How do we love protein? Let us count the ways. It’s the most satiating nutrient, so it keeps you full longer, steering you away from unhealthy snack attacks and cravings. There’s an increased thermic effect from eating protein, so you’ll burn more calories to digest it than you would if you ate carbs or fat. This can ratchet up your metabolism and decrease the likelihood that you’ll store fat. And it’s essential for healthy muscle growth.
“When you eat protein it increases IGF-1, an anabolic hormone that promotes muscle growth. It also pumps up nitrogen status, which when combined with exercise, increases anabolic efficiency and accelerates the growth process,” says registered dietician Maria Pagano.
The key is to eat clean, lean protein. Cleaner naturally means leaner.
And getting your protein in whole food form rather than from supplements means you get a natural supply of auxillary nutrients. The end result: Your training response improves. Which really means that you get fitter faster, which shows in both the gym and the mirror.
Want to reap some cardiovascular rewards too? “Increase protein in your diet while decreasing carbs and you can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations and increase HDL (good) cholesterol concentrations,” adds Pagano, a Tier 4 coach. By getting enough protein, you’re literally building a better body — inside and out.
And go for organic, grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish. Factory-farmed animals are confined and shot up with both antibiotics that can impact your gut flora and hormones that can affect your own. They’re also fed things that aren’t part of their natural diet — soy, grain, corn, fillers, even cake — all of which fatten them fast. Farmed fish — those raised commercially in tanks and enclosures — present a similar problem. They absorb PCBs and pesticides from their food and antibiotics are used to keep them “healthy” ‘til they’re on your plate. Not quite the farm-to-table idea any of us have in mind.
“Labels that say grass-fed and pasture-raised mean the animal fed on grass, which leads to a leaner cut of meat and the fat it does contain is higher in beneficial omega 3,” says Pagano. In addition to beef, chicken, and eggs, vary your menu with bison, lamb, venison, turkey, and pork and seek out low-mercury seafood like Alaskan king salmon, Dungeness crab, Greenland turbot, sea scallops, clams, and black cod. Paired, of course, with endless veggies.