If the term, "high-protein diet" brings to mind images of Sylvester Stallone downing a dozen eggs and a steak for breakfast while training for his Rocky movies, then it's time to rethink high-protein. Once the domain only of professional body-builders and Olympians, high-protein has become more mainstream in the past few years. We all know protein is found in every cell in the body and is necessary for building tissue and thus for life. But what can a high-protein diet really do for you?
The ideal starting proportion of protein-carbohydrate-fat is 30-50-20. Some intensive training programs may recommend a higher proportion of protein for a short period of time, but long-term, extreme high-protein is not recommended, and can lead to health problems. Also, a high-protein diet is not synonymous with a low-carbohydrate diet. Research shows that low-carb diets may not be sustainable in the long-run and have even been linked to ketosis, kidney stones, high cholesterol, and loss of muscle mass. (See Resources for an excellent article that explains rationales for different diet ratios, at LoseWeightBuildMuscle.com.)
And clearly, not all protein, carbs, and fats are created equal. Think quality protein rather than quantity protein. Fatty red meats and full-fat dairy products cannot compare to lean meats, eggs, fish, beans, and nuts as far as excellent, healthy sources of protein. A successful high-protein diet will include healthy carbs, such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruit to make up 50% of your total daily intake, as recommended by the Department of Agriculture. And lastly, a quality high-protein diet will have health fats in it, such as olive oil, canola oil, and avocados.
Build Muscle and Lose Body Fat
So you have added high-protein to your diet, gotten into smart carbs and smart fats. Now what? Exercise, of course, according to Dr. Donald K. Layman, professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois, Urbana (see Resources):
"Layman and his team . . . [found that] those who consumed the high-protein diet lost more body weight and total fat and less lean muscle mass than did those on the high-carbohydrate diet, the report indicates. Further, the addition of exercise, particularly to the high-protein diet, allowed women to lose even more body fat and preserve lean mass."
Feel Satisfied and Eat Less
Want an all-natural appetite-suppressant? Try high-protein foods, such as low-fat dairy, lean meats, beans, eggs, or nuts. Protein-rich foods signal satisfaction sooner and chances are that you will eat less calories than if you were still craving something.
Build Strong Bones
Think downing lots of calcium supplements and calcium-rich foods alone will strengthen your bones? Think again—calcium, combined with high-protein and weight-bearing exercise—is the best way to strengthen bone structure. Protein also increases the absorption of calcium.
Improve Your Blood with Protein
Increased protein intake, when combined with exercise, can improve blood pressure, blood lipids, and blood glucose. And, in fact, high-protein diets are sometimes recommended for Type 2 diabetics.
Speed up Your Metabolism
Your body burns off a larger percentage of calories when the meal you eat is high-protein—up to 25%. Protein actually works to increase metabolism.
Better Hair, Skin, and Nails: The High-protein Beauty Triumvirate
There is a reason why you see supplements in many stores that promise more beautiful hair, skin, and nails. Look closely at the ingredients. Usually, these beauty pills contain mostly protein, in the form of collagen (a protein that makes up much of hair, skin, and nails), as well as a few other micronutrients, such as biotin, and MSM. Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, are also often included in beauty supplements.
On the reverse side, problems with hair, skin, and nails can be indicative of a lack of protein in the diet, such as slow-growing nails. If you have hair loss, especially after pregnancy, extra protein can help counter it. Beyond mere aging, insufficient protein can contribute to loss of elasticity in skin.
To look—and feel—your best, be sure to get enough protein in your diet.