Many believe that increasing protein consumption can boost weight loss and muscle gain. This article will explore how best to boost protein intake through snacking.
Protein is an essential macronutrient in the human diet and has a number of important roles in the body, principally related to building and maintaining tissues. Most people consume a considerable amount of protein in their day-to-day diet, but some believe that increasing protein consumption can result in increased weight loss and muscle gain. Here, we will discuss the potential benefits of increasing protein intake and what types of snacks might be best to incorporate into the diet in order to achieve these goals.
Why Increase Protein Intake?
In order to stay healthy, it is integral that a person consumes a significant amount of protein every day in their diets. Protein is incredibly important to the human body; it forms the basis of our tissues and our organs, helping to maintain a functioning metabolism and immune system. Without protein, the body would not be able to create new cells or repair those that have been damaged.
Whilst everybody requires a certain amount of protein each day (about 56g for men and 46g for women), some argue that incorporating more protein into the diet can be beneficial for weight loss and improving body composition. A number of popular diet plans, including the Atkins Diet and the Paleo Diet, are based around the idea of incorporating more protein into meals. It is argued that protein is the most filling macronutrient and so can help to keep a person fuller for longer. As the building material for muscles, increased protein intake has also been linked to muscle gain and recovery from exercise. It is said that increasing protein consumption can help a person to lose weight whilst maintaining muscle mass.
The importance of protein in the diet is well understood and has been highlighted in clinical studies. Some studies have also investigated the effects of high-protein diets on weight loss, and others have looked specifically at what types of protein might be most beneficial for weight loss and muscle gain. A clinical study is a way of testing a hypothesis; to find results, scientists usually conduct randomised, double blind, placebo controlled methods on a sample of subjects. In order to be considered reliable, a study must be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal; this demonstrates that the paper was able to withstand scrutinisation by fellow academics.
Clinical Studies on Protein and Weight Loss
A great many studies have been published on the effects of high-protein diets on body weight. A review study, published in 2004, attempted to summarise the evidence on the topic to date. The authors identified a selection on randomised studies that looked at the effects of protein intake specifically on energy expenditure, energy intake, weight loss, and fat loss. Evidence from the trials that were considered suggests that consuming more protein can help to boost thermogenesis (an increase in body temperature associated with increased energy expenditure) and satiety, with the potential to reduce energy intake. It was noted that high-protein diets might aid weight loss and fat loss, but that this is an area that requires further study.
Another study compared the effects of a high-protein, low-fat diet with those of a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet on weight loss and associated factors. This trial involved a hundred obese women and was performed over a 12-week period. The results indicated that consuming a high-protein, low-fat diet could cause weight loss and metabolic benefits to at least the same extent as a high-carb, low-fat diet.
In 2008, another review paper was published on the topic. The authors recognised that high-protein diets (often accompanied by reduced carbohydrate intake) are popular methods of weight loss in the modern world, and that plenty of trials have been performed to test the potential benefits of these diets. It was stated that recent evidence suggests that protein can increase energy expenditure and satiety, and therefore can improve weight control. High-protein diets are seen to provide comparable results to those obtain with other types of common diets and that they might help to preserve lean body mass. The potential long-term safety of high-protein diets however requires further study.
Clinical Studies on Protein and Muscle Gain
Several studies have suggested that increasing protein consumption can help to protect fat-free mass during weight loss, and that protein supplementation might aid increases in muscle mass. A 2013 trial, for example, saw 39 subjects divided to receive varying amounts of protein in their diets for 31 days alongside a low-energy diet. It was found that those consuming more than their recommended daily intake of protein did not lose as much fat-free mass, but lost more fat mass than those consuming the recommended daily amount of protein.
A 2005 trial compared the effects of protein and carbohydrate supplementation alongside resistance training on muscle mass and physical performance. The subjects underwent a 14-week training programme whilst consuming either protein or carbohydrate as a supplement. At the end of the trial, it was found that the size of type I and type II muscle fibres had increased in those who had been taking the protein supplements, and that these subjects also performed better in physical challenges than did the carbohydrate group.
A review study from 2009 investigated the effects of different types of protein supplementation on muscle protein breakdown and synthesis. The authors noted that different types of proteins might have different impacts on the process of muscle synthesis after resistance exercise, and that this might be associated with the amino acid composition of the protein and the rate at which it is digested. Milk proteins, such as casein and whey, are deemed to be the highest quality proteins, but whey is much faster-absorbing than is casein. Results of trials to date indicate that whey protein is more effective than soy protein at muscle synthesis.
