What are the Benefits of a High-Protein Diet?
Why is protein so important? What is protein good for? If you're one of the people who think “I know protein is good for me, but I don’t know why…and I don’t know how?” then don't worry, you’re not alone!
Sometimes the explanations can seem too technical, wordy and confusing, so I've come up with a quick, simplified, and easy-to-understand list detailing the benefits of eating more protein. With personal experience of eating a high-protein diet, it's been great to experience these benefits for myself, especially with regards to building muscle and losing 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, which 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 proteins 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 you build muscle, and prevent muscle loss during weight loss (5,6, 7). Bear in mind if you're trying to lose weight and tone up, you do want to build muscle but this weighs more than fat so don't just rely on the scales to track your progress.
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?).
Research has shown that increasing protein to 25% of calories reduced cravings by 60% and the desire to snack at night by half ( 12).
Improves Bone Health
Getting the right amount of protein in your diet improves your bone health (13, 14, 15 ). Good protein consumption lowers your chance of osteoporosis- the breakdown of bone- and fractures and helps maintain bone density, especially with ageing. ( 16 , 17). 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 a bacterial or viral infection. 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).
Summary: Benefits of Protein
Hopefully you've enjoyed reading this article, and have learned more about the many health benefits of protein. We've seen that a high-protein diet can positively impact your metabolic health, your waistline, and muscular maintenance and development. I've personally found that a high protein diet has kept me feeling fuller longer and reduced food cravings. This has been crucial for me when trying to lose weight and stay within my macros and calorie deficit.
It's important to note that a high-protein diet might not suit everyone, for example, it's believed that people with certain kidney disorders should not eat a diet high in protein (27). If you have any medical conditions it's best to consult with your doctor before embarking on a very high protein diet.
Reviewed and updated 6/11/23