As you might know, high protein diets are well known for fat loss, weight loss, and muscle growth and maintenance. However, some people can be a bit lost about what a high protein diet actually is and how it works. There is a general uncertainty around what to eat while on a protein diet as well. Today we will cover the following questions: why protein is so important, what a high protein diet looks like, and the benefits.
Why is protein important?
Everyone agrees that protein is important, however, the health effects of fat and carbs are still controversial in the minds of many. Most people make sure they eat enough protein to prevent deficiency. In some cases, a much higher protein intake would do much better. But, do we know what protein is?
Protein is one of the three primary macronutrients that our body needs (carbohydrates and fats being the other two). Amino acids are the building blocks that make up protein. We have two types of amino acids:
- Essential amino acids. There are 12 of these and your body cannot produce them, so we must get them through our diet.
- Nonessential amino acids. There are 9 of these and our body can produce them.
Now, do we know why is protein so important? It helps repair damaged muscle tissue and even build new muscle. Also, protein gives you energy, supports your immune system, helps your bones, and it also helps your hair and nails grow.
What is a high protein diet?
Generally speaking, a high-protein diet is one where you put an emphasis on protein as your primary macronutrient. That means that carbohydrates and fat tend to stay low and your main focus is protein. The exact ratio depends on the type of high-protein diet you’re following.
Although, we have to say that there’s no universally agreed-upon definition of a high protein diet since it depends on where you’re coming from and what your diet and lifestyle are. What you consider “high”, may depend on where you start.
If you’re on a keto diet, by definition you’re already following a low-carb diet, relying mostly on fats and protein. So, if you want to do a keto high-protein diet, you’ll only have to switch your focus from fat-centered meals to protein-centered meals.
Benefits of a high protein diet
Disclaimer: These are some aspects people trying to achieve different goals can perceive as beneficial. Depending on your goal some may be beneficial or not (ex. if you’re trying to put on weight, weight loss wouldn’t be considered as a benefit).
There are several well-known benefits associated with a high protein diet. The most common reason is the weight loss factor, but we’re going to see a few more besides that one, that is very popular as well.
1. Reduces appetite and hunger levels
The three macronutrients (fats, carbs, and protein) affect your body in different ways since each one of them has a different mission (and macros). But, by far, protein is the most filling. Protein helps you feel more full with less food.
Eating more protein actually reduces hunger hormones (like ghrelin) and increases satiety hormones (like peptide YY) to keep you feeling full for longer. So it will also help you stick to your diet and reduce your cravings since you’ll have the fullness feeling for longer.
High-protein meals besides being more filling, are also more satisfying than other meals with lower protein intake, so consider swapping out for more high-protein foods.
2. Increases muscle mass and strength
As we’ve seen earlier, protein is the building block of your muscles since, as we’ve mentioned, it helps repair damaged muscle tissue and build new muscle. Therefore, eating adequate amounts of protein will help you maintain your muscle mass and, if you do strength training, will promote muscle growth.
By keeping protein intake high, you can also prevent muscle loss during weight loss.
It’s important to remember that if you’re a physically active person, lifting weights, or trying to gain muscle, it’s important that you make sure you’re getting enough protein.
3. Supports weight loss
As we’ve mentioned earlier, one of the most common reasons that people start a high-protein diet is for weight loss. We already know that protein helps you control your appetite by reducing hunger and enhancing satiety. Since you’re more satiated, you’re less hungry. By being less hungry, you’ll tend to consume fewer calories, which is great for weight loss (when following a healthy lifestyle).
However, another thing that will help you is the fact that protein is harder to digest for our system, so it needs more energy.
When you consume protein, your stomach needs to work harder to break down the large molecules into individual amino acids. That means that the nutrients from your food enter your circulation slowly and steadily.
Therefore, you burn more calories breaking down protein than carbohydrates or fat since it's the most thermogenic macronutrient.
4. Lowers your blood pressure
High blood pressure is the primary cause of heart disease, strokes, kidney failure, and even memory or vision loss.
But we have some good news for you, dear reader, one of the benefits of a high-protein, low-carb diet is that lowers blood pressure. As a matter of fact, one study has shown that a higher protein diet can decrease by 40% the risk of developing high blood pressure.
Studies have also found that, in addition to lowering blood pressure, a high-protein diet also reduces LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides.
5. Helps you stay fit as you age
One of the consequences of aging is that your muscles gradually weaken and it takes longer to build muscle mass and recover from a hard workout.
The most severe cases are referred to as age-related sarcopenia, which is one of the main causes of frailty, bone fractures, and reduced quality of life among older people. However, eating more protein is one of the best ways to reduce age-related muscle deterioration and prevent sarcopenia.
It also helps if you always stay physically active, lifting weights or doing some sort of resistance exercise. These few things are crucial for good overall health while aging.
It’s important to say that there’s still a lot of research to do on this diet. The most important thing is to focus on what you’re health goals are and do whatever feels right for you and what you’d like to try out. Maybe the benefits and controversies may not look the same to you, however, it’s all about listening to your body and understand what is working and what isn’t.
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