Did you know a high protein diet can help you lose weight more effectively? Not only that, but including more high-quality protein in your diet will keep you feeling fuller and can make your body run more efficiently. Are are convinced, yet? Like all things, it’s not a one size fits all solution. We’re going to break this topic down so you can get a clear idea of how to incorporate more protein into your daily diet whether you’re trying to lose weight, maintain your current weight or build muscle mass.
What is A High Protein Diet?
Protein is an essential nutrient for health. It is responsible for several vital functions in the body, including hormones, enzymes, and cell repair and maintenance. High-protein diets encourage eating more protein and fewer carbohydrates and fat to boost weight loss, improve energy, and enhance athletic performance.
Diets high in protein help decrease hunger, increase satiety, boost metabolic rate, and preserve muscle mass. However, when it comes to diets, one size doesn’t fit all, and what works for one person may not work for another.
What Experts Say
“A high-protein diet often means cutting carbohydrates. A healthier approach is a balanced diet that includes about 50% of calories from carbs, 20% from protein, and 30% from fat.”
High Protein Diet – The Research
In the longest term weight loss study, those who consistently followed a high protein diet lost more weight than those following a medium protein diet Over the course of the study, total caloric intake dropped only ~12%, and we’re not talking outrageous levels of protein here: 21.2% of calories, or just over 100 grams/day.
After 6 months of dieting, the proportion of people who maintained big-time weight loss (over 20 pounds) was greater in the high protein group. And at 12 and 24 months, only those in the high protein group were able to keep off 20 or more pounds. So, as we can see from the following chart, keeping those protein levels high is actually a big plus not only for the weight loss phase, but also for maintenance. Not bad on the protein score.
This is not an isolated finding. Another group jacked up protein to 133 grams and the results were even more profound The group with the high protein diet definitely drops far more significantly than the carb group (approx. 10kg vs. 6kg). Obviously, our own personal diets aren’t marked by a certain time frame, but if you’re planning on dieting and moving into a maintenance phase, these findings could be a good way to plan a diet that can help you lose the weight and keep it off.
If You Start Your Day With Eggs…You’ll Be Less Hungry Later On
In one study, researchers gave a group of volunteers a breakfast consisting of either eggs, cereal, or croissants…and all had the same calories. They then recorded how much these volunteers ate at lunch and dinner. The difference they found was astounding:
Those who had eggs were hungry for 300-400 fewer calories later in the day! similar observations have been made before: high protein is better than low protein, eggs are better than bagels etc., etc. If you fuel your body the right way, you will be far less likely to consume too much later on.
End Your Day With High Protein & and Build New Muscle
In a seminal “overfeeding” study researchers showed that when excess calories consumed were from protein, they were invested into building new muscle, whereas when they were fat, well, they were stored as fat If you’re going to be storing anything in your body, wouldn’t you prefer it to be anything other than fat?
Pros of A High Protein Diet
There are several benefits of a high protein diet.
- You’ll feel fuller longer. Including protein in your meals and snacks can help you to feel full and satisfied, which may help with portion control.
- You’ll build and maintain more muscle mass. A strong body performs better throughout daily activities, and muscles also burn more calories than fat, even at rest.
- You may be more inclined to choose healthy foods. When you plan a meal around a lean source of protein, you have less space on your plate for less healthy foods. And learning to eat different types of protein may also improve your diet. If you eat tuna, for example, you not only benefit from the fish’s protein but also the healthy fat it provides.
- May help with weight loss and maintenance: Eating a diet that includes plenty of lean protein provides several benefits when you’re trying to lose weight. High-protein diets help build and preserve muscle mass, boost your metabolism, and increase satiety.
- Boosts calorie burn: You also burn a few extra calories when you eat protein because your body has to work harder to chew and digest the food. This is known as the thermic effect of food. Keep in mind, however, that the number of extra calories burned is small so you shouldn’t create an entire weight loss program based solely on this benefit.
Cons of A High Protein Diet
Like most diets, there are potential drawbacks to eating a high-protein diet.
- Nutrient deficiencies are possible. A high-protein diet is often lacking in dietary fiber which can cause constipation and other health concerns. Getting enough dietary fiber is not only important for colonic health, but it also helps reduce inflammation and protect against cancer.
- High-fat and processed foods are sometimes encouraged. Certain versions of high-protein diets also advocate for eating high-fat foods, such as fatty cuts of beef, full-fat dairy, and processed and cured meats such as deli meat, sausage, bacon, and hot dogs. These are not the best choices for a healthy, balanced diet since foods like these are often associated with heart disease and cancer.
- Too much protein may be unsafe for those with chronic diseases. People with kidney disease should not follow a high-protein diet without first speaking to their doctor. The body converts excess protein to glucose to be used for energy, which could cause a spike in blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
- Can be restrictive: Some high-protein diets severely restrict carbohydrates and can result in nutritional deficiencies and a lack of fiber, which can lead to constipation and other health concerns.11 In addition, a high-protein diet can cause bad breath.
- May not be suitable for people with kidney issues: Excess protein is excreted through the kidneys, which may worsen kidney function among people with kidney disease. In addition, protein metabolism results in nitrogen (ammonia) production. Nitrogen must be excreted via the urine. As a result, people on high protein diets are at increased risk of dehydration and need to drink more water.
- May be high in saturated fats: Though most high-protein diets advocate for lean protein choices, others include and even encourage protein sources that are high in saturated fats. A diet high in saturated fats can increase your risk of heart disease, and studies have noted an association between processed meat intake and cancer.
While high-protein diets may have many benefits, there are some potential negatives. While this eating approach may be an effective strategy for losing weight, important food groups such as fruits and grains are often cut out, which does not provide a well-rounded diet.
