Protein helps build and repair muscle and supports hard strength training. It helps keep you full and fends off cravings. Perhaps most importantly, it is a “metabolically expensive” macronutrient. (Protein is also the cornerstone of healthy eating for weight loss, which is detailed in my book 60 Second Sweat.) Let me explain. There is a component of metabolism called the thermic effect of feeding (TEF). TEF is the amount of energy it takes to digest, absorb, and process the food we eat, and the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) have different TEF values:
- TEF value of protein: 20 to 35 percent of calories burned through processing
- TEF value of carbohydrate: 5 to 15 percent of calories burned through processing
- TEF value of fat: 0 to 5 percent of calories burned through processing
Let’s say you eat 100 calories of pure protein (for instance, a chicken breast). Due to protein’s TEF, your body absorbs only 65 to 80 of those 100 calories, because the rest were burned in processing. But when you eat 100 calories of carbohydrate (such as a slice of white bread), your body absorbs 85 to 95 of those calories. When you eat fat (think butter or lard)? You’ll absorb nearly all of it.
I hope it’s apparent that consuming more protein is an easy way to create the necessary caloric deficit without really trying. That being said, you don’t want to eat all protein, all the time, as the other two macronutrients—carbohydrate and fat—greatly benefit your health, fitness, and performance as well.
So how much should you eat? A study published in 2011 in the Journal of Sports Sciences supports the generally agreed-upon rule that you should shoot for (but not exceed) one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. If, you weigh 150 pounds, you should shoot for about 150 grams (or about 1/3 of a pound) of protein daily. Protein contains four calories per gram, so 150 grams of protein will give you about 600 calories, or a third of your daily allotment of 1,800 calories. Here’s an example of how you could meet that requirement in a day:
- Breakfast: 4 eggs (28 grams of protein)
- Lunch: 6 ounces chicken breast (30 grams of protein)
- Midafternoon: 2 scoops of protein powder in water (48 grams of protein)
- Dinner: 6 ounces eye of round steak (36 grams of protein)