4 Really Good Reasons to Eat a High Protein Diet
Protein is incredibly important, and many people don’t get enough of it. And if you don’t get enough protein, your health can majorly suffer, as can your body composition. While the official DRI (daily recommended intake) of protein is .36 grams per pound of body weight (or .8 grams per kilogram of body weight), many health experts believe this to be quite low.
What Is Protein, Exactly?
Protein can be thought of as the building blocks for all of our body’s cells. They are used to build and maintain healthy organs, skin (also an organ), tendons and muscles. Protein is also absolutely necessary in making hormones, neurotransmitters and enzymes.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, which link together to make long chains and shapes. Some of these amino acids can also be produced by the body alone, but others must be obtained from food sources. These are referred to as essential amino acids.
Because of this, it’s important to pay attention to the type of protein you’re eating, not just the quantity (which is also important). You must get all essential amino acids from your foods, and generally speaking, animal protein sources from grass fed, pastured raised and organic meats and other animal products are the best options. If you are a vegetarian (and even more-so if you are a vegan), you’ll need to work a bit harder to be sure your protein needs are being met.
Why Should I Eat a High Protein Diet?
A typical American diet generally includes roughly 15% of their calories from protein sources. While this might be enough for some people, there are many that need more, even up to 30% of their calories from protein. You might be one of those people if you fit into any of the following categories:
- You who want to lose weight
- You have a blood sugar issue or metabolic disorder (like Diabetes)
- You are an athlete who trains intensively
- You are chronically ill or elderly
- You are under high amounts of stress
Now, let’s look at why you should eat a high protein diet (especially if you fit into one of the above categories) and the specific health benefits of protein.
What Are The Health Benefits of Protein?
1. Protein Will Help You Lose Weight
Protein can seriously help with weight loss for many reasons. First, all foods have a thermic effect, which is the rate at which they increase your metabolism. Protein’s thermic effect ranges from 25-35%, while fat and carb’s ranges from 5-15% (1). This means that protein can dramatically boost the body’s ability to burn fat.
Second, studies have shown that increasing protein consumption directly relates to a decrease in appetite. One study showed that upping protein to 25% of total calorie intake decreased appetite by a whopping 60% (2).
2. Protein Will Help You Gain Muscle and Strength
As mentioned earlier, protein is the building blocks of our muscles, so (especially if you train hard), a higher protein diet is key. Multiple studies have shown that eating a high protein diet can increase strength and muscle mass (4), and the harder you workout, the more true this becomes. If you are trying to lose weight, getting plenty of protein will make sure that you don’t lose muscle mass along with fat (because losing muscle is usually not the goal).
3. Protein Can Lower Your Blood Pressure
This might be surprising to some, but a high protein diet can actually work to lower your blood pressure. One study actually found not only can protein work to lower blood pressure, but it can also help to lower triglyceride and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels (5).
4. Protein Can Help You Heal From an Injury
Plain and simple: if you aren’t getting enough protein in your diet, it will take you longer to heal from an injury. Remember that protein is the building blocks of our tissues and organs, so upping your intake of high quality protein if you are injured, recovering from a surgery, etc is essential.
Is it True That a High Protein Diet Can Hurt My Kidneys?
This is a largely a nutrition myth. While certain individuals with pre-existing kidney disease will need to modify their protein intake (6), a moderate to high protein diet will not hurt otherwise healthy kidneys. Various studies have been done which show that if your kidneys are in good shape, you shouldn’t have to worry about too much protein (7).
How Much Protein Should I Eat?
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this question, there are some basic guidelines. In terms of grams of protein, be sure you are judging your protein foods on their actual protein content in grams, not the total grams of the food, itself. For example, an egg offers 7 grams of protein, even though 1 large egg weighs roughly 100 grams (8).
If you do not need to gain or lose weight and are not particularly active, you are probably fine following the DRI guidelines of .36 grams per pound of body weight for women (45-75 grams/day), and .6 grams for men (55-90 grams/day). But again, this is on the lower side and can also be safely increased.
For anybody else (those wanting to lose weight, exercise more, etc), upping that to 25-30% of your daily calorie intake is ideal. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits along with this higher protein diet, ideally 5-9 servings of vegetables per day (1 cup raw or 2 cups cooked=1 serving).
What About Supplementation?
For the average person, protein supplementation is probably not necessary. But if you struggle to get enough protein because you are an athlete, recovering from an injury or a vegetarian or vegan, supplementation could be a good idea.
Many protein supplements are packed full of artificial and potentially harmful ingredients, so be careful. Grass fed whey, hemp or pea protein powders are all good options.
What Kinds of Protein Foods Should I Eat?
To see the top 10 protein foods to start with today, check out our article that goes into detail on the most nutrient dense options. Hint: the best options come from meat, fish, whole dairy products and eggs. Our article also gets into the best non-animal options, too.