What are the benefits of protein?

From aiding digestion to regulating hormones, these are the benefits of protein you need to know about

chicken and egg salad
(Image credit: Getty Images)

There are so many benefits of protein, which is why it's important to ensure we’re eating enough. Not only does it help to act as a building block for our cells, it’s vital in repairing and maintaining tissue, aiding growth and supporting metabolism.

The average adult needs a minimum of 0.8 g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. One kilogram equals 2.2 pounds, so a person who weighs 165 lbs (75 kg) would need roughly 60 g of protein per day. This is different for athletes, who need more protein to repair and build muscle, as well as those who are pregnant, lactating or over the age of 65.

A lot of us get enough protein already, but for those doing intensive exercise or with a diet that typically makes it harder to meet our requirements, the best protein powder for weight loss or an increase in protein-rich foods may be necessary. 

Protein consists of combinations of structures called amino acids that combine in various ways to make muscles, bone, tendons, skin, hair, and other tissues. They serve other functions as well, including nutrient transportation and enzyme production. In fact, over 10,000 different proteins are in the body. 

To find out more, we spoke with Sophie Holmes, personal trainer and nutrition coach, and Rhiannon Lambert, registered nutritionist and author of The Science of Nutrition. Read on to discover the benefits of protein.

1. It helps with repair

“Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage and skin,” says Holmes. “In fact, our hair and nails are mostly built of protein.”

Protein is also a huge part of helping the body to heal. After exercise, muscle cells are broken down. By consuming protein after a workout, you are aiding your body in repair – reversing damage and building on your muscle.

2. It boosts oxygen levels

The consumption of foods that help to increase and regulate the body's oxygen levels is essential to enjoying a healthy life and preventing tissue damage. Having low oxygen can lead to a whole host of issues such as asthma and fibromyalgia, and can make other health problems worse.

Holmes elaborates that “red blood cells contain a protein compound that carries oxygen throughout the body. This helps to supply your body with the nutrients it needs.”

Protein rich foods, such as lean meat and legumes, can help to boost oxygen levels, lower hypertension, control blood sugar, and improve lipid profile.

3. It aids digestion

“About half the dietary protein that you consume each day goes into making enzymes, which aid in digesting food and making new cells,” says Holmes.

Protein also helps to support gut repair, especially the amino acid L-glutamine, which is often found in animal and plant proteins. When the body runs low on protein, enzyme production is reduced, and this may have a negative impact on digestion.

Check out our gut health guide for more tips on what to eat for better digestion.

woman toasting with a glass of water as she eats dinner in the garden

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4. It regulates hormones

Protein plays an important role in hormone regulation, especially during the transformation and development of cells during puberty.

Eating a protein-rich diet can provide the body with amino acids that are used to produce hormones such as estrogen, insulin, and thyroid hormones. The body also needs hormones to produce protein-derived hormones, known as peptide hormones. These peptide hormones are essential for supporting growth, metabolism, appetite, stress and reproduction.

“Research suggests that protein may also play a role in weight-regulating hormones, such as the hunger hormone ghrelin,” explains Lambert. “Including more protein in your diet has been shown to reduce the effect of ghrelin, which may mean you feel more satiated for longer. This simply means you may be less likely to feel as hungry in between meals, which could help you on your weight loss journey.”

5. It can help you to build lean muscle

Over recent decades, the potential muscle-related benefits achieved by consuming higher-protein diets have become increasingly clear. 

“The primary role of protein is to build muscle, as well as helping to repair and rebuild muscles after exercise or stress on the body,” says Lambert. “On average, it’s recommended that we consume 0.75g per kilogram of body weight each day. However, when training or exercising, we should aim to increase this to 1.2g-2g. If you mainly do endurance-based training, aim for the lower range; and if your training is more strength-based aim for the higher range. This will increase muscle protein synthesis in the body to help build lean muscle.”

woman eating ham and egg on toast before a run

(Image credit: Getty Images)

6. It keeps you fuller for longer

Protein takes longer to break down than other nutrients, so eating protein-rich foods and high protein snacks can help to keep us feeling full. It also increases levels of satiety hormones, while reducing the body’s levels of hunger hormones, as Lambert previously explained.

All of this can be particularly useful for those with weight loss goals, who may be keeping an eye on their calorie intake or trying to prevent snacking between meals.

Mollie Davies
Freelance Writer

Mollie is a lifestyle journalist who regularly contributes to publications including Insider, Cosmopolitan, The Metro, Healthline, HelloGiggles, Reviewed, HuffPost, Independent, and Fabulous, amongst others. Particularly, Mollie covers health and beauty. Basset Hounds are Mollie's favourite things on the earth - she has her own named Olive. Mollie loves anything with too much sugar in, the color yellow, pop culture, and musical theatre.