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High-Protein Diet For Weight Loss

High protein diets are known for promoting fat loss and muscle maintenance, but many people are confused about what a high protein diet actually is. If you’re starting from where you’re at, and 80% of your calories come from carbohydrates, a high protein intake may look like 50 grams per day. 

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In addition to the general confusion around what constitutes a high protein diet, there is also some uncertainty around what to eat. Many traditional high-protein diets consider lean meats and low-fat dairy as staples and aim to avoid saturated fat.

What Is a High-Protein Diet?

The term “high-protein diet” is pretty general, as what constitutes a high protein diet may differ depending on where you’re coming from and what your dietary goals are. 

Generally speaking, a high-protein diet is a dietary program that emphasizes protein as your primary macronutrient. Carbohydrates and fat tend to stay low, but the exact ratio depends on the type of high-protein diet you’re after. 

Most sources agree that when following a high-protein diet, your meals should consist of at least 20% protein. From a grams per day perspective, that’s about 100 grams of protein if your daily calories are 2000 per day. From a keto perspective, this isn’t very much at all. However, if you look at the average diet in America that’s laden with carbs, protein can often take the back-burner, making 20+% a significant increase[*].

Of course, on a keto diet, you’re already cutting carbs drastically, leaving only fat and protein to make up the difference. Therefore, to do a high-protein diet keto-style, you’ll switch your focus from fat-centered meals to protein-centered. 

Benefits Of A High-Protein Diet

There are several benefits associated with a high protein diet, some of the most common reasons that people try out this way of eating include:

1. Supports Weight Loss

By far, one of the most common reasons that people turn to high-protein diets is for weight loss. Protein helps to control your appetite by reducing hunger and enhancing satiety. The reason for this is due to the way that protein is broken down in your body. 

When you consume protein, your digestive juices need to work hard to break down the large molecules into individual amino acids. This process is time-consuming, which means that the nutrients from your food enter your circulation slowly and steadily. The result is that after a protein-rich meal, you’ll feel satisfied for hours as your body works to break it down. 

Ultimately, with less hunger, you’ll tend to consume fewer calories, which is one of the best things you can do to naturally support weight loss[*].

What’s more, due to the amount of energy it takes to break down protein, it is the most thermogenic macronutrient, which means that you burn more calories breaking down protein than carbohydrates or fat[*]. 

2. Promotes Lean Muscle Mass

Another way in which protein supports weight loss is by preserving and supporting your lean muscle mass. Since muscle is primarily made up of protein, getting enough protein in your diet is crucial for growing strong and healthy muscles. 

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During the process of weight loss, many people burn away some muscle along with body fat. Unfortunately, since your muscle is the most metabolically active tissue in your body when you burn it for fuel, you’re also losing a bit of your metabolic fire. 

However, when you eat a high protein diet, it helps to preserve your muscle mass, even under weight loss conditions. This means you burn more fat and keep your strong metabolism[*]. 

3. Reduces Cravings and Balances Blood Sugar

Due to its slow breakdown in your digestive tract, it can help balance your blood sugar when you eat protein. Blood sugar regulation is essential for overall health and plays a crucial role in avoiding cravings. 

When your blood sugar dips, the first thing your mind goes to is sugar or carbohydrates. That’s because consuming carbs is the fastest way to get your blood sugar back up. However, once you play into that game, you’ll quickly find yourself on a blood sugar roller coaster.

Instead, when you focus on protein, you’ll notice a sharp dip in cravings, and your energy will be more steady as protein naturally balances your blood sugar[*]. 

4. Boosts Metabolism

As previously mentioned, protein has the highest thermic effect of all macronutrients. On top of that, it supports the growth and maintenance of muscles which is the most metabolically active tissue in your body. 

As a result, you can expect a boost to your overall metabolism when you eat a high-protein diet. 

Research shows that eating a high-protein diet can boost metabolism up to two-fold for hours after a meal when compared to a high-carbohydrate diet[*]. 

5. Speeds Recovery

After an injury, your protein needs increase due to the essential role of amino acids in tissue repair. Some sources even suggest that you may need twice as much protein as your body works hard to repair and calm the inflammation that the injury has produced[*][*]. 

Risks Of A High-Protein Diet

1. Weight Gain

Although one of the primary benefits of a high-protein diet is weight loss, when you consume any macronutrients in excess, you risk going over your caloric intake, which could result in weight gain. 

Although protein isn’t as energy-dense as fat, it’s easier to consume more calories of protein than it is carbohydrates as protein-rich foods tend to be more dense. 

In general, weight gain from protein consumption is much more likely to happen if you’re replacing the carbohydrates in your diet with protein as opposed to the fat[*][*].

With that being said, when you’re following a keto diet, you can get a lot of benefits from upping your protein while keeping carbs low and fat moderate to high. 

2. Constipation

Some people notice that when they switch to a high-protein diet, they become more constipated. This may be due to a rapid decrease in dietary fiber that often comes when you switch out carbohydrates for protein.

Dietary fiber is crucial for digestion and helps to keep things moving so you don’t get backed up. As long as you keep a fair amount of low-carb veggies in your diet, constipation shouldn’t be a big problem[*].

3. Kidney Damage In Those That Already Have Kidney Disease

One of the common concerns that people have with a high-protein diet is its impact on kidney health. Protein is an energy-intensive macronutrient to process, and it also produces a high amount of waste products that your kidneys need to excrete. 

With that being said, research shows that consuming a high protein diet doesn’t have a harmful impact on healthy kidneys[*]. 

