Will a High-Protein Diet Help You Lose Weight?
Chances are, you know someone who’s followed a high-protein diet and swears the weight just melted off. So does that mean you should try a high protein diet for weight loss? And will the weight stay off, or will you “find” those lost pounds as soon as you stop following the diet?
Here’s what you need to know about protein and weight loss.
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How Protein Helps With Weight Loss
First things first: What exactly is a high protein diet? There’s no official definition, but according to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, protein should represent 10 to 35 percent of total daily calories. Any plan in which 35 percent or more of your total energy intake comes from protein could be considered a “high protein diet,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the NYC area.
If you’re following an Openfit nutrition plan for weight loss, you’ll aim for a daily balance of about 30 percent of your calories from protein, 40 percent from carbohydrates, and 30 percent from healthy fats, says Krista Maguire, RD, CSSD, and Openfit nutrition manager.
While that wouldn’t be considered a “high protein diet,” this balance provides a variety of nutrients and enough quality carbs to fuel you through the workouts, along with healthy fats to make it nutritionally balanced. Here’s how a diet that emphasizes protein can benefit your weight loss goals.
- You may choose healthier foods.
“To touch on how higher protein diets may work, a lot of it has to do with replacing low-quality carbs — like refined sugary snacks that can spike insulin and are stored as fat if they’re not used for energy — with protein, which takes longer to digest, is more filling, and it requires more energy to digest,” Maguire says.
- Protein helps you feel fuller.
When it comes to weight management, satiety is important — and research suggests protein may have a greater effect on satiety than carbohydrates or fat. That may be due to an increase in diet induced thermogenesis (DIT) — the amount of additional energy expenditure for processing food for use and storage — which can influence that physiological “I’m satisfied” feeling you have after consuming higher amounts of protein.
“Including protein as part of your meals and snacks will help you feel fuller, so you’re not going to want to keep grazing like you might if you just ate a small bag of pretzels, crackers, or a granola bar without protein,” says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, and founder of Essence Nutrition.
- Protein benefits your muscles.
“Protein helps support muscle recovery and growth when combined with proper exercise,” Maguire says. Physical activity is an important component of a successful weight loss plan, and the amino acids in protein help with muscle repair after an intense workout.
Auslander recommends a high-protein snack like a serving of the following:
- a hard-boiled egg
- low-fat cheese
How Much Protein Do I Need?
The minimum recommended intake of protein for healthy adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. On average, that adds up to 46 grams of protein per day for women and 56 grams per day for men. If you’re active, you’ll likely need more than that.
It’s important to eat quality protein — such as these:
- chicken breast
- beans and legumes
It’s also possible to build a balanced diet around plant-based protein sources like:
Can You Have Too Much Protein?
Short answer: Yes.
If you’re following a high-protein diet in which 35 percent or more of your calories come from protein, that means you’re getting fewer carbs and fat — and those are important sources of many vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Balance is key.
It’s also important to spread protein intake evenly throughout the day, Gorin says. Your body can’t store protein, so any excess will be converted to glucose or fat.
And just because a food is high in protein, that doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want. Keep in mind an excess of calories from any nutrient is going to lead to weight gain, Auslander says. If your goal is to lose weight and keep it off, your weight loss plan should be based around healthy eating habits and a balanced meal plan you can follow for life.
There are also some potential health risks to consider before starting a high-protein diet. If you follow a high-protein diet that’s also extremely low in carbohydrates, your body breaks down fatty acids and forms ketones that your body can use as fuel. This is called ketosis, and it may cause side effects like headache, bad breath, and nausea.
And if you have existing kidney problems, or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, talk with your doctor to make sure a high-protein diet is safe for you, Gorin says.
5 High Protein Recipes to Add to Your Meal Plan
Want to include more protein in your healthy eating plan? Here are 5 recipes to try.
Made with unsweetened almond milk, almond butter, a banana, cinnamon, and a scoop of LADDER Plant-Based Protein Shake, this yummy drink has 26 grams of protein per serving.
Start your day off right with this filling omelet. It provides 44 grams of protein per serving, thanks to two whole eggs, three egg whites, cheddar cheese, and turkey bacon.
It only takes four ingredients and 10 minutes to put together this simple, refreshing salad that provides 40 grams of protein per serving. It’s a perfect option for meal prep lunches, too!
Craving takeout? Try this easy dinner recipe instead. Made with an Asian-inspired marinade and a side of steamed veggies, it has 407 calories per serving and provides 34 grams of protein.
All you need is ground turkey, mushrooms, lettuce, and sesame oil to make this speedy dinner recipe that’s full of flavor and has 23 grams of protein per serving.