When I first started my fitness journey, I didn't truly understand protein's importance.
I came to find out that protein is crucial whether you want to build muscle, burn fat, or just be healthy ... but does protein also give you energy?
The truth is, that can be a little complicated ... but simply put, protein CAN help with your energy levels.
Before we jump straight into the question - does protein provide energy? - let's quickly cover a more basic question, "What is protein?"
Protein is a nutrient that is essential for all living organisms.
It's made of amino acid chains which differ depending on the source of protein.
These chains of amino acids can be found in many shapes as well.
The amino acid composition, along with the shape/structure, both play a role in what protein does for your body.
Just to give you an idea of how important protein is ... if you exclude water and fat, the entire human body is made entirely of proteins.
Your body can actually manufacture some of these proteins by itself, but there are 9 amino acids that your body can't produce.
These are called the essential amino acids, because you need to get them from your diet. Otherwise, your body won't have the materials it needs for many of its key functions.
Some protein sources contain all 9 of these essential amino acids, and they are considered complete protein sources.
Most of these complete protein sources come from animals.
Meat, fish, eggs, some dairy sources, and whey protein are all complete protein sources, just to name a few.
There are not many complete protein sources that come from plants ... but there are some! One example is quinoa.
If you follow a plant-based diet, it's important to find and combine various sources to get all of the different essential amino acids.
Many plant sources are complimentary, like rice and beans. Eaten separately, they provide only part of the amino acids that your body needs. Eaten together, they level up to a complete protein source - providing your body with all 9 essential amino acids.
Where Do We Get Our Energy From?
Now, while protein CAN be metabolized and used for energy, it's actually not the best source of energy.
In fact, it's the last thing your body prefers to use for energy.
Protein is mostly used to maintain and rebuild tissues like muscle, bone, skin, hair, nails, and more.
Many people do think that protein gives them energy though.
Technically, protein does contain the same amount of calories as carbohydrates per gram, but it can be a misleading statement to say that eating protein gives you more, or even equal, energy.
Carbohydrates are the body's preferred energy source.
That's because they can be broken down and used to power different systems in the body.
Your body even prefers to use fat for energy instead of protein.
Fat is actually the most abundant source of energy, because it contains 9 calories per gram.
The problem is ... it takes your body much longer to break down fat and use it for energy as opposed to carbs and protein.
So when the body needs energy quickly, it goes for carbohydrates first. Then, your body will try to use protein as energy.
When your body does use protein for energy, it's typically from breaking down muscle tissue.
How Does Protein Provide Energy?
Most of the time, protein is used for energy sparingly throughout the day.
However, when we restrict carbohydrate intake, overall calories, or exercise for long periods of time ... our body will begin to break down muscle proteins into amino acids to use for energy.
This happens often for people who are trying to lose body fat.
When you restrict calories and carbs to lose fat, your body can run low on energy and resort to muscle breakdown.
The body can use up its carb storage (glucose) quickly. And when it does, it will start to metabolize muscle tissue to maintain a healthy level of glucose for energy.
Other Benefits of Protein
Protein is very beneficial for weight loss.
For one, it's very satiating.
This means it can help you feel fuller for longer compared to carbs and fats. Protein also has a higher thermogenic effect than carbs and fats too.
To put this simply, it means your body will burn calories from having to break down and digest it!
Also, your muscle tissue is made up primarily of protein.
When your body decides to metabolize muscle for energy, it means you aren't getting enough protein to preserve it.
Protein can help with the energy we feel in one way though ... and that's by helping to prevent blood sugar from crashing after eating a heavy carb meal.
When we eat carbohydrates, it raises our blood sugar to unsafe levels, so the body must lower it back down.
This can make us feel sluggish and even increase cravings for high-sugar foods.
Eating a serving of protein with those carbohydrates tends to slow down the release of glucose in the blood.
That way, blood sugar won't peak as high or dip as low. This helps keep our energy levels more consistent throughout the day.
Obviously, there are many other benefits to getting enough protein too, but one of the best benefits is its ability to help with muscle growth and repair.
We all need to exercise to maintain our overall health. Exercise creates tiny micro-tears in the muscle fibers we use.
This sounds bad, but you have to break down your muscles to build them up bigger and stronger.
With enough protein in your diet, you can repair that damage.
If your goal is to build more muscle, then you definitely need enough protein to repair these micro-tears.
However, protein isn't the only thing your body needs to recover from the gym...
And actually, you can learn more about that here.
Other Ways To Increase Energy
1. Get adequate sleep every night (7.5+ hours)
2. Drink 100-120 oz or more of water per day
3. Exercise regularly
4. Consume nutrient-dense foods
5. Reduce sugar intake
6. Stay active
To wrap things up, protein helps in so many ways.
It doesn't matter whether you're trying to gain muscle, lose fat, or just feel better ... your body needs protein.
If you are struggling or want help with how to take in more protein, let us help!
Our staff of NASM Certified Personal Trainers are happy to point you in the right direction! You can also find our full collection of protein supplements here.
Or, if you want to track your food to see where your protein intake is at...
Download the 1st Phorm App to get started.