Proteins: A Building Block to Weight Loss

Protein Plant Foods

Proteins: A Building Block to Weight Loss

Our bodies don’t store protein, so protein needs are generally higher for individuals attempting to increase muscle mass. Exercise causes substantial changes in protein metabolism. This is why body builders often consume a lot of protein. The proteins in your muscles are continually turned over as muscle is broken down and new tissue is synthesized.


Your body is in a constant state of flux creating new cells. These new cells come from the food you ingest.  Specifically, proteins. Protein is the actual raw construction material for body cells like bricks are for a building. Body structures made from protein include skin, hair, nails, bones, connective tissue and muscle. Next to water, protein is the most abundant substance in your body, making up approximately 15 to 20 percent of your weight. Sixty to 70 percent of all protein in the body is located in skeletal muscles.

Amino acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 amino acids that are required for growth by the human body. From these 20 amino acids, there are tens of thousands of different protein molecules that can be formed. Growth hormone, for example, is a protein chain of 156 amino acids.

Out of the twenty amino acids, the human body can make eleven of them. These are called the non-essential amino acids. The other nine amino acids are called essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are those which can’t be manufactured by your body and must be supplied from your food.

Protein isn’t just found in meat, eggs and milk; it is also protein in vegetables, beans, legumes, and grains. But the protein in these foods is not considered “complete” due to a lack of one or more essential amino acids. Generally speaking, proteins from vegetable sources are lower in quality.

Because protein can’t be stored by the body for later use like carbohydrates can, it’s important to your metabolism to consume a complete protein at every meal. Complete proteins are the highest quality proteins that contain all of the essential and non-essential amino acids.

Complete Protein Sources

Protein Foods

  • Chicken breast.
  • Turkey breast.
  • Fish.
  • Shellfish.
  • Eggs (Mostly whites-use limited yolks).
  • Lean red meats (Top round, lean sirloin, flank).
  • Nonfat or low fat dairy products.
  • Milk, egg, or whey-based protein powders.

Note: The body utilizes protein most efficiently when protein is consumed frequently throughout each day.

To trim down and utilize protein for weight loss, you do need to keep animal fats low because they are highly saturated. Simply use more egg whites than yolks, lean meats such as turkey breast and chicken breast instead of poultry thighs, pork and fatty cuts of red meat, lean cuts of red meat (top round, lean sirloin and flank) and 1% low fat or non fat dairy products instead of whole milk dairy products.

Word of Caution

If you have a history of kidney problems, you should avoid a lot of proteins.

Bottom Line

Proteins are a great metabolic stimulator. There are no hard and fast rules regarding protein intake, only guidelines. The commonly heard of 1-gram-per-pound of body weight guideline is good as a general guideline for fat loss. The 30 percent of total calories guideline is even better. If you’re carbohydrate sensitive, you might fare better with 35 to 40 percent protein and reduced carbohydrates.

Author: Jeni

Certified by the Professional School of Fitness and Nutrition in March, 1995; honored for exemplary grades. Practicing fitness and nutrition for over 20 years. Featured in the Feb. 1994 issue of "Shape" magazine. Featured in Collage in the spring issue of 1995 Low fat recipe's published in Taste of Home, Quick Cooking, and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, among others. September, 2001: Featured in "Winning The War on Cholesterol" By Rodale Publishing