A high-protein diet encourages a person to consume more protein, which often means reducing their intake of fats and carbohydrates.
That said, there are many variations of a high-protein diet. Some people increase the amount of protein in their diet without adjusting their intake of other macronutrients, while others eat more proteins but consume fewer carbs.
You might have also heard of higher-protein diets with specified guidelines, such as the Atkins diet or the South Beach diet.
This article will discuss some of the benefits and risks of a high-protein diet and how you can start adopting a high-protein diet.
Why is Protein Important?
Protein is an essential part of any diet. Your body needs protein to repair cells and grow new ones. Protein helps your body build and repair muscles, bones, tissues, cartilage, and skin and enables it to produce important hormones and enzymes required for optimal functioning.
The current Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for a healthy adult . For instance, if you weigh 70 kilos, you should consume at least 56 grams of protein per day.
That said, many experts and researchers believe this amount of protein intake is insufficient to promote optimal muscle health in all population groups, especially in older adults and those who are physically active .
What is a High-Protein Diet?
There isn’t a universal definition of what constitutes a high-protein diet. But, in general, a high-protein diet refers to a diet in which protein makes up more than 20% of the daily calories you consume.
Increasing your protein consumption usually goes hand-in-hand with reducing your intake of other foods like carbs and fats to balance out your total calorie consumption.
There isn’t an exact macronutrient ratio you’d have to follow on a general high-protein diet, and there aren’t any specific types of foods you’d have to avoid, either.
However, it is recommended that you go for lean proteins and reduce your intake of carbs and proteins that are highly processed.
The recommended amount of protein to consume each day really depends on various factors, such as your age, sex, lifestyle, health, body size, and pregnancy or breastfeeding status.
In general, American guidelines recommend a protein intake that constitutes at least 10% of your total calorie consumption . So consuming enough protein to make up 20-25% of your total calorie intake is a great place to start if you want to adopt a high-protein diet.
Of course, before making any drastic changes to your diet, it’s best to err on the side of caution and seek advice from a healthcare professional.
What are the Benefits of a High-Protein Diet?
Not surprisingly, high-protein diets have become very popular because protein is known to help maintain satiety, keeping you full for longer. Thus, a high-protein diet is thought to help suppress your appetite and promote weight loss.
Let’s dig deeper into the benefits of increasing your protein intake.
Facilitates Weight Loss
Various studies have discovered that consuming more protein than the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) can help to decrease body weight and fat mass while preserving fat-free mass. According to these findings, this benefit applied to both calorie-restricted diets and standard-calorie diets .
Researchers found that a high-protein diet helped to increase satiety, boost metabolic rate, and reduce overall food intake, all of which resulted in weight reduction .
On top of that, research findings have shown that a high-protein diet may even be beneficial for your heart health, as it may help lower heart-disease-related risk factors, such as cholesterol and blood pressure .
Additionally, a high-protein diet can help to combat obesity and obesity-related diseases, like fatty liver disease, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes .
Promotes Muscle Growth
Research has found that increasing protein supplementation helps increase muscle mass and lean body mass .
The proteins you consume can help you build muscle by facilitating muscle hypertrophy, which happens when the muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown . This leads to muscle growth and an increase in muscular size.
Scientists have also found that the positive effects of protein on muscle-building can be amplified through resistance training .
Maintains Muscle Mass
Getting enough protein is especially crucial for older adults. A high protein intake may help to sustain muscle mass and protect against sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is the age-related progressive loss of muscle mass and strength, which commonly manifests as muscle weakness [5, 6].
What are the Risks of a High-Protein Diet?
Any kind of diet comes with its fair share of limitations and risks, and high-protein diets are no exception.
Generally, a high-protein diet is considered safe for most healthy adults.
However, it may not be suitable for those diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. High dietary protein may contribute to additional kidney injury and damage in those with pre-existing, long-term kidney disease .
Apart from that, a high-protein diet is also thought to be linked to the formation of kidney stones. Some research has further found that this increased risk of kidney stones is more likely to be associated with a high intake of animal proteins rather than plant proteins .
Essentially, it’s best to seek your dietitian or doctor’s advice before adopting a high-protein diet, especially if you have any current medical conditions or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
Tips for Starting a High-Protein Diet
There are varying recommendations on macronutrient distribution based on different guidelines.
