You may have heard a bit about high protein diets or even tried a version yourself. While I never advocate for "fad" diets, I'm a huge fan of higher protein plans. Read on to find out why.
Personally and professionally I've seen first hand how higher protein diets deliver on results while being balanced AND sustainable. In fact its sustainability is one of it's biggest PROS. NO eliminating of food groups, and you don't have to guzzle meat all day either. In fact, with a bit of planning, even plant based eaters can follow higher protein diets; and I totally advocate for this! Did you think high protein diets were just for athletes? Think again! Evidence shows convincing benefits of higher protein diets for aging individuals, especially women in menopausal years, for helping individuals maintain a healthy body weight, and is probably the best way to improve body composition. Of course, athletes in both endurance and strength/power sports will also reap the benefits of a high protein diet.
What are the PROS of PROTEIN?
1. Diets high in protein are thought to increase metabolic rate by 15-30% because protein has a higher thermogenic effect of food compared to the other macro nutrients (fats and carbohydrates). Translation: protein requires more energy to digest and process so you burn more calories eating it.
2. Protein is known to improve satiety which keeps hunger at bay. For obvious reasons, this is a major plus and why higher protein diets tend to be easier to follow and provide sustainable long term success.
3. Including protein at meals and snacks helps blood sugars stay more stable by slowing the digestion of carbohydrates and prevents insulin spikes. This will help limit hunger, cravings, and fluctuating energy levels throughout the day.
4. Protein helps protect and build muscle. Muscle itself burns 3x as many calories as fat per pound. So, if you can retain and build more muscle you'll continue to be a metabolic powerhouse even as you age, when muscle breaks down at a faster rate.
How to implement a HIGH PROTEIN diet?
The definition of 'high protein' varies. If you have specific goals, a dietitian can help you build the right plan to meet your needs. But, generally speaking, I like to start with these
4 main rules:
1. Include 1 serving of good quality protein every three hours or so. Distribution of your protein is almost as important as total daily protein intake. Getting a good hit of protein in regular intervals helps keep metabolism rolling, increases satiety, and prevents muscle breakdown. Most macro nutrients are better absorbed and used by the body in moderate amounts over regular intervals rather than an onslaught at one single time.
2. Calculate protein at 25-35% of your total daily calorie needs. A good rule of thumb is 1g/lb or 1.5-2g/kg of body weight. That said, for larger individuals, calculations of 1g/lb of LEAN mass or ideal body weight may be more appropriate.
3. Consider the quality of your protein. 'Complete proteins' have all the amino acids and are absorbed best. Examples include fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, tofu, edamame, and whey or vegan protein blends. Many of these foods are also high in leucine, the amino acid that's best for muscle tissue repair and regeneration. Yay for high leucine foods post workout.
4. Prioritize protein around workouts for recovery and in the morning for balanced blood sugars and daily satiety. Whether you're running or power lifting protein will help protect muscle from breaking down and help repair and build muscle when there's a stimulus. Studies suggest that starting the day with protein is correlated with appetite control later in the day. 20g-30 grams of good quality protein at breakie and post workout is a good goal.
While health guidelines suggest sufficient protein intakes at 0.8-1.2 g/kg body weight, recent evidence is pointing to higher protein intakes as not only being totally safe, but even having additional benefits. Exceptions are those with pre-existing kidney disease. If you're unsure of your health status speak to your doctor or a registered dietitian before implementing a new plan. Choosing real foods to meet your protein needs will simultaneously boost your satiety, increase nutrient density and safety. That said, sourcing a safe protein supplement by checking for the NSF or INFORMED CHOICE stamp can help you meet higher protein needs when convenience takes priority. You can search for safe sports supplements using the links above.
Ever find yourself falling asleep at your desk at 4pm, or craving sugar all day long? How about feeling hungry ALL the time, overeating at dinner and fighting the urge to snack all night? Have you been struggling to change your body composition despite hours spent at the gym? If this is you, check in with your daily protein intake and see if you're optimized. If not, test out some additional protein using these tips and see what happens!
To sum things up, I'm game for any plan that will helps retain my metabolic tissue, keep me full, AND allow me to burn more calories eating. UMM YASSSS.. Following a higher protein diet does not mean you're eliminating carbs or fats and for optimal health stick to real foods, lean proteins, using a mix of plant and animal proteins to benefit from all the variety. While Protein is the bomb, you can still overeat. Protein is still calories and does convert to glucose when overdone, so portion sizes do matter; for example a palm size serving of animal protein, or 1/2 block of tofu provides the 25g you're seeking at a meal.
For more info, tips and resources and protein guides check out my RESOURCES page and follow me on IG @dietitiandebs. Better yet, BOOK a sess to get more custom guidelines on how to optimize your health and performance.