How many times have you heard someone saying that he or she is on an all-protein diet in order to build lean muscles? From wrestlers to actors, everybody prefers to go on a protein diet, as it is the one nutrient that is important for people to be able to start building strong and lean muscles that do not get burned away easily.
Protein is an essential macro-nutrient or building block that is known for repairing and creating muscle tissues. It is an essential part of fitness nutrition because it not only helps you lose weight but also promotes lean muscle growth.
Now when you hear the saying “lean protein,” it refers to protein sources that have low-fat content.
Aside from building lean muscle mass, eating lean protein also makes you feel full for longer periods of time, which in turn will minimize your food consumption and help you lose weight.
In reality, if you are eating the required minimum amount of calories per day, then you are most likely consuming enough protein. But for building lean muscle mass, it is important to consider your sources of protein to ensure that this nutrient is coming with a well-balanced mixture of other nutritional elements.
Consuming protein helps your body burn more calories than fats or carbohydrates. Approximately 20% to 30% of the calories from proteins go toward the digestion process, while the range is between 5% and 15% for fats and carbohydrates. This is because protein is made up of amino acids, which are held together by very strong peptide bonds.
Your body needs to be able to break down those bonds so that it can use the amino acids to repair tissues, move oxygen through your bloodstream, and form antibodies. In order to break those bonds, your digestion process has to work harder, which takes extra energy.
Remember, though, that just because you are getting more of your calories from protein instead of carbohydrates and fats does not mean that you can eat as many calories as you want. If you eat more calories, you will still gain weight, regardless of whether those calories are coming from protein or from other sources.
The best time to eat protein is about 30 to 45 minutes after your workout, regardless of whether you were doing cardio activities or strength training.
During that window, your muscles are particularly focused on rebuilding and on repairing the micro-tears that form when you work out. If you give your body protein, that rebuilding and repairing process will work even better, making you less sore the day after and improving your lean muscle mass.
In order to get the most out of the protein that you are eating, choose a snack that has 12 to 14 grams of protein with a calorie amount of around 40% of what you burned during your workout. So for example, if you burned 300 calories on the elliptical, choose a snack that contains about 120 calories. Picking a snack that also contains some carbohydrates will help even more with muscle repair and energy replenishment.
Pick Your Protein
The major sources of lean protein are the following foods: fish, soy, poultry, eggs, mushrooms, beef, beans, peas, lentils, seitan, and dairy. You will notice that there are both vegetarian and nonvegetarian options here, and just because you fall into one of these categories does not mean you cannot attain lean muscles.
While meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy do contain all nine amino acids that we get from food – which is why they are often referred to as “complete proteins” – it is very possible to get all of the amino acids from plant-based foods if you eat a balanced variety of such foods. So stop making excuses, and start doing all the right things for your body.
You need to keep in mind that having too much protein isn’t a good thing, especially if you aren’t working out.
In fact, you only need between 40 and 50 grams of protein daily. If you aren’t working out, this is a lot of protein and can actually do more harm than good.
So, if you are working out, you need to make sure to get a good amount of protein in your system every day so you can effectively do your workouts. The protein will give you the energy you need to get through all the workouts and will keep you going beyond that. Let us look at each of these in detail and understand why they are important and beneficial for your body.
When it comes to meat, seafood is the best choice because it contains lower levels of saturated fat than beef and poultry. Many nutritionists prefer this and suggest it to their clients, as they think the body will fare better if they consume fish and go slow on other types of meats.
Coldwater fish, such as salmon, cod, herring, mackerel, and monkfish, should be on top of your list because they contain especially high levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and are quite low in calories, usually having 100 calories or less per a cooked portion of 3 ounces.
These are also great for your heart, which means that you will prepare your body for intense workouts. Your immunity will also improve, and you will fall sick less often. You will have the chance to combat illnesses better, and your body will be able to undergo fitness training for longer periods of time.
Seafood is a very convenient protein source because, in addition to the benefits listed above, it also happens to contain all nine of the amino acids that our bodies need to get from food. That same 3-ounce cooked serving discussed above, which has 100 calories or less for certain types of fish, will also provide about one-third of the average daily recommended amount of protein.
