What's With the Protein Push?

When General Mills announces (as they just did) that they're coming out with a protein-packed version of their iconic cereal, Cheerios, you know protein is big. What's up with that?

There are two reasons why protein is popular:

  1. Weight management. Studies suggest that compared to fat and carbohydrates, protein is digested more slowly. That means, in theory, if protein is part of your meal, you'll feel full longer than if there were none.
  2. Muscle mass. Protein is a key ingredient for growing muscle tissue and hanging on to muscle mass. There's a caveat, though: in order for protein to work its magic, your diet needs to have an adequate amount of carbohydrates and fat to use as energy. If not, your body will burn the protein for energy.

  

Most of us get plenty of it, but to get the biggest benefit from protein:

  • Put an emphasis on protein earlier in the day. A recent study found that the potential for protein to be used for muscle growth, development and retention is better when you eat it earlier in the day versus having the bulk of it at dinnertime, which tends to be what many of us do.
  • Challenge your muscles. Eating a protein-rich diet helps muscles grow and stay strong if you challenge your muscles with regular exercise. Eating plenty of protein while being sedentary does little to boost muscle power.
  • Consider plant sources of protein, too. Eggs, dairy foods, chicken, pork, fish and beef are great sources of protein but so too are nuts, beans (legumes), edamame, whole grains (such as quinoa and freekeh) and vegetables.

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