However, if you already have kidney disease or dysfunction, then high-protein diets may be too stressful for your kidneys and should be avoided[*]. 

Foods to Eat On a High-Protein Diet

While most foods have some protein in them, there are definitely some protein superstars out there, mostly in the animal products category.

Here is a list of the top protein-rich foods to include in your high-protein diet:

Top Protein-Rich Foods

Meat

  • Beef
  • Chicken 
  • Turkey
  • Bison
  • Pork
  • Lamb

Fish

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Halibut
  • Cod
  • Swordfish
  • Mahi-mahi
  • Sardines
  • Shrimp
  • Shellfish
  • Tuna

Eggs and Dairy

In addition to protein, you’ll also want to include some low-carb veggies to keep your fiber up. Here are some examples:

Low-Carb Vegetables

  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Bok choy
  • Peppers
  • Onions
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Celery
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage 
  • Artichoke
  • Chard
  • Asparagus 

And of course, you’ll want to include plenty of healthy fats, like:

Healthy Fats 

  • Butter
  • Ghee
  • Nut butters
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Avocado oil
  • High-oleic sunflower oil
  • Seeds
  • Nuts 
  • Avocados 

Foods to Avoid

You can certainly follow a high-protein diet while including lots of junk food. But if you want to gain the healthy benefits, there are specific foods you’ll want to avoid on your high-protein diet; these include:

Processed Carbs

  • Pizza
  • Pasta
  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Brownies
  • Bread (even whole grain)

Low-Quality Protein

All highly processed protein should be kept to a minimum. This includes products like:

  • Hot dogs
  • Sausages
  • Brats
  • Salami
  • Deli meat

*The exception here is if these foods come from high-quality sources and are made without nitrates or sulfites. 

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Tips for Eating a High-Protein Diet

If you want to get the best out of your high-protein diet, here are some tips to help you along:

  1. Start the day with eggs or another high-protein food instead of carbs. This will get your blood sugar off to a good solid start and help you avoid cravings later in the day.
  2. Always choose organic when possible, animals that are fed and raised organically will have much fewer contaminants and toxins, and their meat will be more nutrient-dense. 
  3. Look out for hormones and antibiotics. When you choose organic, hormones and antibiotics won’t be an issue. However, if you can’t find organic or don’t want to spend the extra money, then looking for “free of antibiotics and hormones” is crucial. Many conventional farmers add hormones to grow their animals nice and big. This allows them to make more money, but it’s unnatural and unhealthy for the animal — and subsequently for you. Antibiotics are also a common additive to keep the animals “healthy,” but when you consume those antibiotics, they can mess with your own gut bacteria balance[*]. 
  4. Avoid sulfites and nitrates in your processed meat – these compounds can produce harmful effects in your body and contribute to a toxic load[*].
  5. Consider having some whey protein or collagen on hand. These products offer a quick source of protein when you’re in a rush and make an excellent alternative to carb-heavy snacks.

Sample Meal Plan and Shopping List

Sample Meal Plan

Day 1

Breakfast

2 eggs with nitrate-free bacon and sliced avocado

Lunch 

Tuna salad with celery and onion in a lettuce wrap

Dinner

Grass-fed burger with no bun, side of roasted broccoli and cauliflower

Day 2

Breakfast

Protein smoothie (chocolate whey, handful of blueberries, spinach, chia seeds)

Lunch 

Spinach salad with grilled chicken, onions, and peppers

Dinner

Pork chops with cauliflower mashed “potatoes”

Day 3

Breakfast

Egg muffins (with cheddar cheese and bits of bacon)

Lunch 

Grilled chicken with a side of cottage cheese and sliced avocado

Dinner

Mahi-mahi tacos with low-carb tortillas, cheese, and salsa 

Day 4

Breakfast

Protein smoothie (chocolate whey, handful of blueberries, spinach, chia seeds)

Lunch 

Spinach salad with grilled chicken, onions, and peppers

Dinner

Chili (beanless) with red peppers, onions, tomato paste, cheese and avocado

Day 5

Breakfast

2 eggs with nitrate-free bacon and sliced avocado

Lunch 

Tuna salad with celery and onion in a lettuce wrap

Dinner

Pan-roasted chicken with veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts)

Sample Shopping List

Staples

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Avocado oil

Meat

  • Organic, nitrate-free bacon
  • 100% grass-fed beef
  • Chicken breasts
  • Pork chops

Fish

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Mahi Mahi

Low-Carb Vegetables

  • Broccoli 
  • Cauliflower 
  • Onion
  • Lettuce
  • Peppers 
  • Celery 
  • Avocado
  • Spinach 

Eggs And Dairy Products

  • Eggs
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Cottage cheese

Other

  • Low-carb tortillas 
  • Chia seeds
  • Blueberries
  • Tomato paste

The Takeaway

Higher protein diets support healthy body weight and enhance overall wellness by providing your body with an abundance of essential amino acids.

Depending on your current protein intake, a high-protein diet could change the way your body processes food and deals with cravings. In addition, with more protein, you may very well notice enhanced muscle growth and strength. 

But far more important than the protein content of your meals is the quality of the protein you include in your diet. Avoid non-organic, conventional meat, dairy, and eggs that have been pumped with hormones and antibiotics. If you fill your plate with those foods, you’ll be doing yourself much more harm than good. 

When possible, go for organic. And if that’s not available to you, aim to avoid hormones and antibiotics.

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