Seafood is also a good source of protein because the protein it contains has less connective tissue than is found in poultry and red meats, so it is easier for your body to digest. For anyone who has stomach issues, particularly issues with digesting food, seafood can be an excellent option.
Take note that frying fish will remove most or all of its healthy fat content. Aim to have around 3 to 5 servings of fish for protein each week. You can decide to bake it and season it lightly, as well as use the leftovers for a salad.
Soy is a protein-rich food that, according to The Food and Drug Administration of the United States of America, can reduce the risk of heart diseases. Food-based on soy is proven to have a small amount of saturated fats, which can be seen as a reason for the previously mentioned effect of soy food.
Soy food provides the human body with magnesium and protein, and it helps in lowering cholesterol. Products made of soy, including edamame, tempeh, tofu, milk, nuts, and many others, are becoming more and more popular among people with healthy living habits, not just among vegetarians or vegans.
Aside from being an important source of protein, soy is rich in fibre, vitamin B, and omega-3 fatty acids. Thus, it is a very healthy alternative for foods that contain large amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat.
If you are interested in introducing more soy into your diet but are not sure how to do so, it is actually quite easy: check out the vegetarian or “health food” section of your local grocery store.
Today, there are vegetarian options for almost every kind of meat or dairy product, including veggie dogs and burgers, veggie ground round, soy milk and yoghurt, and soy cheese. These products can usually be easily substituted into recipes rather than using the meat or dairy
alternative. Just remember that soy products are not automatically healthy; as with any foods, check the nutritional label to make sure that the foods are low in cholesterol, saturated fat, added sugars, and salt.
While rare, some people will have digestion problems with soy products, and others may be allergic. If you are going to be introducing soy into your diet, it is recommended that you do it slowly, in small amounts, so that you are able to determine whether your body is going to have difficulty digesting it or if you are allergic.
The second best choice for animal-based protein sources is chicken and turkey. However, both also contain high amounts of saturated fat, so choose the leanest cuts whenever possible. It also helps if you remove the skin before you eat it to further reduce your calories from fat.
The healthiest ways to prepare poultry are by grilling, baking, or roasting. Although they are almost similar in taste, it is best for you to choose turkey over chicken. This will ensure that you are having a good helping of protein without any excess fat. It is also cheaper, and you will have a chance to consume it regularly.
You can grill the meat after marinating it in something simple like lemon juice and fresh herbs, or you can also prepare spicy curries or fresh salads out of chicken and turkey meat. Just remember not to take away from fast-food chains, and prepare everything at home by yourself, because the pre-prepared products tend to be very high in salt and added sugars, and possibly preservatives as well.
Although eggs are known for their high cholesterol content, they are still a great source of lean protein because they cost less and have few calories. Eggs have been the go-to ingredients for wrestlers since time immemorial.
There are several heavyweight champs who have lean muscles that go through 40 to 50 eggs a day. They need to consume it in order to build newer muscles and try and retain the old ones.
Cooking eggs is almost effortless as well, and their versatility will allow you to sneak them into almost any dish possible. To minimize cholesterol intake, use more egg whites than the yolk. A good ratio would be to use three egg whites with one yolk. You can prepare an omelette with this ratio, and your protein intake through eggs is sorted.
Eggs are also consumed by most vegetarians, so you don’t have to worry about not getting enough protein if you are a vegetarian. Just boil some, slice it up, add to your fresh salad, and you are sorted.
To the surprise of many, numerous nutritional attributes that are often found in different meat products or grains are also found in mushrooms. Mushrooms are proven to have a low amount of calories and fat, and they are cholesterol-free.
Mushrooms are an important source of vitamin B, minerals, proteins, and beta-glucans. Another healthy attribute of the mushrooms is their anti-oxidant nature, along with the ability to strengthen the immune system. Similar to fruits and vegetables, mushrooms are proven to be gluten-free, which makes them a great choice if you are on a gluten-free diet.
