Protein is vital for total-body health and wellness. Unlike many fad diets that come and go with little evidence of long-term success, high-protein diets have consistently proven to be beneficial.
Not only can a diet high in protein support weight loss and increase muscle mass and strength, but it can also boost energy levels, support healthy aging, and more.
This article will discuss why consuming enough protein is important for optimal health and how a high protein diet can benefit you. It will also debunk common myths surrounding high protein diets.
- A high protein diet generally involves eating more than 20% of your total daily calories from protein.
- When you eat protein, your body uses extra calories to chew and digest the food, which can help boost your metabolism. A high protein diet can also support weight loss, increase muscle mass, and support healthy aging.
- Despite ongoing myths, excess protein intake will not cause weight gain, bone damage, or harm the kidneys in healthy individuals.
PROTEIN: WHY IT'S SO IMPORTANT
Protein is an essential macronutrient required by every cell in your body. Not only does it help build and repair tissues, but it’s also necessary for hormones, enzymes, immune system responses, and blood clotting.
Proteins are made up of hundreds of amino acids that are linked together. Out of 20 types of amino acids, there are nine amino acids that your body cannot make. These essential amino acids must be consumed through your diet or supplement regimen.
Some dietary protein sources are superior to others because of their amino acid profile. Most animal proteins are considered complete proteins because they contain all nine essential amino acids in quantities your body needs to function optimally.
In contrast, most plant-based proteins lack sufficient amounts of all nine essential amino acids. However, you can combine them with other vegetable products to form a complete protein. For example, beans and rice are incomplete proteins, yet they combine to form a complete protein.
WHAT IS A HIGH PROTEIN DIET?
The recommended dietary allowance for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. However, this is the minimum amount required for optimal health.
The recommended protein intake for most healthy adults is 10-35% of your total daily calorie needs. Although there’s no official definition of a high-protein diet, most individuals who follow a high-protein diet consume at least 20%-35% of their total calories from protein.
One gram of dietary protein provides four calories, so a person who needs 2,000 calories per day would need to consume about 100-175 grams of protein daily.
When following a high-protein diet, it is essential to focus on lean protein choices, such as chicken breast, lean beef, seafood, and plant proteins.
Avoid protein sources that are high in saturated fat, such as sausage, bacon, and fatty cuts of meat. A diet high in saturated fats can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
5 REASONS WHY A HIGH PROTEIN DIET CAN BENEFIT YOU
- Stimulates Muscle Protein to Build Muscle
- Protects Skeletal Muscle
- Increases Thermogenesis to Boost Metabolism
- Enhances Satiety to Keep You Fuller Longer
- Protects Bone Mass
1) HIGH PROTEIN DIETS STIMULATE MUSCLE PROTEIN TO BUILD MASS AND STRENGTH
High-protein diets are very important for building muscle mass and strength. Several studies have shown that protein consumption stimulates muscle protein synthesis and prevents muscle tissue breakdown.
Muscle protein synthesis is a process by which skeletal muscle produces new proteins to repair muscle damage caused by intense physical activity. It is necessary for muscle growth.
When you consume protein after your workout, it provides your muscles the amino acids needed to repair and rebuild new muscle tissue.
Research shows that a higher protein diet is associated with greater muscle mass and strength gains when paired with resistance training.
2) EATING MORE PROTEIN PROTECTS SKELETAL MUSCLE
Following a high protein diet while eating in a calorie deficit can help preserve lean body and muscle mass during weight loss.
A 2022 study published in the journal Obesity found that an increase in protein — from 18% to 20% of total calories — during a calorie restriction was associated with increased lean muscle mass and significantly healthier eating habits.
Additionally, high protein diets can also protect muscle health as we age. Data in older adults suggests that higher protein intake is better for aging because it supports lean muscle mass and protects against falls, thus contributing to a more active lifestyle.
3) A HIGH PROTEIN DIET INCREASES THERMOGENESIS TO BOOST METABOLISM AND BURN FAT
Your body burns additional calories chewing and digesting food. This is known as the thermic effect of food, or TEF.
Protein has a significantly higher thermic effect —20 to 30% of ingested calories — than carbohydrates (5-10%) and fat (0-3%), as reported by one study published in the Nutrition Journal.
