The power of protein.
Dr. Brendan Egan, discusses the increase in popularity of dietary protein for its many health and performance reasons, with yogurt and other dairy being key sources.
The rise of dietary protein
In recent years, there has been a steady accumulation of scientific evidence supporting the health-promoting effects of higher daily protein intakes than those typically recommended by health authorities. For instance, the current EU recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.83 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass for the average member of the population. Conversely, it is now well-established that about 50% more than that is required for adults over the age of 50 years to support maintenance of muscle size and function, or for adults actively trying to maintain muscle while losing fat during a period of weight loss. Moreover, athletes will often eat two to three times the RDA for protein in pursuit of their goals during periods of intense training and competition. As a result, it appears as though an obsession with protein-containing foods has arisen, and unsurprisingly the popularity of yogurt is rising too as it is an excellent source of ‘high quality’ protein, among other things.
The role of protein in supporting fat loss
Although a calorie deficit of some kind is required, a higher intake of dietary protein can support fat loss through several mechanisms. Firstly, protein tends to be more satiating that other nutrients i.e. it helps curb appetite for longer. Secondly, the energy burned during the digestion and absorption of protein is higher than for carbohydrate or fat. Thirdly, a higher protein intake maintains muscle mass during periods of weight loss. The means that fat is preferentially lost at this time, and any ‘slowing of metabolism’ that sometimes occurs when muscle is lost is prevented. Because of this protein component, but perhaps also due to other nutrients like calcium and probiotics, yogurt consumption is associated with lower body fat and better indicators of health in both children and adults.
The role of protein in active lifestyles
Because exercise results in cycles of damage and repair of muscle, and protein is a key nutrient in the latter process of recovery, athletes and active exercisers have a two to three times higher requirement for dietary protein. This is particularly true for individuals undertaking very intense training, or aiming to increase their muscle size, or aiming to drop body fat while maintaining muscle. As a general rule, athletes are advised to eat 20 to 30 g of protein at each meal and snack throughout the day, but especially so in the recovery window after exercise.
As many athletes eat four to six times per day, this can mean a lot of protein and a lot of food to be eaten. Therefore, tasty, easy to prepare meals are ideal, and those containing yogurt and dairy are particularly valuable. This is because the intake of essential amino acids, the building blocks of muscle, are particularly important to promote recovery and increase muscle growth or maintain muscle size. Dairy foods contain both whey and casein protein, which contribute to essential amino acid availability as these are the richest food sources of these amino acids.
Adding protein to your diet through yogurt
Consuming yogurt on a regular basis is a simple way to add protein to your diet, either through traditional whole milk yogurt, or through high protein varieties. For instance, a medium-sized tub of natural yogurt (125 g) or high protein yogurt (150 g) provides ~7 and 15 grams of protein respectively. The guideline of 50% more protein than the RDA would usually mean an extra 25 to 40 g of protein per day, on average. Therefore, small but meaningful contributions from yogurt can assist people across the population to meet their protein intake targets to support their health and fitness goals.