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The (Many) Roles of Protein

The (Many) Roles of Protein

April 22, 2024

Nutrition plays an important part in helping us perform well, both physically and mentally. This blog, written by our Health and Emotional Wellbeing Coach, Sarah, looks at how protein helps us to do just that. It also provides you with some tips on how to increase your protein intake, if that’s something you struggle with, including information for all the vegans out there!

Protein (a macronutrient) plays a myriad of roles in the mind-body system that support us to reach our health goals. Below are just a few of these. 

Builds Muscle

Protein, comprised of amino acids, serves as the structural foundation for muscle tissue. Physical activity, particularly resistance training, causes micro-tears in your muscle fibres which protein, with its amino acids, repairs and rebuilds. This creates muscle hypertrophy and strength gains.

Neurotransmitter Support

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit signals within the brain and between neurons (nerve cells). The amino acids derived from protein-rich foods act as precursors for neurotransmitter synthesis. For instance, tryptophan, found in proteins, serves as a precursor for serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood regulation and well-being. Protein, therefore, promotes the function of neurotransmitters and bolsters both mental performance and emotional wellbeing.

Hormonal Balance

Protein’s influence extends to the endocrine system. Leucine, a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) abundant in protein sources, stimulates the mTOR pathway (a central controller of cell responses to nutrient availability, energy status, and environmental signals). This, in turn, triggers muscle protein synthesis, playing a pivotal role in insulin regulation, hormone secretion and appetite regulation. 

Inflammation Reduction

Protein, particularly whey and casein, contains bioactive peptides with anti-inflammatory properties. These peptides modulate inflammatory responses, reducing the risk of inflammatory conditions, and help the mind-body system function optimally.

Metabolic Mastery

Metabolism, the web of biochemical processes in the body, receives a significant boost from protein. The thermic effect of food (TEF), the energy expended during digestion, is higher for protein compared to other macronutrients (you may expend up to 25% of the caloric value of the protein digesting it). This results in increased calorie expenditure, contributing to weight management and metabolic regulation.

Blood Sugar Stabilisation

Protein’s impact on blood sugar levels is multifaceted. Amino acids, especially BCAAs, influence insulin secretion and sensitivity, contributing to glucose homeostasis. This dynamic interplay helps stabilise blood sugar levels, offering a protective shield against erratic fluctuations and guarding against insulin resistance.

Appetite Regulation

Appetite regulation is a vital step in achieving your health goals and improving your relationship with food. Protein has a unique ability to satiate hunger more effectively than other macronutrients. Leptin, the hormone responsible for signalling fullness to the brain, receives a boost from protein consumption. Additionally, due to the positive impact protein has on insulin, our hypothalamus becomes more sensitive to leptin levels and will more easily dial down its signals that tell us to eat more.

Moreover, the digestion process of protein involves the release of peptides, such as YY and GLP-1, sooner than carbohydrates, which signal to the brain that you’ve had enough to eat more quickly. 

So, as you can see, protein does more in the mind-body system than just repair and build muscle. Increasing your protein intake will have a positive impact on your overall wellbeing and your physical and mental performance. 

And it needn’t be complicated or require steaks for every meal. Pick one of the below sources of protein to add to your meals/snacks and start there:

1.     Eggs

2.     Fish

3.     Meats (chicken, beef, pork, turkey)

4.     Soy (tofu, tempeh)

5.     Nuts (including nut butters)

6.     Seeds

7.     Beans

8.     Lentils

9.     Quinoa

10.  Greek yoghurt. (Full fat is always the best option for protein).

If you need help with increasing your protein intake or need any other help with your health goals, please reach out and we can have a chat. 

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