High Protein Diet, Helpful?

High Protein Diets


When it comes to macronutrients, more times than not, protein takes the spotlight and with good reason. Protein is an important component of every single one of our trillions of cells. From playing crucial roles in immune function, building and repairing tissues, to making enzymes, hormones and other chemicals, it is easy to see what all of the hype is regarding protein. Plain and simple, we cannot live without it. So, protein is important, this is largely understood. For most individuals living in modern society, lack of protein is not an issue. Instead, a high protein diet has been the topic of conversation. In this blog post I will be highlighting what is considered a high protein diet, the safety of a high protein diet and who may benefit from adhering to a higher protein diet.

Let us first start by defining what a “high protein diet” is. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, for the majority of healthy adults, the recommended daily allowance for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. I am not sure how many of you are familiar with metrics, but this is not a lot. For reference, if we take a 200 pound adult, the recommendation for this individual would be about 72 grams or protein per day. I know what you are thinking, “72 grams! I eat that for breakfast!” While 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram is lower than what most likely consume, this is the minimum amount for normal, healthy function. So, what if we aren’t concerned with just living and we want to instead be thriving? Could increased protein intake have added benefits?

There has been significant evidence to show that a higher protein diet can have increased benefits in variety of different demographics. In overweight and obese individuals, it has been supported that a higher protein diet, (above 0.8g/kilogram), can have added benefits in weight regulation. This is likely due to the increased thermic effect of feeding from protein, (amount of energy needed for digestion and absorption), as well as the satiating effects that protein provides, allowing you to feel fuller for longer periods of time.

Not only can a higher protein diet be beneficial for weight loss, but a higher protein diet is often utilized in the clinical setting. For those individuals that have experienced significant physical trauma, undergone surgeries, or are critically ill, a higher protein diet may be warranted to help with tissue repair as well as to support proper immune function. Also, increased protein intake is often used in other immunocompromised patients, such as cancer patients, in order to prevent muscle wasting. When a high protein diet is mentioned, it is likely that individuals that fall into these demographics do not come to mind. Rather, it is likely that the big bodybuilder at the local gym, chugging his intra-workout protein shake, because, “gains, bro”, comes to mind.  It has certainly been shown that a diet higher in protein can help to support lean tissue accumulation, not only in bodybuilders, but in all athletes and even the novice gym goer can have added benefits from consuming more protein. Not only can a higher protein diet aid in lean tissue accumulation, but it could potentially help in lean muscle tissue retention within individuals that are attempting to lose body fat.

Up to this point, we have covered what quantifies a “high protein diet”, as well as who could potentially benefit from a higher protein diet. All of this is well and good, but is a high protein diet safe? This is the biggest question in regard to a high protein diet. Specifically, there has been concern of liver and kidney stress as related to a higher protein diet. While yes, for some individuals this may need to be taken into consideration, (those with preexisting liver and or kidney damage). However, evidence supports that a diet high in protein, (upwards of 2.2g/kg or 1g/lb. of bodyweight) has no negative consequences, (according to a two-year longitudinal study). So, does this mean that if a little is good, more is better? Should we consume all of our calories from protein and just call it a day? Not likely. While there is no current upper limit of dietary protein intake, the amount of protein eaten should be taken into consideration with a variety of different factors, including activity level, height, weight, body composition, goals, personal preference and of course your other macronutrients, carbohydrates and fat. In the next paragraph I will discuss protein recommendations to give you a better idea of where to start with your protein.

As stated previously, the American Nutrition and Dietetic Association, (AND) recommends that most average, healthy adults should consume about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. We first have to take into consideration what an “average” healthy adult is. Likely, the individuals used to gain this information were underactive and I would argue that they were likely not participating in any significant strength training exercise. To take it a step further, these individuals, even if they were engaging in strength training, it’s not likely they were doing it to gain any appreciable muscle tissue. So, what I am getting at here is this, 0.8g/kg is recommended for normal homeostatic function. Individuals that are moderately to highly active, participating in resistance training, and/or training for the intention of muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth), have significantly higher protein requirements. If you fall into any one of these categories, recommendations of about 1.5g/kg of bodyweight is likely a good place to start. Some individuals may need upwards of 2.5g/kg, some may need less. Remember there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to nutrition.

In conclusion, high protein diets receive a lot of attention, and for good reason. From the roles they play in proper immune function to supporting lean muscle mass. The importance of getting adequate protein in your diet cannot be overstated. While recommendations from dietary organizations may be sufficient for the “average” individual, there are many scenarios in which a high protein diet may be warranted. For most individuals, a higher protein diet can be both beneficial and safe. However, before making drastic changes to your diet, make sure that you know what your needs are. These needs should take into account the variables stated in the article, (among others). If you are having difficulty calculating how much protein you actually need, I recommend reaching out to a Dietitian in order to target your specific needs. Check out the references provided in order to gain further insight on protein and feel free to reach out to the program director here at Roundabout Meal Prep, Registered Dietitian, Shanti Wolfe for further guidance.