If you’re skinny fat and want to shed fat, build muscle, and improve your health, eating enough protein is an absolute must.
But, what exactly is protein, what functions does it have inside the body, and why should you care about it?
Read on because we’ll answer these questions and many others.
Let’s dive in.
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The Protein Basics You Should Know
Proteins are organic molecules that consist of amino acids––the building blocks of life. Once you ingest some protein, your body breaks it down and absorbs the amino acids, which enter your bloodstream. These nutrients begin to circulate in your body, lending themselves where needed.
Amino acids play an essential role in numerous bodily processes, including (1):
- Muscle repair and growth
- Immune system function
- Providing structure to tissues in your body
- Producing hormones, neurotransmitters, antibodies, and enzymes
- Maintaining a healthy pH level
- Transportation of essential molecules in the body
Unlike carbs, fats, and fat-soluble vitamins, your body has no way of readily storing protein for later use. Excess amounts get broken down for energy or converted to glucose via gluconeogenesis. Because of that, getting enough protein each day is vital for your health and fitness progress (2). A significant reason why vegans become and stay skinny fat is that their way of eating prevents them from consuming many of the best protein sources.
From a structural point of view, proteins can be complete or incomplete. A complete protein has adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids. In contrast, an incomplete protein lacks one or more essential amino acids. We’ll discuss some of the protein best practices below.
Why Skinny Fat Individuals Need Enough Protein
A common objection skinny fat people have against increasing their protein intake usually relates to two things:
- They don’t want to get big like bodybuilders
- They are afraid that eating more protein might harm their health
The first objection is simple to deal with because muscle growth never occurs as quickly as we would like. Most people hit the gym consistently for years to build noticeable amounts of muscle, and even they struggle to ‘look like bodybuilders.’ Consuming more protein is one piece of the muscle-building puzzle, but it alone won’t lead to that much muscle gain.
Another reason why folks often eat less protein has to do with their health. Prevailing wisdom suggests that consuming more protein can harm our kidney health, but those claims are largely unsupported by research. Yes, folks with pre-existing renal issues should consult their doctor about their protein intake. But, research finds that healthy individuals can handle a lot of protein without showing any adverse effects (3).
For most people in most scenarios, bumping protein intake is perfectly safe. Skinny fat folks need enough protein because the nutrient increases their chances of pulling off a successful body recomp protocol. Protein is crucial for muscle gain, and it supports your muscle while dieting to shed fat (4). By eating more of it, you can more effectively lose fat and gain muscle, improving how your body looks.
How Much Protein Do Skinny Fat Folks Need?
According to most research, the optimal protein intake falls between 1.6 and 2.2 grams per kilo of body weight (4). That translates to around 0.8 to 1 grams per pound.
For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, you should consume anywhere from 128 to 160 grams of protein daily. You can consume around 130 grams of protein while in a calorie surplus and bulking, but I recommend bumping your intake to the higher end while in a calorie deficit for fat loss or body recomposition.
Check out “Skinny Fat” Diet: 9 Tips For Optimal Fat Loss and Muscle Gain.
Fantastic Protein Sources to Include In Your Diet For Optimal Fat Loss And Muscle Gain
Here are some animal products and their protein content per 100 grams:
- Chicken breast - 31 grams
- Chicken thigh (skinless) - 24 grams
- Roasted turkey - 29 grams
- Steak - 25 grams
- Pork - 27 grams
- Lamb - 25 grams
- Tuna - 28 grams
- Salmon - 20 grams
- Shrimp - 24 grams
- Lobster - 19 grams
The protein content of most meats will depend on the specific cut. Meats with more fat would have more calories per 100 grams, so it’s better to pick leaner cuts or remove fats before eating pork, lamb, etc. Fattier meats might be okay to consume in moderation while bulking when your body needs more calories to grow.
Let’s now go over some dairy and eggs products with their protein per 100 grams:
- Eggs - 13 grams
- Greek yogurt - 10 grams
- Skim milk - 3.4 grams
- Cheese - 25 grams
- Cottage cheese - 11 grams
Like animal foods, high-fat dairy contains more calories per 100 grams. When looking to keep your calories in check, go for options with lower fat percentages. Also, certain options like cheese offer plenty of protein but are high in fats, making them calorie-dense. So, consume them in moderation.
