Are you thinking about a new diet? This is what a high protein approach looks like

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Fitness goals usually fall into one of two categories: exercise more and eat better. This may involve eating a high-protein diet, adding more greens to dinners, and getting into a running routine. However, there’s no need to wait for January, because you can make positive changes any time of the year!

Now, there are so many paths one can take when considering a diet. Fortunately, a high-protein approach is one of the easiest to pull off. Plus, it’s a diet that will likely involve some changes to what you eat, but not so dramatically that you give up after a few weeks.

The ideal amount of protein is about 56 grams per day, according to Healthline. Those who exercise regularly will definitely need more.

If you’re curious about how much protein you consume on an average day, try a fitness tracking app. Track your eating for a few days and see where you land. You might be surprised that it didn’t even hit that 56g mark.

Even if you are, there are benefits to eating a high-protein diet. We’ll cover these below, explain how to switch to a higher protein diet, and address some of the concerns around a high protein diet. We’ll also cover what to eat so your high-protein diet isn’t six ounces of grilled chicken breast for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Protein is a macronutrient. The other two are carbohydrates and fat. Our daily diet consists of a blend of these three macronutrients. While it can be easy to focus on macros, it can be short-sighted. For example, you may want to eat a diet high in protein and fat. Keto and Atkins are two examples.

This can be taken to the wrong extreme. Eating a pound of bacon for breakfast is, in fact, a high-fat meal that contains protein. But that’s not healthy for your heart and your cholesterol, and simply cutting out a macronutrient doesn’t magically equate to weight loss. So, in this guide, while focusing on incorporating more protein into your diet, it won’t come at the expense of overall health.

It’s important that you do your research, listen to your body, and consult your doctor. This guide is intended for general health, not for those dealing with GERD, celiac disease, gastroenteritis, or other medical conditions, the solutions for which are beyond the scope of this guide.

Fillets of fish, chicken and red meat atop distressed white cutting boards along with nuts, cheese, dairy and eggs.
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Benefits of a high protein diet

There are a lot of benefits of protein. Among them are the following:

  • Protein helps repair the damage done to your muscles during your workout
  • Protein aids in brain development, hormones, and other bodily functions
  • Protein is satiating, meaning you’ll feel more satisfied consuming less

This last point is especially important if weight loss is your goal. Limiting calories can be difficult. You may not have as much energy or be able to train as hard. If you’re really restricting calories, you may experience less focus and attention. Because it’s satisfying to eat protein, you’ll feel less of the effect of calorie restriction as you consume larger amounts of protein.

If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll need to be operating in an energy deficit. This means that the number of calories you burn (whether sitting or exercising) must be greater than the number of calories you burn. When operating in a calorie deficit, the body begins to burn existing stores (of fat and muscle) for fuel.

By strength training and eating a decent amount of protein, you’re signaling to your body that it should maintain that muscle you’ve worked so hard to gain. Instead, it will use your existing fat for energy, leading to the weight loss you’re hoping for.

Meat and vegetables
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How to increase protein in your diet

Slowly increase the amount of protein you consume. Don’t skip 56 to 156 grams overnight. Everyone’s body is different, but generally, protein can be difficult for the body to digest. Instead, slowly increase your protein intake over a week or two, allowing your body to adjust to the higher protein levels. As a general rule, focus on whole foods first. Protein-rich whole foods include the following:

  • Meat:
    • Lean red meat
    • Chicken
    • Turkey
    • Fish
  • Egg: Not only are eggs high in protein, but the body absorbs egg protein very well
  • Dairy products:
    • Milk
    • Yogurt
    • Cottage cheese
  • Nuts: Though higher in fat, nuts also contain a good amount of protein
  • Legumes and beans: Black, red, kidney, chickpea, you name it, it has protein
Man drinking protein shake.
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When to avoid protein shakes

If you’re trying to lose weight and are therefore operating in the calorie deficit mentioned above, you may want to avoid protein shakes. It’s generally easier to drink calories than eat calories because liquids are less filling. If you’re restricting calories, the last thing you want is to consume less filling food! A big salad with lots of veggies and grilled chicken or tofu will keep you full longer than a smoothie.