As regards the amount of protein that mushrooms contain, 3.5 cups of mushrooms have 7 grams of protein. However, this amount of mushrooms has only 56 calories. The amount of protein is not high in comparison to some other products, such as meat, but with its low number of calories, mushrooms are proven to be one of the healthiest choices out there.
Many people are fond of eating red meat, and while red meat is a rich source of protein, it also contains high amounts of saturated fat. There are many who will stop eating red meat when trying to lose weight and build lean muscles in their bodies.
In order to enjoy red meat without risking your health and forsaking your diet, choose the “round” and “loin” cuts or the “extra lean” ground beef, as these contain the least amount of fat.
It is also best to trim off any visible fat right before you cook it to remove even more fat calories from your dish. These are the white areas on the meat. They give your meat its “marbled effect,” and you will know to identify them as soon as you see them. Use a sharp knife to cut these parts out, and don’t worry if they are too ingrained; a small amount won’t harm you, and it is the large portions of the fat that you need to steer clear of.
While dairy alone contains high amounts of fat, low-fat dairy, on the other hand, is a great source of lean protein. Dairy also contains calcium and vitamin D and has a low amount of saturated fat. Go ahead and add some Greek yoghurt, low-fat cheese, and skim milk into your regular diet.
You can also prepare your food at home if you think buying “diet” labelled dairy is expensive. All you have to do is to get rid of any cream from the dairy, and it will turn low fat. You can also make your yoghurt low fat by getting rid of the foam that forms on top.
The thicker that yoghurt gets, the healthier it is for you. So try and make these at home as much as possible in order to help turn them into sustained parts of your diet.
Beans, Peas, and Lentils
Vegetarians rejoice over these plant-based sources of lean protein. They are extremely tasty and contain loads and loads of protein. In fact, just two small cups full of cooked lentils are enough for you to have the minimum dose of proteins required by your body.
They also contain high amounts of fibre, which further helps keep you feeling full for longer periods of time compared to other foods. There are plenty of ways to prepare beans, peas, and lentils for a delicious meal.
However, if you are planning to eat them frequently, make sure that the transition is gradual so that your digestive system can adapt, and you can avoid cramps, bloating, and gas.
You can prepare a succotash out of the beans on alternate days, and lentils are versatile enough to be added to anything, including salads. Just cook them and add them to your soup, and as for peas, you can boil them and consume them as is.
Another great choice for vegetarians looking for lean protein sources is seitan. With its origins in Asia, where it was used by monks, seitan’s health effects are what make it popular among healthy eating people. This meal is made of the protein portion of wheat, and it contains 36 grams of protein per half-cup.
It can be mistaken for meat, and in many cases, vegetarians avoid it because the texture of seitan may resemble that of real meat. Whether it is braised in the oven, cooked in a pressure cooker, or baked, seitan is proven to be a great source of lean protein. For vegetarians who are looking for a quick but healthy bite, seitan can be a great choice because it is ideal for sandwiches.
Moreover, seitan is also great for soups or any other type of meal that requires a meat substitute. Seitan is also great for barbecues, so even when you are with your friends having a barbecue, you are still able to eat healthily and maintain the protein intake at a needed rate.
Your gender, age, and physical activity are three important factors that will help you determine the amount of protein that you should eat every day. For those who live a sedentary lifestyle (those who have less than 30 minutes of physical activity each day), the following recommendations are provided by the USDA:
- 19 to 30 years old – 6.5 oz.
- 31 to 50 years old – 6 oz.
- 51 years old and above – 5.5 oz.
- 19 to 30 years old – 5.5 oz.
- 31 to 50 years old – 5 oz.
- 51 years old and above – 5 oz.
Each ounce is roughly equivalent to 1 oz. of fish, meat, or poultry, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut or almond butter, 0.5 oz. of nuts or seeds, or half a cup of cooked beans.
As for those who live an active lifestyle (more than 30 minutes of exercise a day), it is generally recommended that you eat about 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein for each pound of your body weight.
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