Protein is one of three macronutrients and is associated with health benefits such as increased muscle mass and fat burning as well as reduced blood pressure and improved weight control. Many popular diets, including Keto and Whole 30, promote eating a large amount of protein for these and other reasons. Many food companies are also finding ways to incorporate plant protein in products like yogurt, cereal, and pasta.
Below are five things to consider when adhering to a high-protein diet.
The Recommended Amount of Protein
At minimum, adults should consume about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, according to the National Academy of Medicine. This equates to about 50 grams of protein for someone who weighs 140 pounds and 70 grams of protein for a 200-pound person.
However, those looking to pack on muscle or add mass might consider eating more protein. During the bulking phase, bodybuilders will typically eat between 1.2 and 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. Athletes also require relatively high amounts of protein in their diet, but also need to consider essential vitamins and minerals to enhance recovery as well as macronutrient ratios.
“Adequate protein is needed for muscle maintenance, as well as for healing from the wear and tear exercise puts on the body,” argues performance nutritionist Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD. “Athletes have greater protein needs for two reasons: they generally have more muscle mass, and they require this key building block for exercise recovery.”
The National Academy of Medicine recommendations for protein consumption equates to between 10 and 35 percent of the calories one consumes per day. However, people who are seniors should aim to for their consumption to be at the higher end of the spectrum in order to offset age-related muscle deterioration, notes Douglas Paddon-Jones, PhD, FACSM, Sheridan Lorenz Distinguished Professor in Aging and Health, Department of Nutrition and Metabolism, The University of Texas Medical Branch.
Importance of Protein at Breakfast
Dr. Paddon-Jones is also a proponent of spreading protein consumption throughout the day to receive the maximum benefit. This should begin in the morning, when it is of particular importance to eat a high-protein meal. Oftentimes, individuals opt for a quick and easy breakfast such as a bagel or bowl of cereal.
However, this can lead to muscle loss, especially in people who are older. Many health experts suggest eating between 20 and 35 grams of protein at breakfast to help replace the protein that was broken down by the body during sleep. By not eating enough protein at breakfast, the body will remain in the break-down phase.
Eggs are an easy way to integrate more protein into breakfast, but there are several other fun and creative ways to reach optimal protein levels in the morning. A blueberry-and-peach grilled cheese with whole-grain bread and cottage cheese, for instance, is not only healthy but budget-friendly. Fruit smoothies with protein powder and tofu breakfast tacos are also enjoyable and healthy protein-packed alternatives.
Protein Helps Burn Calories
While protein is an important macronutrient to support muscle growth, it can also promote weight loss under the right circumstances. For instance, if you are increasing the amount of protein in your diet, consider decreasing carbohydrates by the same amount to maintain overall caloric intake. As much as 30 percent of protein calories consumed are burned during digestion compared to less than 10 percent of carbohydrates and fats.
In addition, higher protein intakes help increase the appetite-reducing hormones cholecystokinin, peptide YY, and GLP-1. This allows individuals to feel satiated while consuming fewer calories. One study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined the eating habits of 19 subjects on various diets and found that those who derived 30 percent of their calories from protein dropped their average calorie intake by 441 calories per day.
Complete and Incomplete Proteins
Not all protein sources are equivalent. Complete proteins, for instance, contain all of the essential amino acids, whereas incomplete proteins lack at least one of them. Complete proteins are derived from animals and include meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy products.
Incomplete proteins, meanwhile, are found in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains. However, some plant proteins, including chia seeds and quinoa, are nearly complete proteins. Additionally, following vegetarian or vegan diets can combine incomplete foods to ensure they receive all essential amino acids.
Other Things to Consider
Again, there are other things to consider than just the amount of protein in a particular food or meal. Animal protein sources might have all the necessary amino acids, but can be high in fat and lower in other important minerals.
A 4-ounce sirloin steak, for example, has more than 30 grams of protein but also 5 grams of saturated fat, which contributes to high cholesterol. A 4-ounce ham steak is lower in saturated fat, but has 1,500 milligrams of sodium. One cup of lentils, meanwhile, has a high protein content and almost no sodium or saturated fat.