Protein can help your body build muscle and repair cells. So, what is a high-protein diet? This eating plan ups your protein intake in ways that can help you burn fat and lose weight.
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Protein plays a key role in muscle building and cell repair, and judiciously increasing your intake of this nutrient may help you achieve your health and fitness goals more quickly.
If you want to optimize wellness and develop or maintain a fit body, a high-protein diet may be an ideal match. This diet steps up protein intake so your body can have the fuel it needs to build muscle and burn fat.
In this article, we’ll explain what a high-protein diet is, and we’ll discuss the role that protein plays in your health and well-being. We’ll let you know what foods you should consume and avoid to follow this eating plan, and we’ll share insight on complete and incomplete proteins. Finally, we’ll talk about the impact this eating plan has on weight loss, and we’ll tell you which people should steer clear of high-protein diets.
What is a high-protein diet?
Macronutrients are also known as macros. These are nutrients that the body uses every day, and you need a fairly large amount of them to function effectively.
There are three macronutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrates. You can choose how you want to balance these nutrients in your eating plan. The choice you make may shape your health and appearance.
A high-protein diet is one in which 20% or more of total calories come from protein. This eating plan typically requires you to make a drastic reduction in the amount of carbohydrates you consume.
Fortunately, a high-protein diet is compatible with a wide variety of eating plans. You can follow this diet whether you’re on a paleo, keto or vegan path.
What role does protein play in the body?
Protein helps repair and maintain your body’s cells. Your muscles, bones, skin and hair are all mainly made of protein. A constant supply of new protein is required to keep these tissues in good health.
Additionally, protein is needed to help your body’s key hormones function effectively. Your body’s cells and organs rely on chemical messenger proteins to communicate with each other.
Protein also supports your body’s enzymes. Enzymes drive the myriad chemical reactions that take place in your body each day. Most enzymes found in the body are proteins.
Finally, the body uses protein to facilitate the transportation and storage of critical molecules. For example, hemoglobin is a protein, and it is responsible for moving oxygen into each of the many cells found throughout your body.
Which foods should I consume on a high-protein diet?
Protein is present in a diverse range of foods. This means you have many choices to consider when selecting menu items for your high-protein eating plan.
If you consume animal products, your high-protein diet may contain the following foods:
- Lean beef
- Low-fat dairy products such as milk, Greek yogurt and cheese
- Whey protein powder
- Chicken breast
- Turkey breast
Many vegan foods are good sources of protein. If you’re on a plant-based diet, you can include these foods in your eating plan:
- Plant protein powder
- Sprouted grain bread, such as Ezekiel bread
- Nuts and seeds such as almonds and pumpkin seeds
Keep your own food sensitivities in mind when developing your high-protein eating plan. For example, avoid nuts if you’re allergic to them. And if you’re lactose intolerant, steer clear of dairy products when adding protein sources to your diet.
What are complete and incomplete proteins?
There are different types of protein to consider as you plan your diet.
Proteins are made of organic compounds known as amino acids. There are nine amino acids that are viewed as being essential to good health. The body cannot produce these amino acids on its own, so it needs to get them via your diet.
Each protein source that you consume may be complete or incomplete. A complete protein is one that contains all nine essential amino acids. With an incomplete protein, some but not all of the nine essential amino acids are present.
The foods listed below are all complete proteins:
- Whole-food soy products such as miso, tempeh, edamame and tofu
Nuts, seeds, legumes and vegetables are incomplete proteins. Still, you don’t need to consume lean meats and other animal products to get the complete protein you need. The solution is to make sure you consume a wide range of plant proteins in your diet.
It was previously believed that vegetarians needed to combine their foods to get a complete mix of essential amino acids with each meal.
However, recent research shows this isn’t necessary. To provide the body with the necessary amino acids, vegetarians simply need to eat a diverse selection of plant proteins over the long run.
Which foods should I avoid on a high-protein diet?
A high-protein eating plan is similar to a low-carb diet in that both require a reduction of total carb intake.
Many processed foods are high in carbs. This list includes choices such as:
- White bread
- White rice
- Soft pretzels
- Ready-to-eat cereals
- Baked goods
- Sugary drinks such as sodas
- Corn chips
- Potato chips
- Tortilla chips
- French fries
It’s a good idea to limit or eliminate these foods from your diet if you’re following a high-protein eating plan.
Can a high-protein diet help me lose weight?
Studies show that increased protein intake may affect the body in ways that can ultimately help people lose weight.
A high-protein diet can help you feel full, and this may suppress your appetite and reduce calorie consumption. In one study with 12 female participants, those that consumed a high-protein diet experienced reduced hunger and a feeling of fullness.
Additionally, protein can boost your metabolic rate. This helps you burn more calories, and that may ultimately help you to lose weight. Studies show that when people eat high-protein diets, they tend to burn more calories in the hours immediately following each meal.
Finally, several studies establish a direct relationship between high-protein diets and weight loss. In one six-month study involving 65 overweight participants, the high-protein group lost more fat than those that were placed on a high-carb diet.
The data makes it clear that a high-protein diet can assist you on your weight-loss journey.
Are there certain people who should avoid high-protein diets?
High-protein diets can be a safe long-term choice for most people. However, this eating plan isn’t for everybody.
If you have moderate to advanced kidney disease, it’s typically recommended that you reduce your protein intake. As such, a high-protein diet wouldn’t be a good fit.
Also, if you’re susceptible to kidney stones, a high-protein diet could promote this condition. However, studies show that this typically happens only with animal protein. Vegetable protein doesn’t appear to have the same impact.
If you have liver disease or another serious ailment, check with your doctor before beginning a high-protein diet.
To follow a high-protein diet, you’ll need to keep track of your macros. Use an online food diary to monitor how many grams of protein you consume with each meal.
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