Here are a few plant sources with protein per 100 grams:
- Black beans - 13.4 grams
- Red beans - 24 grams
- Chickpeas - 19 grams
- Quinoa - 13.1 grams
- Oatmeal - 16.9 grams
- Peanuts - 26 grams
- Almonds - 21.1 grams
- Cashews - 18 grams
It’s important to note that plants rarely have the same exceptional protein profile as meats (5). You should include meats, fish, and other high-protein foods and use plant sources as the cherry on top. These foods often have a more balanced nutritional profile and provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals (6).
Protein Best Practices: Optimize Your Intake to Reach Your Goals
Here are the simple protein rules to keep in mind for optimal progress and recovery:
1. Eat enough protein daily.
As discussed above, the optimal protein intake, according to research, is 0.8 to 1 grams per pound of body weight (4). For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, aim for 128 to 160 grams daily.
Not eating enough protein is one of the biggest skinny fat mistakes you could make because doing so would limit your ability to build muscle and recover between workouts.
2. Get your protein from various sources.
Depending on the source, protein molecules will have varying amino acid profiles. One food might offer leucine-rich protein, whereas another might be a great source of methionine or lysine.
Getting enough of all nine essential amino acids is vital for the effectiveness of the nutrient, so it’s best to hit your daily target through a combination of meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, and more. Doing so is also beneficial for holding onto muscle while dieting.
3. Distribute your protein into four to six equal doses.
According to some research from Schoenfeld and Aragon, two respectable experts in fitness, the best approach is to spread our protein evenly throughout the day (7). Doing so is beneficial for providing the body with a steady stream of amino acids and making productive use of a larger percentage of the protein.
For example, if you’re going to eat 160 grams of protein daily, it would be great to split it into at least four doses of 40 grams, spaced out from morning until evening. Spreading your protein intake is also suitable for controlling your hunger, given that protein has a high satiety score (8).
4. Eat protein before training.
Having some protein before training supplies your body with some amino acids that kickstart the recovery process before your session is finished. As a result, muscle protein breakdown might occur more slowly, reducing the risk of excess catabolism. These effects are particularly important for people following demanding training protocols, such as CrossFit.
5. Get some protein after your workouts.
While most people agree that you don’t have to eat immediately after training, having some protein as soon as possible is an excellent way to ensure optimal recovery and prevent protein breakdown.
6. Eat protein with carbs.
Combining your protein with carbs, especially after training, is beneficial for optimizing recovery. The protein provides your body with amino acids for muscle repair, and glucose refills the glycogen you burn through while training (9). Here are a few ideas:
- Steak + potatoes
- Chicken + rice
- Fish + quinoa
Related article: Is Being Skinny Fat Bad?
1. LaPelusa A, Kaushik R. Physiology, Proteins. [Updated 2021 Nov 21]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-.
2. Pedersen AN, Kondrup J, Børsheim E. Health effects of protein intake in healthy adults: a systematic literature review. Food Nutr Res. 2013;57:10.3402/fnr.v57i0.21245. Published 2013 Jul 30. doi:10.3402/fnr.v57i0.21245
3. Wu G. Dietary protein intake and human health. Food Funct. 2016 Mar;7(3):1251-65. doi: 10.1039/c5fo01530h. PMID: 26797090.
4. Stokes T, Hector AJ, Morton RW, McGlory C, Phillips SM. Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Exercise Training. Nutrients. 2018;10(2):180. Published 2018 Feb 7. doi:10.3390/nu10020180
5. Berrazaga I, Micard V, Gueugneau M, Walrand S. The Role of the Anabolic Properties of Plant- versus Animal-Based Protein Sources in Supporting Muscle Mass Maintenance: A Critical Review. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1825. Published 2019 Aug 7. doi:10.3390/nu11081825
6. Tuso PJ, Ismail MH, Ha BP, Bartolotto C. Nutritional update for physicians: plant-based diets. Perm J. 2013;17(2):61-66. doi:10.7812/TPP/12-085
7. Schoenfeld, B.J., Aragon, A.A. How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 15, 10 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0215-1
8. Paddon-Jones D, Westman E, Mattes RD, Wolfe RR, Astrup A, Westerterp-Plantenga M. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1558S-1561S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1558S. PMID: 18469287.
9. Poole C, Wilborn C, Taylor L, Kerksick C. The role of post-exercise nutrient administration on muscle protein synthesis and glycogen synthesis. J Sports Sci Med. 2010;9(3):354-363. Published 2010 Sep 1.