A constant battle I seem to have with my clients is getting them to eat more protein! I tend to prescribe around 1.2 grams of protein per lb of lean muscle mass – which, I know is a lot! This tends to be around 120g-180g of protein a day! BUT protein is so important! The health effects of fat and carbs are controversial and often debated in health circles, with popular restriction diets that include high fat, low carb or no carb. Yet, independent of where you stand, almost everyone agrees that protein is important.
Numerous studies suggest that a high-protein diet has major benefits for weight loss, muscle gain and metabolic health. Therefore, in this blog I will discuss 8 science-based reasons that you should eat more protein.
- Reduces Appetite and Hunger Levels
A high-protein diet reduces hunger, helping you eat fewer calories. This is caused by the improved function of weight-regulating hormones. The three macronutrients — fats, carbs, and proteins — all affect our bodies in different ways. Studies show that protein is by far the most filling; it helps you feel fuller. This is partly because protein reduces the level of your hunger hormone ghrelin, and it also boosts the levels of peptide YY, a hormone that makes you feel full. These effects on appetite can be powerful! In one study, increasing protein intake from 15% to 30% of calories made overweight women eat 441 fewer calories each day without intentionally restricting anything! Imagine eating less without trying or realizing! If you need to lose weight or fat, it can be as simple as making your potato or rice serving a little smaller while adding a few extra bites of meat or fish to your meal. Substituting your normal snack food for a lean protein source like tuna or cottage cheese is also a great way to intake more protein!
- Increases Muscle Mass and Strength
Muscle is made primarily of protein. High protein intake can help you gain muscle mass and strength while reducing muscle loss during weight loss. Protein is the building block of your muscles. Therefore, eating adequate amounts of protein helps you maintain your muscle mass and promotes muscle growth when you do strength training. Numerous studies show that eating plenty of protein can help increase muscle mass and strength. If you’re physically active, lifting weights, or trying to gain muscle, you need to make sure you’re getting enough protein.
- Good for Your Bones
People who eat more protein tend to have better bone health and a much lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures as they get older. Long-term studies indicate that protein, including animal protein, has major benefits for bone health. People who eat more protein tend to maintain bone mass better as they age and have a much lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures. This is especially important for women, who are at high risk of osteoporosis after menopause. Eating plenty of protein and staying active is a good way to help prevent that from happening.
- Reduces Cravings and Desire for Late-Night Snacking
Eating more protein may reduce cravings and desire for late-night snacking. Merely having a high-protein breakfast may have a powerful effect. A food craving is different from normal hunger. It is not just about your body needing energy or nutrients but your brain needing a reward. Yet, cravings can be incredibly hard to control. One of the best prevention methods for cravings is to increase your protein intake. 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. Likewise, a study in overweight adolescent girls found that eating a high-protein breakfast reduced cravings and late-night snacking. This may be mediated by an improvement in the function of dopamine, one of the main brain hormones involved in cravings and addiction. So, load up the protein sources in your breakfasts, and try adding meats, low fat cheese, eggs, low-fat milks and yogurts.
- Boosts Metabolism and Increases Fat Burning
High protein intake may boost your metabolism significantly, helping you burn more calories throughout the day. Eating can boost your metabolism, 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.
However, not all foods are the same in this regard. In fact, protein has a much higher thermic effect than fat or carbs — 20–35% compared to 5–15%. 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. In fact, some research suggests you can burn even more. In one study, a high-protein group burned 260 more calories per day than a low-protein group. That’s equivalent to an hour of moderate-intensity exercise per day!!
- Lowers Your Blood Pressure
Several studies note that higher protein intake can lower blood pressure. Some studies also demonstrate improvements in other risk factors for heart disease. High blood pressure is a major cause of heart attacks, strokes, and chronic kidney disease. Interestingly, higher protein intake has been shown to lower blood pressure. In a review of 40 controlled trials, increased protein lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number of a reading) by 1.76 mm Hg on average and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number of a reading) by 1.15 mm Hg. One study found that, in addition to lowering blood pressure, a high-protein diet also reduced LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Helps Maintain Weight Loss
Upping your protein intake can not only help you lose weight but keep it off in the long term. Because a high-protein diet boosts metabolism and leads to an automatic reduction in calorie intake and cravings, many people who increase their protein intake tend to lose weight almost instantly. One study found that overweight women who ate 30% of their calories from protein lost 11 pounds (5 kg) in 12 weeks — though they didn’t intentionally restrict their diet. Protein also has benefits for fat loss during intentional calorie restriction. In a 12-month study in 130 overweight people on a calorie-restricted diet, the high-protein group lost 53% more body fat than a normal-protein group eating the same number of calories. Of course, losing weight is just the beginning. Maintaining weight loss is a much greater challenge for most people.
A modest increase in protein intake has been shown to help with weight maintenance. In one study, increasing protein from 15% to 18% of calories reduced weight regained by 50%. If you want to keep off excess weight, consider making a permanent increase in your protein intake.
- Helps You Stay Fit as You Age
Eating plenty of protein can help reduce the muscle loss associated with aging. One of the consequences of aging is that your muscles gradually weaken. 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 adults. Eating more protein is one of the best ways to reduce age-related muscle deterioration and prevent sarcopenia. Staying physically active is also crucial and lifting weights or doing some sort of resistance exercise can work wonders.
Even though a higher protein intake can have health benefits for many people, it is not necessary for everyone. Most people already eat around 15% of their calories from protein, which is more than enough to prevent deficiency. However, in certain cases, people can benefit from eating much more than that — up to 25–30% of calories. If you need to lose weight, improve your metabolic health, or gain muscle mass and strength, make sure you’re eating enough protein.
Written By: Ashley Dunwell, MS, NASM-CPT