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Young man drinks a protein shake from a shaker while taking a bike ride in the fall season

Fitness & Performance

3 Key Benefits of Protein for Health and Athletic Performance

Dana Ryan, Ph.D., M.A., MBA – Director, Sports Performance, Nutrition and Education January 23, 2024

Protein is essential for every single person, every single day. Protein becomes even more important the more active we are, and while most people know that it is important, often we don’t understand why it’s important.

Proteins are made up of amino acids, and these proteins and amino acids are the main building blocks of our muscles, bones, skin, tissues and organs. When we consume protein, our body breaks it down into individual amino acids during digestion and then uses these amino acids to create new proteins throughout the body. It is essential to consume an adequate amount of protein; otherwise, the body will have to break down muscle to obtain the amino acids that it needs to function.

Now that we understand the role of protein in the body, there are three main benefits that we often focus on with protein.

Benefit #1 – Protein Helps You Feel Full Longer.

One of the main issues for people trying to lose weight and for athletes burning a significant number of calories is that they are constantly hungry.

This is where consuming protein can be especially beneficial because it helps you feel full for a longer period of time as compared to carbohydrates or fat. So for anyone trying to minimize unhealthy snacking, look for snacks that are higher in protein.

Benefit #2 – Protein boosts metabolism.

In addition to helping to promote satiety, protein can also help increase metabolism, which can aid in burning calories more efficiently, something important for anyone trying to change their body composition.

Protein, when consumed throughout the day, also helps you maintain your muscle mass. Having adequate muscle mass is also essential in maintaining your metabolism.

Benefit #3 – Protein aids with muscle recovery and growth.

Not only does eating protein help prevent muscle breakdown, but it can also help build muscles. Combining regular activity and exercise with protein intake promotes muscle growth.
High-quality proteins contain all the essential amino acids and are rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Leucine, one of these BCAAs, plays a major role in promoting muscle growth and recovery after resistance and endurance exercise. These high-quality proteins exist in animal-based protein foods such as lean poultry, beef, fish, dairy, egg products and whole eggs.

Protein shakes are extremely convenient, which makes them useful for active individuals and athletes who are constantly on the go. If choosing a protein powder supplement, whey protein and plant-based proteins such as soy or pea have been shown to promote muscle growth and recovery most effectively.

How Much Protein Should You Consume and How Often?

So now that we’ve covered the many benefits of protein, let’s talk about how much you need, especially if you’re using it to supplement your workouts.

The timing of protein intake is especially important for athletes or anyone trying to build muscle. Exercise stresses the muscles. Eating protein after a workout helps repair and rebuild muscle.

You should aim to consume 20 to 40 grams of protein within a half hour after exercising.