It’s all personal preference, but try whole foods first and see how you feel. If you’re not trying to lose weight and instead have the opposite problem (it’s impossible for you to gain weight), then a protein shake can be a great addition to your nutrition plan. The shakes provide 25 to 50 grams of protein and are easy to consume compared to another six ounces of chicken or a cup of beans. They also have the advantage of being easy to consume after training, especially if you train in the middle of the day.

An egg, blueberries, almonds and avocado.
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High protein diet vs ketogenic diet

A high protein diet may or may not include carbohydrates. Reducing or even eliminating carbohydrates will send your body into ketosis, which is a completely different nutritional plan. If you are interested in the ketogenic diet, do some research so that you have a full understanding of the diet. This high-protein diet advocates not eliminating carbohydrates, but simply increasing protein in proportion to what you eat in a day.

A quick lesson in macros: Carbohydrates and protein each have four calories per gram. Fat has 9 calories per gram. That means if you’re looking for a 2,000-calorie diet, let’s say 150 grams (or 600 calories) comes from protein, 250 grams (or 1,000 calories) comes from carbohydrates, and 50 grams (450 calories) comes from fat. That’s 2,050 calories. Some people’s bodies are better off with more fat and others with more carbohydrates.

Try this: Set a consistent daily protein intake (once you’ve worked out). Then experiment with different levels of carbohydrates and fats. I wouldn’t go below 20 grams of fat as fat is responsible for testosterone and mood.

Healthy foods on a cutting board
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How much protein to eat and how much is too much

So 56 grams was knocked down as a baseline. This Healthline article suggests that as little as 0.75 grams per pound maximizes the benefits of consuming protein. Also, the benefits diminish for some people. So if you weigh 175 pounds, shoot for 130 grams of protein per day. For many of us, this is plenty, and getting that much protein into our diets can be challenging. However, in some areas, 0.75 grams/pound is still low. Professional bodybuilders, for example, consume anywhere from 1 gram to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

monitor for blood pressure.
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Cons of a high protein diet

  • As mentioned, protein can be difficult for the body to digest, and processing all that protein can make you feel sluggish. It can also wreak havoc on the digestive tract.
  • High-protein diets that include lots of red meat and fatty meats can have adverse health effects such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and high cholesterol.
  • For those with pre-existing kidney problems, a high-protein diet can make it worse. Talk to your doctor and get regular medical checkups before implementing any high-protein diet.
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High protein diets for vegetarians and vegans

There are many quality protein sources that are not meat. Some of the highlights include eggs, nuts, nut butters, beans, and soy products. If you’re worried about losing muscle or performance, consider the fact that Alex Honnold is a vegetarian (sometimes vegan), Venus Williams is vegan, and bodybuilder Barny du Plessis is vegan too.

High protein foods
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When to consume protein

In general, the body can only process so much protein at a time. For maximum benefit, consume 25 to 30 grams of protein with meals and snacks throughout the day. You could split 150 grams of protein over three meals and two snacks, each consisting of 30 grams of protein. It’s important to consume protein as part of the first meal of the day, especially if you’re trying to maintain muscle mass.

Exactly how you structure your protein intake is up to you and will vary based on your dietary preferences, whether you work from home or the office, live in a van, or have other dietary restrictions. One thing that will help you consume enough protein (and meet your nutritional goals) is to be intentional about your meal choices and preparation.

If you leave your nutrition to whatever comes your way, holiday cookies, office birthday cake, and french fries (all low in protein) will find their way into your life. If you’re serious about getting in shape, staying fit, and meeting your macronutrient goals, fill your fridge (and your lunchbox) with healthy foods. You will quickly find that you are filling your stomach with them more easily too.

Eggs on toast with avocado
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How can I get 150 grams of protein a day?

While everyone’s protein intake will be different based on various factors, let’s take a look at how you might consume 150 grams in a day. The idea of ​​so much protein in one day may seem like a lot to some people, but it’s very doable when you plan ahead!

Two protein shakes (200 calories, 50 grams of protein) + 1 protein bar (230 calories, 20 grams of protein) + 184 grams of egg whites (100 calories, 20 grams of protein) + 5 oz chicken breast ( 125 calories, 27.5 grams of protein) + 5 ounces ground turkey (200 calories, 27.5 grams of protein) + 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (60 calories, 11 grams of protein)

The above combo comes in at a total of 915 calories and 156 grams of protein.

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