength, and a mentor in the peer to peer coaching group, Strength Faction. When she’s not training the Ninja Army, she is kissing puppies and picking up heavy stuff. You can connect her on Facebook and Instagram.

 

  • Zach Job

    Love the education, why don’t we all know this stuff already?! Seems like it should have been taught along with our ABC’s and 123’s!!! Thanks

    • Amanda Wheeler

      Thanks Zach! Totally agree. I think we now have access to so much more information that I WISH we had before. The internet definitely helps LOL.

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