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Protein: The #1 Tool for Building a Lean, Muscular Physique


*Please refer to our updated article on protein and top protein sources (4/2014).

I’m a HUGE proponent of getting a lot of protein in the diet, and it’s not all about building huge, beefy muscles (although it helps a lot if that’s what you’re going for, especially if you do this alongside taking some products). Put plain and simply, protein is the “leanness” nutrient. It helps pack on toned-up, rock hard new muscle, preserves the muscle that the body (and you) busted its ass to build up, and elevates the body’s metabolism, burning extra calories than normal and shredding off nasty body fat/cellulite.

I’ll be blunt — becoming lean, toned, and ripped up requires two simple steps: 1. building muscle tone & 2. shredding body fat. Eating protein constantly throughout the day does both simultaneously. Here’s how:


Building muscle tone.

In the world of sports nutrition there’s a critical concept called nitrogen balance (NB). Whenever you eat protein throughout the day it increases the amount of nitrogen in the body. Building new muscle, maintaining muscle, and losing muscle is, for the most part, determined by the amount of nitrogen present in the body. NB is a running tally that directly compares the amount of nitrogen that’s taken in through the protein you eat to the amount of nitrogen that’s excreted through urine/feces.

  • When that balance is positive the body is able to pack on new muscle, when it’s negative the body starts breaking down muscle and using it as fuel. Eating a steady stream of protein throughout the day, at every meal, ensures that you’ll always be in the positive. All the cool kids have a positive NB…just saying.


Shredding body fat.

Protein is able to put the body’s metabolism into hyperdrive because it’s thermogenic. Most people have heard, at some point or another, that eating celery actually has “negative calories” because the body burns off more calories digesting the celery than it does eating it (it’s true by the way, if you were curious). That’s thermogenics. It’s basically a term used to describe the amount of calories that the body burns by biting, chewing, digesting, swallowing, metabolizing, and storing food. It also raises the body’s metabolism and core temperature.

  • Protein is extremely thermogenic (along with ice cold water, green tea, coffee, and hot sauce/spicy food) and has been shown to burn up to 30% of its cals through thermogenesis alone. You know I’m insane when one of my hobbies is maximizing thermogenesis…

With that in mind, here’s your full, go-to compendium of the top protein sources – based on grams of protein per 100 calories – including the best plant-based protein options for vegetarians, vegans, or anyone who’s animal-product-free.


Bryan DiSanto

Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
ELLO ELLO I'm Bryan DiSanto. I'm the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, a CPT/CSN/Fitness Coach, Chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness junkie.

I also contribute to Men's Health Magazine.

When I'm not working on my abs (or somebody else’s), whipping up avocado roses and avocado toast, or running a Tough Mudder, I'm probably yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.

Come be friends with me on Instagram (@BRYDISANTO) & Snapchat (BRYDISANTO).
Bryan DiSanto
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