From the bodybuilder who seemingly lives off steak to the fitness influencer who gulps down protein shakes, high-protein diets have been the talk of the health industry in recent years.
And considering the benefits of a high-protein diet include weight loss, boosted metabolism and major muscle gains, it’s not exactly hard to see why the high-protein-hype has grown.
But while it’s clear that eating adequate amounts of protein is essential for good health, is it worth cranking your protein intake up to the next level? And if so, is there such a thing as too much protein?
We’re here to give you the high-protein lowdown; the benefits, the risks and how to eat a high-protein diet in a healthy and sustainable way…
What is a high-protein diet?
A high-protein diet is a diet that is high in animal and/or plant-based protein. A good-quality high protein diet focuses on natural protein, such as unprocessed meat, fish, eggs, dairy, soy, grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and natural protein powders like Purition.
While recommendations vary, a high-protein diet normally includes at least 0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, for example:
- 9 stone: 76g protein
- 10 stone: 84g protein
- 11 stone: 92g protein
Some experts recommend an even higher daily intake of protein that meets or exceeds 1g of protein per pound of body weight per day, for example:
- 9 stone: 126g protein
- 10 stone: 140g protein
- 11 stone: 154g protein
In comparison, the ‘normal’ recommended daily intake of protein for a healthy adult is 0.35g protein per pound of body weight per day, for example:
- 9 stone: 45g protein
- 10 stone: 50g protein
- 11 stone: 56g protein
Source: The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition by Precision Nutrition
Why is protein important?
Protein is one of the three macronutrients, alongside carbohydrates and fats. These are the three major nutrient groups that your body needs to survive and perform its basic functions. Your body needs fairly large quantities of the three macronutrients in order to thrive; hence the name ‘macro’, which means large.
Protein is found in every single cell in your body and plays numerous vital roles, from regulating hormones to transporting nutrients to the right places. Protein is also a key ‘building block’ of your body. It contributes to the growth and repair of tissues, bones, muscles, cartilage, hair and skin.
Protein is made up of around 20 common amino acids; nine of which are referred to as the ‘essential amino acids’. Your body cannot make these nine amino acids on its own, making them dietarily essential nutrients. This means you must obtain them through the food you eat.
High-protein diet benefits
Committing to a high-protein diet has several science-backed benefits, including:
- Reduced appetite: Protein takes a while to digest and also influences several satiety hormones. This can help to reduce appetite and eliminate unhealthy food cravings.
- Increased muscle mass and strength: Combined with exercise, high-protein diets promote greater muscle growth. Additionally, eating more protein can help to promote fat loss, but decrease muscle loss, whilst losing weight.
- Boosted metabolism: Protein can boost the number of calories burned per day. It also has the highest TEF (thermic effect of food) of all three macronutrients. This means that protein uses more calories to digest and process the food you eat.
- Stronger bones: Protein makes up 50% of your bone structure, aids in calcium absorption and provides key nutrients for bone health. Therefore, a high-protein diet can help to strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis.
- Better sleep: Tryptophan, an amino acid found in most protein foods, boosts the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. It’s been shown to induce and improve sleep.
High-protein diet for weight loss
Eating a high-protein diet of 0.6 grams+ of protein per pound of body weight can be an effective weight-loss technique. Numerous factors sway heavily in protein’s favour when it comes to losing weight.
- Protein reduces the levels of the ‘hunger hormone’ ghrelin, which can help to reduce hunger.
- Protein has a high thermic effect (TEF), which means you’ll naturally burn more calories whilst processing your meals.
- Protein helps you to lose body fat but reduces muscle loss (particularly when combined with strength training).
- Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, which means you’ll feel fuller for longer and experience fewer food cravings.
“High-satiety protein fills us up and keeps us full, so we have no room for low-quality food. Our fat metabolism system will burn body fat instead of muscle. As researched D.K. Layman tells us: Use of higher protein diets reduces lean tissue loss to less than 15%. When combined with exercise, they can halt the loss of lean tissue during weight loss.”– Jonathan Bailor, Health & Fitness Researcher: The Smarter Science of Slim
High-protein diet side-effects
When done right, it’s clear that high protein diets can be an effective weight-loss method.
But any ‘diet’ or eating plan should be good for your health and sustainable in the long-run. It’s therefore highly important to be aware of the potential side-effects and health risks involved.
The following high-protein diet risks are typically correlated with a significant, long-term overconsumption of protein:
- Kidney damage (applicable only to those with kidney disease): Unhealthy kidneys may struggle to remove the extra waste from protein from the body. This can lead to further kidney damage.
- Nutritional deficiencies: High-protein diets that limit fibre, fat and carbohydrate intake to the extreme can eventually result in deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals.
- Digestion problems: High-protein diets that do not include enough fibre can lead to digestion and bowel problems, such as constipation, cramping and bloating.
