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track protein intake: man eating protein bar

If You’re Going To Track One Macro, Make It This One

Macro tracking has gained a lot of popularity in recent years thanks to its simplicity and potential health perks, but if logging all your macronutrients throughout the day sounds daunting, don’t panic. When you’re looking to build muscle, maintain your weight, or simply feel more satisfied throughout the day, you could benefit from tracking just one macro: protein. Here’s why. 

Why Protein?

You probably know that protein, which is made up of compounds called amino acids, makes up muscle tissue. That’s why eating enough of the stuff is a must for maintaining or building muscle mass. Beyond that, the amino acids in protein are also used in our bones, tendons, skin, and blood vessels, and support metabolic function, hormone regulation, immune health, and digestion, says dietitian Rebecca Fallihee, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N., of Hope Wellness. Basically, ample protein is necessary for your entire body to function properly. 

Because of its many roles in the body, being more mindful of your protein consumption is an easy win for your overall health, says dietitian Nicole Aucoin, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., founder of CrossFit Healthy Steps Nutrition

3 Good Reasons To Track Your Protein Intake

If you’re not interested in committing to full-on macro tracking but want to make strides for your health, here are three great reasons to start tracking just your protein intake.

1. It’s a win for your muscle mass

Protein is synonymous with muscle mass—and that’s because a number of the amino acids we need to support muscle tissue can’t be produced by our body, meaning we have to eat them, explains Aucoin. Without enough protein in our diet, we may fall short on these key aminos, which repair, maintain, and build muscle tissue.

Not to mention, the amino acids in protein are used to generate movement, transmit nerve impulses, and control cellular growth, all of which are also necessary to repair and maintain muscle tissue, notes Fallihee. 

Supporting muscle is a good thing for pretty much everyone, but tracking your protein intake can be especially helpful if you have specific goals around building a more muscular physique, getting stronger, or boosting your overall athletic performance. 

You see, muscles sustain micro-tears during tough workouts (especially resistance training), and studies show that consuming ample protein is a must for getting in the amino acids needed to maximize the rebuilding (and growth) process. 

Read More: 5 Nutrition Tips That’ll Help Hard-Gainers Build Muscle Mass

FYI: People who work out consistently and are looking to gain muscle need to consume more protein than the average person in order to see results. “Current research suggests that athletes need approximately 1 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, with about 1.6 grams per kilogram per day being optimal for most athletes who are looking to gain muscle,” Fallihee says. (That’s roughly 0.5 to 1 gram of protein per pound.) That’s a pretty significant amount of protein to get on your plate and tracking can help you make it happen.

Tracking may be even more beneficial for plant-based eaters looking to show their muscles some love, according to Fallihee. Since plant foods contain less leucine (an essential amino acid vital for muscle repair, recovery, and growth), animal-free eaters will want to hit an even higher protein mark each day. “A good target for athletes following a plant-based eating pattern is to aim for two to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram daily,” she says. (That comes out to a gram of protein per pound of body weight.)

2. It’s Scientifically Linked to Successful Weight Loss

Regardless of your build-muscle plans, ample protein is also helpful for maintaining or losing weight because of how it affects satiety. “Protein-rich foods tend to increase our satiety, keeping us full and satisfied longer so we don’t overeat or graze all day out of hunger,” says Fallihee. This is, at least in part, because of how protein influences hormones related to hunger and satiety. Research shows that higher-protein meals reduce levels of the hormone ghrelin, which triggers feelings of hunger. 

Plus, protein has a high thermic effect, meaning it takes more energy for your body to digest, absorb, and metabolize than the other macronutrients. Because of this, a high-protein diet can boost your metabolism and increase the number of calories you burn throughout the day. 

For these reasons, research consistently links high-protein diets with more successful weight loss.

When embarking on a weight-loss journey, it’s always helpful to work with a registered dietitian or nutritionist to find the right protein balance for you—and from there, tracking your intake can ensure you’re consuming enough of the stuff to support your goals. (The Vitamin Shoppe offers free nutrition coaching to its Healthy Awards members.)

3. It supports overall health in a variety of ways 

In addition to weight management and muscle gains, protein plays a crucial role in hormone regulation, immune health, and blood sugar stabilization. “When consumed alongside carbohydrates, protein slows down blood sugar spikes—and elevated blood sugar is correlated to diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and strokes,” Aucoin says. Given how prominent these health issues are, any daily action we can take to work against them helps make a difference. “Preventing and reversing chronic disease starts with quality fuel for your body, which includes the protein you consume throughout the day,” says Aucoin.

Read More: The Bodybuilding World Is Getting Serious About Holistic Health

Fallihee recommends a baseline of about 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. For a 180-pound male that is minimally active, that’s roughly 90 grams of protein per day. 

The Bottom Line

Because of protein’s slew of health benefits, tracking your intake can go a long way in helping you support overall health and move closer to specific fitness or physique goals—even if you don’t track fats or carbohydrates along with it. 

If you’re not sure how to get enough protein on your plate, Aucoin recommends including at least one palm-sized portion of protein (about four to seven ounces) in meals and half that (about one to three ounces) in snacks. You can use an app like MyFitnessPal or a similar option to log your eats and keep tabs on how many grams of protein you’re racking up each day.

On your quest to hit that daily number, just note that some protein sources are better than others, especially if you’re playing the long game and tracking protein intake to support chronic health. Whenever possible, opt for whole fresh foods like turkey breast, chicken, sirloin steak, fish, eggs, beans, buckwheat, and quinoa, Aucoin suggests. Leaning into animal proteins like bacon, sausage, and processed meats too heavily can ultimately have negative impacts on cardiovascular and kidney health.

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