What is a High-Protein Diet?

Switching to a high-protein diet means focusing more on protein-rich foods. There are various ways to do this, like increasing protein intake without major changes to other foods, or reducing carbs while adding more protein.

In this article, we’ll dive into the advantages, potential risks, and tips for transitioning to a high-protein diet in a way that suits your lifestyle and goals.

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. 

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The current Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for a healthy adult [1]. 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 [1].

The Basics of 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 depends on various factors, such as your age, sex, lifestyle, health, body size, and pregnancy or breastfeeding status.

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In general, American guidelines recommend a protein intake that constitutes at least 10% of your total calorie consumption [2]. 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.

Note: 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.

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. It’s also a great way to help suppress your appetite and promote weight loss. Here are some additional benefits:

Helps with Weight Loss

Eating more protein than usually recommended can help reduce weight and fat without losing muscle. This works for both low-calorie and regular diets. A high-protein diet can make you feel fuller for longer, speed up your metabolism, and lead to eating less, aiding in weight loss. It may also improve heart health by reducing risk factors like cholesterol and blood pressure. Plus, it can fight obesity and related diseases such as fatty liver disease, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes [3].

Promotes Muscle Growth

Increasing your protein intake can help grow and maintain muscle. The proteins you eat support muscle growth by helping muscles build up faster than they break down. This effect can be enhanced by weight training [4].

Maintains Muscle Mass

For older adults, consuming enough protein is vital. It helps maintain muscle mass and prevents sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass and strength that comes with age.[5, 6].

Risks of a High-Protein Diet

  • High-protein diets are usually safe for most healthy adults.
  • They aren’t recommended for individuals with chronic kidney disease, as it may worsen kidney damage [7].
  • It’s also linked to an increased risk of kidney stones, especially with high animal protein intake [8].
  • Consult a dietitian or doctor before starting a high-protein diet, especially if you have medical conditions or are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Tips for Starting a High-Protein Diet

Different health guidelines suggest various amounts of proteins, carbs, and fats we should eat. In Australia, it’s advised to get:

  • 15-25% of your daily calories from proteins.
  • 45-65% from carbohydrates.
  • 20-35% from fats.
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If you want to follow a high-protein diet, try to make protein 20-25% of what you eat every day. For example, if you eat 2000 calories daily, you could aim for 100 grams of protein, which is about 400 calories. However, the exact amount you need depends on your age, gender, and weight.

For healthier eating, choose proteins like lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, and beans instead of a lot of red meat. This can lower your heart disease risk. It’s also good to eat a variety of foods, including lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats.

When eating more protein, spread it out over all your meals to help your body use it better. And remember, mixing plant and animal proteins can be a healthier way to boost your protein intake.

Tip: You can track what you eat with apps or a diary to make sure you’re getting the right balance of nutrients.

Different Types of High-Protein Diets

  • 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.

At the end of the day, 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.

High-Protein Diet FAQs

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.

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