SURE—protein can enhance your workout and help you grow mad muscle. It allows you to bulk up or simply tone up, by bringing your body from a catabolic (or muscle depleting) to an anabolic (muscle replenishing) state after you exercise. But a high-protein diet isn’t just for bodybuilders or fitness addicts. We can all benefit from eating more protein.
For starters, protein is an essential component of any diet. Because the body doesn’t store excess protein, it doesn’t have a supply to draw on when needed, so it’s important to eat it on a consistent basis. Vital for the basic function of every cell in your body, protein is necessary for life itself. But aside from, you know, being KEPT ALIVE, what are the benefits you stand to get from consuming protein, and in particular, a high-protein diet?
1. Weight loss (from fewer calories consumed overall).
Protein helps keep you feeling fuller for longer, meaning you will probably consume fewer calories as a result of not being as hungry so soon after you eat. In one study (1), overweight women consumed 441 fewer calories each day unintentionally, by increasing protein intake from 15 to 30%.
A high-protein diet versus a normal-protein diet has also been shown to dramatically reduce obsessive thoughts of food and late-night snacking in overweight men (2). A high-protein diet could, therefore, be the ticket for those struggling with cravings, overeating or food addictions. Not only can a high-protein diet help you lose weight, but it can also help keep you from gaining weight in the first place.
2. Weight loss (from more calories expelled overall).
Additionally, protein has a positive effect on your metabolism, helping your body rid itself of calories more quickly (3). This is because protein has a higher thermic effect (the calories required to digest food and glean nutrients) than fat or carbs.
All this means that a high-protein diet contributes to fewer calories in and more calories out. And if you have a high-protein diet, that means you have a high intake of protein compared to carbs and fats. So unlike in a high-carb diet, for instance, you are consuming fewer of the sugars and starches that can lead to weight gain (4).
3. More sustained energy.
Protein takes longer to break down in the body than carbohydrates. When you consume carbohydrates, you essentially experience a rise in blood sugar levels. You might experience a surge of energy and then a crash (sugar rush, anyone?)
Not so with protein. The energy you get from protein lasts longer because your insulin levels will stay stable when you eat protein, ensuring that your body’s glucose is released more slowly from the bloodstream. Unlike carbs, proteins don’t spike your blood sugar levels, meaning that you won’t experience that roller coaster crash and burn.
If you want steady, sustained energy throughout the day, start off by eating a high-protein breakfast and incorporate protein into each meal and snack throughout the day as well.
4. Better skin.
Protein is an essential building block of the skin. As such, it is necessary for that glowing, youthful skin most of us covet. One of the telltale signs of protein deficiency is thin and tired-looking skin (cellulite, flaky skin, red skin, and skin swelling are others!) (5).
So if you want plump, radiant skin, eating protein—particularly proteins like salmon that have other skin benefits—is a great idea.
5. Better hair.
Protein is essential for all parts of your body, and it’s great for skin, but it’s even better for hair and nails—did you know they are actually made up mostly of protein? Thinning hair and dull hair are possible signs that you’re not getting enough protein in your diet.
6. Better nails.
Brittle nails that are always breaking, or nails that aren’t growing very quickly, are another sign that you might not be getting enough protein in your diet. I realized that cutting dairy from my diet after I had been regularly eating Greek yogurt every day caused my nails to suffer—I could feel the difference in how weak they were. A little while after I returned to a diet high in protein, my nails recovered.
7. Better workouts.
Having stronger muscles also helps you in other aspects of exercise, like cardio. The stronger you are, for instance, the faster and longer you can run, and this is another reason protein is great for weight loss and getting in shape.
8. Better sleep.
This may seem counterintuitive since protein can give you a great, clean energy boost. But one study (6) from 2016, which followed overweight subjects on either a normal-protein diet or a high-protein diet. The higher quantity of protein, the more improved the subjects’ GSS (global sleep score), both short-term and over time.
9. Stronger bones.
A high-protein diet can improve bone health by, for instance, improving the bones’ calcium retention and absorption (7). Enough said!
10. Strong tendons.
11. Better mood.
12. Faster recovery from injuries and illness.
13. Anti-aging benefits.
14. Better focus.
OK. So, how much protein should you be eating?
Now that we’ve explored the benefits you could get from a high-protein diet, let’s establish what is considered high-protein in the first place. As far as daily recommended values go (the percentages that you find on the backs of nutrition labels), you should be getting about 40-50 grams of protein per day. Depending on your body size and weight, a high-protein diet would be on the higher end of that.
Nutritionists often recommend that you consume a half gram of protein for every pound of body weight, per day. So, a person weighing 150 pounds should be consuming around 75 grams of protein per day.
Plus, if you’re working out intensely and doing lots of strength training, you'll need even MORE protein. But it might not be so much about the amount of protein you consume as the percentage of your daily diet. A high-protein diet might mean that more than 30% of your diet is made up of protein, versus the other macronutrients, carbs, and fats.
Not all of us are experts at calculating macros. So what are some easy ways to increase your daily percentage of protein?
When you’re looking at your plate, go for the protein first instead of eating the bread or other sides. This will ensure that you’re already a little full from the protein before you’ve consumed more carbs and fats.
The FitJoy Team
Our team likes to stay in the know and ahead of the game when it comes to eating, exercise, and wellness in general! We take the latest buzz in the nutrition world and make it easily translatable for your own life.