This means that high protein diets may help you lose weight and burn fat because they increase the calories your body burns daily. For example, if you consume 300 protein calories, your body will burn off approximately 60-90 calories digesting the protein.
Another study found that those who consumed a high-protein diet (25% of total calories from protein) burned 259 calories more than those who followed a low-protein diet.
4) INCREASING PROTEIN INTAKE ENHANCES SATIETY AND KEEPS YOU FULLER, LONGER
A high-protein diet can help you stay full hours after eating and reduce cravings. Compared to high carbohydrate diets, studies suggest that most high-protein diets are associated with weight loss, mainly because they promote satiety.
Protein promotes satiety because it reduces levels of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin. It also increases levels of peptide YY, which is a hormone that helps you feel full.
One recent study published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism suggests that whey protein induces the most substantial reduction in hunger, followed by casein and soy protein.
5) HIGH PROTEIN DIETS PROTECT BONE MASS
Despite protein and bone health being controversial, many studies have established that high protein intake is associated with better bone health and osteoporosis prevention.
The myth that too much protein is detrimental to bone health stems from the idea that protein induces acid buildup in the body, which can cause calcium to be pulled from the bones to neutralize the acid.
However, multiple long-term studies suggest that protein is beneficial for bone health. Along with adequate calcium and vitamin D intake, dietary protein is essential to support the formation and maintenance of bone mass across the lifespan.
Exercising and eating enough protein is especially important for women because they are at a greater risk for osteoporosis.
HIGH PROTEIN DIET MYTHS
MYTH 1: THEY CAUSE KIDNEY DAMAGE
Some say that high protein diets will destroy your kidneys, but there is no solid evidence to show that a high intake of protein-rich foods will cause kidney disease in people with a healthy kidney function.
A review of several studies published in The Journal of Nutrition found that a diet high in protein does not negatively affect kidney function in healthy adults.
However, it is important to note that increased protein intake may cause damage in people with chronic kidney disease. This is because the body may not be able to get rid of all of the waste products from dietary protein that has been broken down.
MYTH 2: PLANT PROTEIN IS THE SAME AS ANIMAL PROTEIN
While you can still get protein from plant sources, animal proteins take the cake because they provide higher-quality protein sources. Animal proteins are better absorbed than plant-based proteins and provide all of the essential amino acids that our body needs.
Because many plant proteins are incomplete, combining them throughout the day is essential to obtain enough amino acids we need to build cells.
MYTH 3: PROTEIN WILL MAKE YOU "BULKY"
As long as you consume a well-balanced diet, protein will not make you gain weight or cause a bulky appearance. To gain weight and get “bulky,” you must eat in a calorie surplus.
Whether your goal is gaining muscle, toning up, or losing body fat, prioritizing protein is a must.
MYTH 4: PROTEIN SHAKES AREN'T GOOD FOR YOU
Some people believe that protein shakes cause fat gain, however, this is not the case.
Although protein shakes were initially consumed by bodybuilders who wanted to bulk up, improve athletic performance, and boost muscle mass, everyone can benefit from protein shakes.
Protein shakes are a great way to increase your protein intake when you’re in a crunch. They can also help you meet your macros if you struggle to hit your daily protein goals.
One study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that men who followed a high protein diet that included protein supplements increased their muscle mass and lost more fat when combined with resistance training compared to those in the control group.
Always choose protein shakes free of added sugar, additives, and harmful artificial ingredients to keep your protein shake as healthy as possible.
If your goal is weight loss, mix your protein shake with lower-calorie liquids, such as skim milk, almond milk or water.
High-protein diets have been scientifically proven to:
- Increase Metabolism
- Decrease Hunger
- Support Fat Loss
- Build Muscle
- Support Healthy Aging
Although there is no standard definition for a high-protein diet, most people who follow one consume at least 20% of their daily calories from protein foods.
Despite common myths, a high-protein diet will not cause fat gain, give you a “bulky” appearance, or damage kidneys in healthy individuals.
In addition to eating more lean protein, protein shakes are a great way to ramp up your protein consumption and hit your daily protein needs.
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