There are tons of reasons people swear by protein—but one reason usually gets all the ink: Protein builds muscle. It’s why the macronutrient has completely monopolized the fitness food scene, popping up in everything from protein powders and muscle-defining blends to protein coffee drinks.
But nutrition pros are the first to tell you that even if the mega-nutrient didn’t do anything for your muscles, filling up on it is not just worth it—it’s integral to making fitness and health gains every single day. After all, the average human body is approximately 18 percent protein—forming muscles, but also skin, tendons, membranes, organs, and bones. Yet most people don’t get all the essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients they need for great health through diet alone. You can bridge nutritional gaps and build a strong foundation for better health with protein powder (try GNC’s Pro 100% Whey Natural.) But regardless if it’s a powder or from protein foods like these, pack it in—here’s why.
You’ll Stay Fuller Longer
Pair protein with any other type of food—fruits, vegetables, or whole grains—and you’ll feel fuller for longer than you would just eating the other stuff, says Molly Kimball, R.D., a sports dietician at Ochsner’s Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans, LA. That’s because it takes longer for your body to digest protein than carbs, for example, which means it’s in your stomach for longer, says Nancy Clark, R.D., a sports nutrition counselor and author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guide Book. And this can help with weight loss because, well, you’re not as hungry. One recent study found that teenagers who ate a high-protein breakfast containing 35 grams of protein (instead of a normal-protein breakfast) ate 400 fewer calories over the course of the day and lost body fat mass.
Your Hair and Skin Will Thank You
Did you know your hair and skin are both made from protein? Give up the nutrient and you could see your hair fall out and your complexion turn grayish, says Clark. “If there’s not enough protein around, your body would rather use what it does have to make red blood cells and enzymes than hair and skin,” she says. Sometimes, these effects can be seen with too few calories in general, she says, but they also show up from too little protein. So you can thank your protein powder for your gym gains, your glowing complexion, and your full head of hair.
It (Kind of) Burns More Calories
“Protein requires more calories to digest,” explains Kimball. Think about it this way: If you had 100 calories of sugar and 100 calories of lean protein like chicken breast, it would take more effort for your body to break down the protein, so it requires more calories. “This what we call the thermic effect of food,” says Kimball. Basically, your body revs up a little bit more and burns a few more calories eating protein-rich foods versus carb-based food, she says.
*This article was sponsored by GNC.