A spotlight on Protein

Mar 9, 2015

The most healthy and sustainable way to lose weight requires a shift of body fat whilst maintaining and stimulating lean muscle mass. Why? It is your lean muscle that is the metabolically active part of you and will determine the rate at which you are able to fat burn at rest i.e. whilst you’re sitting at your desk all day or sleeping in bed, so it’s important that we fuel the body so that we can retain a healthy level of muscle.  A quick note to the ladies reading this, by having a high muscle density, you won’t get ‘big’ or ‘bulk up’, you’ll merely become a leaner, more compact version of yourself and far more toned!

There are tons of other healthy benefits which come about with having lean muscle on your side; your bone density goes up, you become stronger, you have better blood sugar control (i.e. less likely to get diabetes and better at managing your blood sugar levels more effectively if you do have type II diabetes, reducing the dependency for insulin), you look more attractive (generally a leaner body is accepted to be more attractive than a not so lean body), you have a better lipid profile and you have a healthier amount of energy. So this post is going to help you learn how to gain and maintain a healthy muscle mass.

Before we do, this is a great time to mention the topic of scales – DON’T use them! Unless you are competing in a fitness competition or work in a job where you need to be a certain weight, don’t use the scales to steer your weight loss success because muscle weighs more than fat so it’s a pointless and rubbish method of measuring how well you are doing. We’ve been so programmed to be a certain weight but trust me, ditch the scales and go instead by your measurements and how you look and feel! Scales do emotional damage, especially when you weigh yourself in the morning and the dial hasn’t gone down.


  • The master regulator of weight loss is creating a negative energy balance i.e. you must burn more energy than you take in. 10% of a calorie deficit is about right so that you don’t feel hungry and still enjoy life and you’ll see some healthy weight loss. Do not ‘starve’ yourself and reduce your calories so low as it isn’t maintainable long term and you’ll only play havoc with your metabolism. Your body will down-regulate and become more efficient at working on fewer calories and when you up your calories to a maintainable amount / normal eating, you’ll put all the weight back on again and more.
  • Ditch the scales.
  • Ensure you have enough protein in the day. Protein will help to preserve your lean mass whilst cutting calories and it keeps you full so you are less likely to over eat. It is also the most thermogenic (energy burning) of all the macro nutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) to digest so you burn calories just digesting it.

Protein comes up time and time again so I thought I’d share with you some facts so you can start adding these changes to your food to see if you start noticing a difference in how your clothes feel (looser I hope)!


Proteins are made up of amino acids – the building blocks of life. Amino acids are joined together by chemical bonds and then folded in different ways to create three-dimensional structures that are essential to the healthy functioning of our body.

There are two main categories of amino acids in the body. First, we’ve got essential amino acids – those that the body can’t manufacture, so we must consume them in our diets. Some amino acids are conditionally essential, which means that our bodies can’t always make as much as we need (for example, when we’re under stress).

Next, we’ve got nonessential amino acids – those that the body can usually make for itself.

Essential amino acids

Conditionally essential amino acids

Nonessential amino acids
Aspartic acid
Glutamic acid


Of the 9 essential amino acids, we have three branched chain amino acids: iso-leucine, leucine and valine. BCAA’s make up 30% of the protein in your so they are a very important part of your muscle mass. When you exercise it is the BCAA’s that are broken down first in your muscle cells, so by ensuring you have an adequate supply before you train you will be preserving your muscle mass. Whey protein contains high levels of BCAA’s which is why it is so commonly used as a post workout beverage.

How much protein you need depends on lots of factors, but one of the most important is your activity level.
The basic recommendation for protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day in untrained, generally healthy adults, which works out at 15% of total calories from protein. So a 68 kg (150 lb) person would consume around 54 grams a day. This suggested intake of protein is what is necessary for basic protein synthesis (in other words, the creation of new proteins from individual building blocks) to prevent protein deficiency, it isn’t necessarily optimal.
Beyond preventing deficiency and ensuring a baseline of protein synthesis, we may need more protein in our diets if you want to function optimally with a good immune system and satiety (i.e. make you feel full longer), healthy weight management and metabolism, optimal body composition (stay leaner and more muscular), and to perform at a high level. In other words, we need a small amount of protein to survive, but we need a lot more to thrive
For people doing high intensity training, protein needs might go up to about 1.4-2.0 g/kg (or around 0.64-0.9 g/lb) of body mass, which works out at around 30% of total calories from protein. Our hypothetical 68 kg (150 lb) person would thus need about 95-135 g of protein per day.

