Like a bitter three-way sibling rivalry, it often seems that the three main macronutrients — carbohydrates, protein and lipids (fats) — are constantly battling for supremacy. Nutritional experts and those merely passionate about food ceaselessly compare and contrast the three in terms of taste and dietary value.
Each macronutrient has its delicious offerings as well as important functional purposes in the body, so it’s nearly impossible to pick out one that is indisputably the best.
But in terms of fitness and optimal health, whether one is attempting to shed fat or gain muscle, the one macronutrient that tends to get the most positive attention is protein.
This is because protein is a triple threat in the battle to build a better physique. Protein has a variety of benefits that will be appreciated no matter what direction one is attempting to move the scale. Dieters will be pleased to find that protein increases feelings of satiety and provides an energy boost, so one will be less likely to fall into an afternoon slump and try to remedy the situation by snacking. Those looking to gain muscle will benefit from the amino acids in protein, which are the building blocks of muscle. And both groups will benefit from the fact that protein has a high thermic effect, meaning that the body needs to expend a lot of energy to process protein, which can cut down on unwanted body fat.
Those taking in a significant amount of protein tend to do so in the post-workout period — widely believed to be the most important time to consume protein in order to reverse muscle breakdown and initiate muscle building. But what many people might not realize is that taking in protein pre-workout can be beneficial as well. In fact, a new study indicated that there is at least one significant benefit — increased metabolic rate.
In one study, subjects were given either a carbohydrate-heavy supplement (1 gram fat, 18 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram protein) or a protein-heavy supplement (1.5 grams fat, 2 grams carbohydrate, 18 grams protein) before a resistance training session. One might assume that the carbohydrate-heavy supplement would be preferable, as carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. However, the study indicated that for those looking to improve body composition, protein was the better choice.
The results of the study showed that the day after the exercise session, the protein-supplement resulted in an 8.5 percent increase in resting energy expenditure, while the carbohydrate supplement resulted in only a 3.5 percent increase. So if you’re looking to boost fat-burning even the day after exercise, you might consider prioritizing protein in your pre-workout meal.
1. Hackney KJ, Bruenger AJ, Lemmer JT. Timing Protein Intake Increases Energy Expenditure 24 Hours Post-Resistance Training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2009; Dec. 4.