Is a High-Protein Diet a Healthy Choice for You?
Many experts recommend following a reduced-calorie, high-protein diet for weight loss. A diet focused on lean protein, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains is considered a healthy way to lose weight.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines provide recommendations for a healthy, balanced diet. The 2020–2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended percentage breakdown of macronutrients is as follows:
- Protein:10–35% of daily calories
- Fat:20–35% of daily calories
- Carbohydrates: 45–65% of daily calories
For healthy adults, the recommended dietary allowance for protein (RDA) is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, which means you should eat slightly less than 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of body weight every day at a minimum. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds (68 kilograms), you should eat at least 54 grams of protein each day.
A high-protein diet that includes vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean meats, beans and legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy, and healthy oils fits within the good health guidelines. To lose weight, the USDA recommends a reduction of 500 calories per day.
On a 2,000 calorie diet, that equates to roughly 1,500 calories per day, but this number varies based on age, sex, weight, and activity level. Use this calculator to determine the right number of calories for you.
What happens when you eat too much protein?
There are some side-effects of eating too much protein, including:
- Bad breath
While long-term side effects of eating too much protein can include an increased risk of cancer and heart disease, according to one 2012 study(opens in new tab) and one 2010 study(opens in new tab) looking at the longer-term effects of red meat consumption. There is also the chance of calcium loss, according to a less conclusive study in IRN Nutrition(opens in new tab), and kidney damage for those already with kidney disease.
But our expert notes, “For most healthy people, a high protein diet is not generally harmful particularly when followed for a short time.”
If you have any issues affecting your kidneys, it’s best to talk to your GP first before taking on this diet. “A high protein diet may worsen kidney function in people with kidney disease because the body may have trouble eliminating all the waste products of protein metabolism,” she says.
But as a recent 2020 study(opens in new tab) suggests, those without prior kidney issues can eat relatively large amounts of protein without an issue.
High protein diet – a nutritionist’s verdict
It’s worth a try in the short-term if you want to lose weight, nutritionist Dr Pam Mason says.
“But if you have kidney disease or any chronic health condition, talk to your GP first,” she adds. “If you want to follow a high protein diet, choose your protein wisely. Good choices include lean beef, pork and low-fat dairy products. I’d also recommend skinless poultry, fish, beans and other plant proteins and nuts.”
A high protein diet is also a good choice if you’re lacking in other essential vitamins and minerals. “Intake of oily fish in the UK is typically lower than recommended intakes and high protein diets may focus on white fish as a protein source. I’d therefore recommend taking an omega-3 supplement to boost intake,” Dr Mason says.
How Much Protein Per Day?
We all need a different level of protein based on our exact needs. For example, your body weight, gender, age, and level of activity or exercise all determine how much protein is best for you.
Before determining your macronutrient needs, it’s important to figure out how many calories you should aim for each day. To do this, you should start by calculating your basal metabolic rate, which is the number of calories that your body needs to function, not including physical activity or exercise.
There are plenty of online calculators available that you can use to figure out your caloric needs. Use our calorie calculator.
There are also some health conditions that require people to either eat more or less protein-rich foods than the average person. And athletes need to eat even more foods for energy and performance, including plenty of quality protein.
That said, there are some general protein guidelines that can serve as a good recommendation to aim for each day. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the recommended daily intake of protein for adults who are at an average weight and activity level is:
- 56 grams per day for men
- 46 grams per day for women
In my opinion, the amounts above are the minimum protein intake you should aim for each day, assuming you are otherwise healthy and are moderately active.
More ideally, I advise that you try to make protein at least 20 to 30 percent of your calories per day. That equates to about 0.6–0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight, or 1.2–1.6 grams per kilogram.
You can start by making about 30 percent of your plate a high-quality source of protein at every meal. This ensures you eat enough throughout the day to meet your needs and prevents you from overeating carbs and junk foods.
It’s best to eat small amounts of protein throughout the day instead of a very large serving only once or twice. This gives your body the right amount of protein it needs at any given time, since only so much can be utilized at once. (The rest is stored as fat or eliminated.)
Because your body cannot store protein, eating it throughout the day is the surest way to balance your blood sugar levels, ward off hunger and support your metabolism. This is especially important around the time of exercise when protein-rich pre-workout snacks can go a long way.
High-Protein Diet Guidelines
If you seek to follow a high-protein diet, the general rule that I like to follow for consuming protein is eating around 30 percent of your body weight in grams of protein per day. That means about 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight, or 1.6 grams per kilogram. So if you weigh 160 pounds, you should be consuming about 120 grams per day.
In fact, studies indicate that diets that average around 0.75 grams of protein per pound, or 1.6 grams per kilogram, can increase weight as well as fat loss, improve body composition and even preserve muscle during the weight loss period.
An easy way to wrap your head around consuming enough protein in one day is to divide the amount of grams you want to eat by the number of meals you consume. If you eat three meals every day and an afternoon snack and want to consume 120 grams of protein, then that’s about 30 grams of protein per meal/snack.
Now break that down even further — 25 grams of protein is about a three-ounce serving (about the size of a deck of cards) of grass-fed beef, organic chicken or wild-caught salmon. Combine your meat with a serving of beans and you have plenty of protein sources in your meal already. Equally, most protein powders average around 20 grams of protein per serving, and a protein shake makes for a great snack or breakfast.
Even leafy greens or vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts contain some protein, so adding these vegetables and raw cheese to an omelet is another great way to consume over 30 grams of protein per meal.
To address your mid-day hunger and hit your protein intake goals, there are plenty of high-protein snacks that you can turn to. Examples of protein-rich snacks include black bean hummus, yogurt bites, deviled eggs and even cashew butter chocolate chip cookies.