The Best High Protein Snacks
Whilst a high-protein diet will involve increasing the amount of protein in your main meals, another easy way to increase your protein intake is to incorporate high-protein snacks into your diet. A high-protein snack is likely to be a healthy alternative to sugary or fatty snacks and as mentioned above, might help to keep the consumer fuller for longer. A number of common foods are naturally high in protein; here we will discuss the most popular high-protein natural foods for snacking as well as commercially available snacks that have been formulated specifically for the purpose of increasing a person’s protein intake – namely, protein shakes and protein bars.
One hundred grams of cheddar cheese will provide the body with around 25g protein as well as offering a good source of nutrients (such as calcium) and vitamins A, B6, B12, and D. All types of cheese contain protein and there are options besides a chunk of cheddar. Bodybuilders and people looking to lose weight often incorporate cottage cheese as a snack, either on its own or as a dip for raw vegetables.
Snacking on nuts is also a good way to consume more protein; mixed nuts are a popular choice, but almonds and pistachio nuts are particularly high in protein. Nut butter is also very high in protein and easily consumed as a snack. All kinds of nut butter can be spread onto wholegrain crackers or bread; a popular method of incorporating nut butter into the diet is by creating a ‘celery boat’ – cut a celery stick in half and fill the groove with nut butter for a tasty snack. Besides offering a good source of protein, nuts are also renowned for being high in ‘healthy fats’ that might be good for cardiovascular health.
Greek yogurt is another form of proteinous snack that can be consumed between meals. Available in low-fat versions, Greek yogurt contains all of the essential amino acids as well as an array of vitamins and minerals. Greek yogurt can be eaten on its own or as part of a shake. Even better, combine Greek yogurt with nuts and fruit to create a healthy, high-protein granola snack.
The chickpea is a type of legume that is low in saturated fat and high in protein. Chickpeas can be roasted and consumed on their own, perhaps with added sweet or savoury seasoning as a healthy, high-protein snack for when you are on-the-go, or they can be ground in to hummus to create a tasty dip for other vegetables or wholegrain crackers.
Eggs are perhaps one of the best-known foods for being high in protein. One large egg contains are 6g of protein and there are a number of ways that eggs can be eaten. Some people like to snack on hard-boiled eggs whilst others prefer to make a mid-afternoon omelette and others still are willing to add raw egg, which is higher in protein than cooked egg, to their shakes or smoothies.
Edamame is a type of immature soybean that is renowned amongst the bodybuilding community for being a good source of protein and also being high in fibre. The vegetable is usually boiled and can be added to main meals or eaten as a snack with some seasoning or dipped into a high-protein hummus.
One of the most common ways of incorporating more protein into the diet is via a protein shakes. Whilst some people consume protein shakes in replacement of one of the main meals, most people drink them as a snack throughout the day – particularly before or after a workout. Whilst it is possible to make your own protein shakes, there is a very large market for protein powder that is made and distributed by supplement companies. These powders come in a variety of different forms with different ingredients, though most are based on one type of protein (typically, whey, soy, or casein protein).
The powder is to be mixed with a liquid, usually milk or water, by the user and consumed as a shake. Most protein powders contain between 20 and 40g of protein per serving, though the exact amount added to the shake is ultimately left up to the consumer.
Precisely what type of protein shake will be best suited to each user will be dependent on a number of factors. Of particular importance is whether the user is looking to lose weight or to bulk up with muscle. The types and frequency of exercise undertaken by the user should also be taken into consideration, as well as their health and personal tastes. For more information on how to choose the best protein shake, see our protein shakes article.
Protein bars are designed specifically to help a person increase their protein intake through snacking. There are a great variety of protein bar recipes available online if you would like to make your own. Most of these involve ingredients such as quinoa, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, dates, oats and protein powder. Some argue that ready-made protein bars that are commercially available contain high quantities of sugar and so rather defeat the object of providing a healthy snack. Proponents of protein bars however state that good-quality bars can be found that are low in sugar and fat, and high in protein. These often contain between 10 and 20g per bar.
High protein diets have been shown in clinical studies to aid weight loss, with the added benefit of helping to reduce fatty tissue whilst preserving lean muscle mass. A good way of increasing protein intake is through snacking; there are a number of different high-protein snacks available that can easily be pre-prepared and consumed on-the-go. Nuts, Greek yogurt, and eggs, for example, are high-protein foods that are commonly added to the shopping list. Alternatively, many people choose to consume protein shakes or bars as snacks that are made specifically for the purpose of boosting protein intake.
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