What are the Benefits of a High-Protein Diet?
Why is protein important? And why should I eat more of it? For some of us, it’s very much a case of: “I know it’s good for me, but I don’t know why…and I don’t know how?”. And if this is the case, then you’re not alone.
I’ve been dieting and fighting the good fight of ‘healthy eating’ for almost two decades, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone explain to me the benefits of protein for health. Each time I’d nod along enthusiastically and throw around a combination of the: “oooh”, “mhmm”, and “yes, yes” to lie my way into a false understanding. Let’s face it, sometimes the explanations can get a tad too sciencey, wordy and confusing.
So, to save you from a similar awkward encounter with your nutritionist, dietician or personal trainer, I've come up with a quick, simplified, and easy-to-understand shortlist of the benefits for eating more protein. With personal experience with high-protein diets, I can vouch for the following benefits- especially when it comes to trying to build muscle and lose weight.
What is Protein?
Protein makes up one-third of the holy trinity of macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats & protein.
Protein is made up of amino acids, commonly known as building blocks, and play a key role in the creation and maintenance of every cell in our bodies. Protein gives tissues and organs their shape and also helps them work the way they should- it fuels our cells and powers our bodies.
In short, protein is one of the building blocks that make you into who you are.
Why Does Your Body Need Protein?
Build: Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage and skin.
Repair: Your body uses protein to build and repair tissue.
Oxygenate: Red blood cells contain a protein compound that carries oxygen throughout the body. This helps supply your entire body with the nutrients it needs.
Digest: About half the dietary protein that you consume each day goes into making enzymes, which aids in digesting food, and making new cells and body chemicals.
Regulate: Protein plays an important role in hormone regulation, especially during the transformation and development of cells during puberty.
Why are the Benefits of Eating More Protein in my Diet?
Helps Build Muscle Mass
If you lift weights for strength, protein is the key to building more muscle.
Muscle is made primarily of protein and we need protein to keep up the size and shape of our muscles. Eating good amounts of protein helps you maintain your muscle mass and promotes muscle growth when you do strength training (3, 4).
Reduces Muscle Loss
Sometimes the weight we lose from dieting isn’t all body fat- unfortunately, we tend to lose some muscle as well. Research suggests that as much as 25% of weight lost by dieters is from muscle! Luckily, protein can help prevent this.
Keeps You Fuller for Longer
Protein, especially when compared to carbs and fats, helps you feel fuller with less food (8). This is because protein reduces levels of ghrelin, the hormone responsible for hunger. At the same time, protein boosts the levels of peptide YY, a hormone that makes you feel full ( 9, 10 , 11).
Protein takes longer for our bodies to break down, and because of this, we experience slower digestion which makes us feel fuller for longer. Feeling fuller for longer keeps you away from snacking or adding in extra calories to your day!
One way to add more protein is by replacing some of your carbs and fats with protein. Prep Kitchen gives you the option of opting for more protein and fewer carbs by selecting the Lower Carb meal plan option.
Helps Curb Cravings
Cravings are different from a true need for food. They come from your brain, not your stomach. Cravings can be hard to control, but research shows that eating more protein can help curb these cravings- even late-night fridge raids (sound familiar?).
One study in overweight men showed that increasing protein to 25% of calories reduced cravings by 60% and the desire to snack at night by half ( 12).
Another study in overweight teen girls found that eating a high-protein breakfast reduced cravings and late-night snacking.
Improves Bone Health
This is especially important for women, who are at high risk of osteoporosis after menopause.
Boosts Your Immune System
Proteins aid in boosting your immune system! Proteins are made of amino acids. These compounds help turn key players in your immune system- T cells, B cells, and antibodies -into germ fighters that spot and kill harmful cells that enter your body before they can start an infection- both bacterial and viral- and keep your guard up against illness of all kinds.
A diet low in protein leaves you open to fatigue, weakness, low immune response and impaired immune reaction ( 18 ).
Heart Helper; Lowers Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes. It can also increase the risk of some serious and potentially life-threatening health conditions, such as heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
Interestingly, studies show that higher protein intake lowers blood pressure. In addition to lowering blood pressure, a high-protein diet also reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, which lowers your risk of heart disease ( 19).
Having high levels of protein in your diet boosts your metabolism, meaning that you burn more calories a day on a high-protein diet, even at rest, than you would on a lower-protein diet. That’s because your body uses calories to digest and make use of the nutrients in foods. This is referred to as the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)- the amount of energy it takes your body to break down food.
Protein has the highest thermic effect when compared to fats or carbohydrates-which means you're burning more calories to process the protein than you would with carbs and fats- 20–35% compared to 5–15% ( 21)
High protein intake has been shown to significantly boost metabolism and increase the number of calories you burn. This can amount to 80–100 more calories burned each day (22,23, 24), with some research suggesting you can burn even more!
Helps with Healing Injuries
Protein is directly involved with healing an injury. There’s a reason protein is called the building block of your body’s tissues and organs- It powers faster wound repair by reducing inflammation and creating new tissue at the site of the injury. So, eating more protein after an injury can help speed up the recovery (25, 26).
Eating more protein has many health benefits. I've found that feeling fuller longer and reducing cravings have been crucial for me when trying to lose weight and stay within my macros and calorie deficit.
It’s all trial-and-error when deciding which is best for you and your lifestyle. Although a high-protein diet may not necessarily be for everyone, the benefits of a high-protein diet can positively impact your metabolic health, your waistline, and muscular maintenance and development.