According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, the estimated Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDR) related to a reduced risk of chronic disease are as follows :
- Protein: 15-25% of daily calories
- Carbohydrates: 45-65% of daily calories
- Fats: 20-35% of daily calories
Based on your recommended daily calorie intake, you will be able to estimate how much protein to consume each day.
If you’re keen on getting into a high-protein diet, you can aim to consume enough protein to meet 20-25% of your daily calorie intake.
Say you wish to consume 20% of your daily calories from protein, and your daily calorie intake is 2000. In this case, you can aim to have a daily protein intake of about 400 calories, roughly equating to 100 grams of protein.
Of course, the number of calories (and amount of protein) to consume daily will depend on different factors, such as your age, sex, and body weight.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming proteins such as lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and plant-based alternatives, including tofu, legumes, beans, and nuts. Try to substitute red meats for these healthier sources of proteins, as this can help lower your risk of heart disease .
You can check out our guides to the best high-protein foods and snacks to incorporate into your diet.
Here are some other pointers to keep in mind while you’re on a high-protein diet:
- It’s best to evenly spread your protein intake over meals rather than downing everything in one sitting. This helps your body utilize the protein more effectively .
- Even though you’re consuming larger amounts of proteins each day, it’s still crucial that you adopt a well-balanced diet that contains fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.
- A combination of plant and animal proteins is generally a more holistic and healthier way to increase your protein intake in your diet.
- Make use of smartphone apps, tracking tools, or a personal diary to track your macronutrient intake and progress.
Different Types of High-Protein Diets (With Specified Guidelines)
There are several popular dietary plans that encourage a higher intake of proteins. Some of these diets are as follows:
- The Atkins Diet: The Atkin’s Diet is a low-carb, 4-phrase diet plan that revolves around lowering your intake of carbs while increasing your intake of fats and proteins.
- The Dukan Diet: The Dukan diet is another low-carb, high-protein diet that is split into four phases. This diet is highly-restrictive and is unlikely to be sustainable in the long term.
- The South Beach Diet: This is a low-carb eating plan that involves increasing your intake of healthy fats and proteins. The main focus of this dietary plan is on lean meats, unsaturated fats, and low-glycemic-index carbs.
- The Sugar Busters Diet: The primary emphasis of the Sugar Busters Diet is to limit your intake of processed carbs and added sugars while boosting your intake of healthy fats, fibres, and lean meats.
Each dietary plan, of course, comes with various limitations and risks. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and it might take a little trial and error to find a high-protein dietary plan that fits your lifestyle and fulfils your nutritional needs.
Feel free to check out our guide detailing the top high-protein meal plans, which can give you some ideas on the types of foods to include in your daily meals.
Which dairy products are suitable for a high-protein diet?
Some dairy products with the highest protein content include milk, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese.
Is chicken breast high in protein?
The breast is one of the leanest parts of a chicken and is high in protein. There’s an estimated 25 grams of protein in 100g of chicken breast, which makes it one of the best and healthiest sources of animal protein to include in your diet.
Can I increase my protein intake using only protein shakes?
You can increase your protein intake using protein shakes if you cannot reach your protein intake goals with food alone. Protein shakes are also a good source of additional protein to support muscle gain, repair, and recovery in bodybuilders or athletes. That said, protein shakes should only be taken to supplement and not to replace your meals or protein intake from food.
Are high-protein foods rich in saturated fats?
Some high-protein foods may contain relatively high amounts of saturated fats. These foods include red meats like beef, pork, and lamb, as well as full-fat dairy products such as full-cream milk. If you wish to reduce your intake of saturated fats, you can go for protein-rich sources like lean meat, chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, low-fat dairy products, and eggs.
Final Takeaway: How to Adopt a High-Protein Diet
A high-protein diet isn’t for everyone. What’s most important is adopting a diet that gives you the energy and fuel you need to meet your lifestyle needs and wellness goals.
For some people, a high-protein diet balanced with an adequate intake of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains is a great tool for weight loss or building muscles.
To maximize the benefits of a high-protein diet, try to spread your protein intake evenly across the day, opt for healthier, higher-quality sources of proteins, and avoid greatly-processed, high-sodium meats.