- Dehydration: High-protein consumption increases your body’s need to get rid of waste, causing a diuretic effect (more frequent urination). If this isn’t balanced with extra hydration, there’s a risk of dehydration.
- Increased risk of osteoporosis: While studies are conflicted, some experts believe that a very high-protein diet causes individuals to lose more calcium. This can increase the risk of osteoporosis.
How much protein is too much?
Humans can tolerate up to 2kg of protein per pound of body weight, per day.
So, like most things in life, there can be too much of a good thing. The risks associated with a high-protein diet are typically linked to eating an unsafe amount of protein (in excess of 2kg/pound) over the long-term.
“Studies prove that until we exceed two grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, we will get only healthier and slimmer by upping our protein intake. To put two grams of protein per pound of bodyweight into perspective, an inactive 150-pound person would not enter the protein danger zone until they ate eleven chicken breasts per day, every day.Jonathan Bailor, Health & Fitness Researcher: The Smarter Science of Slim
That would total two grams of protein per pound of body weight and would mean that 60% of their total calories were coming from protein. That is a terribly imbalanced diet and an unnatural amount of protein.”
However, studies show that increasing protein intake to just 0.6—1 kg of protein per pound of body weight can be effective for weight-loss. Eating 2kg/pound of protein per day is unrealistic for the average person — and would likely be very hard to sustain.
How to eat a healthy high-protein diet
Keen to get started on a high-protein diet? It’s not as simple as loading up on steak and chicken. It’s essential to focus on the wider quality of your diet and ensure you’re still gaining adequate amounts of fibre, healthy fat and essential micronutrients on a daily basis.
Here are our must-know tips for eating a healthy and balanced high-protein diet:
✓ Do your calculations
First things first, you need to know what to aim for. We’d suggest starting on the lower end of a high-protein diet (0.6kg of protein per pound of body weight). First, weigh yourself. Then, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.6 — this will give you your daily protein goal in grams. For example, someone who is 10 stone (140lbs) should calculate 0.6 x 140, which equals 84g of protein per day.
✓ Track your protein intake
While we don’t necessarily advocate for strict nutrition tracking, it’s important to make sure you don’t overdo it on the protein. It can be useful to track your food via a nutrition app, at least for the first couple of weeks. This way, you’ll gain a better idea of what you need to eat to meet your protein goal and ensure you don’t get too protein-happy!
✓ Pick your protein wisely
Rather than focusing solely on quantity, focus on the quality and quantity of your protein. Processed meats like chicken nuggets, breaded meats and lunch meats are often loaded with salt and additives. Instead, opt for natural, unprocessed protein sources such as fish, lean meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, grains, tofu, beans and lentils.
✓ Include animal and plant protein
It might be tempting to load up on animal proteins alone, but don’t underestimate plants. Plant-based proteins are typically higher in fibre and essential vitamins than meat. Adding them to the mix will help you to keep your diet in balance.
✓ Consider your carbs
If you’re looking to lose weight on a high-protein diet, it’s worth paying attention to carbs, too. Fibrous carbs, such as fruit and vegetables, are more nutrient-dense and filling than starchy and sugary refined carbs. Find out more by reading our lowdown on carbs and low-carb alternatives articles.
✓ Don’t neglect fibre and fat
If you suddenly increase the protein content of your diet, it’s all too easy to let your fibre and fat intake take a hit. Make sure to eat a generous portion of fibre (vegetables, as well as plant-based proteins like chickpeas and lentils etc) and a small portion of healthy fats (nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, cheese, fatty fish, eggs etc) with every meal.
Protein powder on a high-protein diet
If you work full-time or lead a particularly busy lifestyle, you might find it difficult to reach your protein goals on a daily basis. In these instances, you might consider adding a protein powder to your routine. It makes sense, after all; a convenient dose of protein, with minimal prep time.
But don’t settle for any old protein shake. Most of them are chockablock with sugar and artificial sweeteners, as well as an endless list of additives, gums, preservatives and emulsifiers that you can barely pronounce. While these types of protein powders may provide a good amount of protein, they typically have a distinct lack of other essential nutrients, like fibre and healthy fats.
That’s where Purition comes in. Purition takes protein powder ‘back to basics’ by providing extra protein from real, whole foods, rather than highly processed, dubious powders. Our blends are made from 70% seeds and nuts, combined with a premium vegetarian (grass-fed whey protein isolate from British milk) or vegan (cold-pressed pumpkin, sunflower and hemp proteins). Real, nutrient-dense ingredients packed with naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals!
One glass of Purition offers 16-20g of protein, alongside 12-15g of healthy fats and 6-8g of fibre. Boost your protein intake with ease, whilst also keeping your wider nutritional needs in check!
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