The most we need to consume throughout the day for protein synthesis probably isn’t more than 1.4 – 2.0 g/kg and we can only process so much protein at one time so it is best to consume protein in pulses throughout the day at regular intervals rather than in one sitting, so include some form of protein with every meal and snack.
Top tip: consume some protein before and after training to ensure adequate recovery.

Protein is digested and broken down into individual amino acids, which then circulate in our bloodstream as a storage reserve until our body needs them.
Our body needs proteins and amino acids to produce important molecules like enzymes, antibodies, hormones and neurotransmitters – without an adequate protein intake, our bodies don’t function nearly as well. Protein transports various substances throughout the body, helps replace worn out cells and aids in growth and repair.

  1. Healthier appearance – a leaner look is a generally accepted as a more attractive shape.
  2. Higher bone density – low protein intake is associated with low bone mineral density and greater fracture risk.
  3. Immune system – your body uses amino acids found in dietary proteins to help build proteins that help make up your immune system. For example, immunoglobulins, also called antibodies, are proteins that circulate in your blood and make up key components of a strong immune system.
  4. Brain function – most neurotransmitters are made from amino acids obtained from the protein in food you consume. Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that motivate or sedate, focus or frustrate you.
  5. Major contributor to BMR (basic metabolic rate) – at rest your body will burn more calories for having a higher density of protein in the body.
  6. Endurance – amino acids help to build and repair muscle fibres to give you more power and stamina.
  7. Strength – higher muscle concentration is associated with increased strength.
  8. Blood glucose regulation/ insulin sensitivity – lean tissue mass acts as a sink for glucose so the more lean tissue and muscle mass you have the more glucose you can dispose of in the muscle so the better control of blood sugar levels and reduced risk of type II diabetes.
  9. Healthier fat levels – as you have more fat burning potential in you.
  10. Injury – you are less likely to fall and injure yourself if you sport more muscle mass on you.
Can you have too much protein?
If you overeat protein, the extra protein is eventually converted into sugar or fat in the body. However, protein isn’t as easily or quickly converted as carbohydrates or fat, because the thermic effect (the amount of energy require to digest, absorb, transport and store protein) is a lot higher than that of carbohydrates and fat. While 30% of the protein’s energy goes toward digestion, absorption, and assimilation, only 8% of carbohydrate’s energy and 3% of fat’s energy do the same!
A lot of people worry that a high protein intake harms the kidneys. This is a myth. In healthy people, normal protein intakes pose little to no health risk. Indeed, even a fairly high protein intake – up to 2.8 g/kg (1.2 g/lb) – does not seem to impair kidney status and renal function in people with healthy kidneys. In particular, plant proteins appear to be especially safe.
In general it’s your choice – both protein from plant sources and animal sources seem to work equally well in increasing muscle protein synthesis as a result of exercise. The amino acid leucine seems to act as a major stimulus for protein synthesis; good sources of leucine include spirulina, soy protein, egg white, milk, fish, poultry, and meat.
  • Breakfast: add 1 scoop of protein with your morning smoothie.
  • Snack: Spread almond butter onto a pear (tastes delicious) or enjoy a handful of nuts with an apple.
  • Lunch: Poached salmon flaked into a salad with toasted seeds
  • Mid afternoon snack: Hummus and cucumber batons
  • Dinner: Chicken or prawn curry 



Hi, I’m Jess! Nutritional Therapist  & Personal Trainer, sharing workouts & nutrition made simple from my island home in Menorca. My mission? To educate & inspire people to achieve & sustain their personal health & body shape goals. I love to hike, cook, and bring inspiring people together.


Flat Stomach Guide