The Important Role Protein Plays in Your Weight Loss Goals

Thinking about protein in regards to working out may conjure up thoughts of bodybuilders for some, which may make people eager to cut it from their diet in an attempt to lose weight, but Brittney Bearden, sports dietitian for Texas Health Sports Medicine, cautions not to be so quick to nix protein.

“Protein can promote weight loss because it increases satiety, making it easier to control your appetite due to feeling full longer,” Bearden says. “Protein also helps maintain calorie-burning muscle mass, which facilitates the weight you lose to come from fat mass.”

The goal is to choose lean, high-quality protein sources in place of high-fat protein sources. These include lean meats, like chicken, fish, turkey, pork and red meat; low-fat dairy, like milk, cheese, cottage cheese and Greek yogurt; eggs; tofu; legumes; nuts; and nut butters.

Many people are inspired by the athletes they watch live or on TV and want to emulate their workout routines, but Randy Turner, manager of the Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth Fitness Center, says it’s not enough to just workout like an athlete; you have to eat properly as well.

“What’s interesting is how many calories athletes consume daily and they are lean and fit, which should show us that we can still eat and enjoy our foods, but you have to exercise,” Turner says. “Everyone thinks it is all about exercise, but that is only part of it.”

Bearden agrees, adding that protein is an important part of any athlete’s diet, from professional athletes to weekend warriors, and suggests aiming for meals that contain 20-40 grams of protein to adequately distribute your protein intake throughout the day. Don’t forget snack time either. Eating around 20 grams of high-quality protein quickly after a workout will also optimize muscle mass maintenance and growth.

Although she admits you can achieve your daily protein needs through food, Bearden says protein powders and bars can be a convenient way of adding protein to your day. Add some protein powder to a fruit smoothie for a quick and easy breakfast to take on the go, and protein bars can be a healthy snack to pack for school or work.

Texas Health offers meal plans to get you moving in the right direction, but as many dieters know, eating out can easily derail food plans.

“It can be easy to eat larger amounts at restaurants than you normally would at home due to things like complimentary bread and larger portions that are common when eating out,” Bearden says.

To ensure you stay in control, Bearden suggests keeping these tips in mind when ordering your next meal out:

  • Choose food items that are baked, grilled, broiled or steamed and avoid ones that are fried, sautéed or described as “crispy,” “tempura,” or “au gratin.”
  • Choose healthy side items, such as a salad with dressing on the side, roasted vegetables, fruit, brown rice, a baked potato or a sweet potato.
  • Limit creamy sauces and salad dressings, such as Alfredo, ranch, blue cheese, Caesar and gravy.
  • Limit high-calorie beverages, such as sweet tea, lemonade, juice, sodas and alcohol.
  • Eat slowly and monitor hunger to control the portions you eat.
  • Take leftovers home for the next day.

In addition to promoting weight loss, protein plays a vital role in supporting the immune system, aiding in hair and nail growth, and transporting nutrients, and it helps build and maintain muscle. So whether you’re trying to lose weight or just trying to eat healthier, protein plays a much larger role in your health goals than you might think.

If you need a little more guidance on how to get started living a healthier life, any of Texas Health’s fitness centers can help you achieve your goals. To learn more and find the closest fitness center near you, click here or call 1-877-THR-WELL (1-877-847-9355).

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