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High-Protein Diets: What are the benefits?

20.03.24

  6 minute read

A high-protein diet is not a new phenomenon, but, it is often perceived to be a diet only athletes should aspire to. Whilst protein can indeed have significant positive impacts for those with athletic lifestyles, there are several benefits everyone can feel from increasing the protein in their diets. 


When considering your diet, balance is essential. You should be providing your body with all its nutritional requirements, maintaining variety and balance in your dietary choices is crucial to ensure optimum health. 


We’re going to explore the reasons why you should be consuming a high-protein diet and the benefits that can come from embracing this.




How Much Protein Should You Be Consuming?




Generally, it’s advised that we consume 1.6g of protein per kg of body mass per day. However, there are several factors influencing how much protein we should be consuming on a day-to-day basis. 


Alongside our recommended daily allowance (RDA), your activity level is a hugely important factor in protein consumption. To maximise muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and optimise recovery, it’s important to consume protein to match the intensity and frequency of exercise you’re doing. 


Factors including carbohydrate intake and quality of protein can also play a part. The amino composition and digestive properties within proteins result in varying benefits, for example, leucine is mostly responsible for MPS occurring and therefore should be consumed the most by those looking to achieve muscle recovery and growth. 


It’s important to consume your protein intake throughout the day, consistently including protein-rich foods in your diet for snacks and meals, to optimise protein synthesis. As everyone’s requirements vary hugely, it’s advised to speak to a registered dietician to ensure that you are getting the best advice for you. 




Benefits Of A High-Protein Diet




Although the focus for many people consuming a high-protein diet is muscle growth and recovery, our bodies can experience many more benefits. 


Prioritise incorporating proteins into your diet that contain all the essential amino acids that our bodies need for optimal nutrition and ensure that these are eaten alongside other foods (carbs and fats) to allow for slow and maximum absorption.


 


Improved Muscle Growth and Recovery




This is the most well-known reason to incorporate protein into your diet, and not without reason. Protein forms the building blocks of muscle tissue, so incorporating it into our diets is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue; this provides the amino acids necessary for muscle protein synthesis (MPS).


MPS is the naturally occurring process where protein is produced to repair muscle damage caused by intense exercise. MPS counteracts muscle protein breakdown; a process that occurs during exercise, and results in protein loss, but this is essential for growing and repairing muscles.  


MPS can be enhanced by increasing protein consumption throughout the day, as well as immediately after exercise. Leucine is the primary amino acid to promote muscle synthesis, it can be found in meat, fish, dairy and soy. These are slower absorbing and should be consumed throughout the day. Whey protein, however,  is a great option for fast absorption post-workout, it is abundant in BCAA and will help give the muscles energy after exercise. 


 


Increased Satiety




Satiety is the satisfied feeling of being full after eating. Different foods give us varying levels of satiety, and this can affect the amount that we eat during the day. Whilst we’re out leading busy lives, whatever they might be, feeling satiated for longer is essential in optimising our performance and reducing distractions. 


Whilst we don’t promote weight loss as a benefit of consuming protein, being satiated allows weight management to be easier. Feeling full for longer makes it easier for us to reduce our overall calorie intake, and consuming nutrient-rich proteins means this is still a healthy option. 


Protein is by far more satiating than carbs and fats, as it reduces our hunger hormone, ghrelin, and boosts levels of peptides YY, which make us feel full. Whey protein may be superior for this benefit as it is a dairy protein, compared with eggs and casein.


 


Faster Metabolism 


Metabolism refers to the chemical process that goes on continuously in our bodies converting food into energy our body can use, and maintaining homeostasis. This happens all the time, our bodies are consistently requiring energy to exist.


Eating anything speeds up our metabolism for a short while, this is due to the thermic effect of food (TEF) - the amount of energy it takes our bodies to digest, and break down the food we eat. So, to some extent, eating more will increase your metabolism. 


Eating foods with a higher thermic effect will increase your metabolism, and, protein has by far the highest thermic effect compared with carbs and fats. The TEF of protein is between 20-30% of energy content, compared with fats and carbohydrates having 0-3% and 5-10% respectively. Therefore, the higher protein content in any meal will increase energy expenditure and boost your metabolism. 


Protein-packed lean meats are the best protein sources for increasing your metabolism, they take the most energy for our bodies to break them down. This can help to reduce calorie intake and minimise muscle loss, whilst promoting fat loss, leading to more sustainable and effective weight management. 


 


Boosted Immune System 




Our immune systems are vital for our overall health, helping protect us against infections, maintaining homeostasis and regulating our self-tolerance. Dysfunctional autoimmune regulation can lead to our bodies targeting healthy cells and tissues mistakenly. 


Protein plays a role in many aspects of the immune system; from antibody production to immune system regulation, consuming a variety of high-quality proteins can allow our bodies to reap the rewards. 


Maintaining healthy cytokine levels is essential, cytokines are signalling molecules involved in immune responses, and imbalances can lead to inflammation or autoimmune disorders. Eating high-quality, medium-absorption proteins like eggs, meat or soy can help to promote this. 


Our immune functions rely on several nutrients to perform well, eating proteins alongside nutrients such as zinc and iron helps ensure optimal absorption and utilisation by the immune system. 


 


Improved Bone and Blood Health 




Protein is a prominent aspect in all of our body's essential processes, so it’s no surprise that the consumption of proteins can also help improve our bone and heart health. 


Cholesterol and blood pressure are two terms often associated with our heart health;


Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is important to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, specifically by increasing levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Replace some carbohydrate consumption with protein in your diet, it can lead to favourable changes in lipid profiles. 


Lowering our blood pressure levels is another benefit we gain from consuming protein. This is important as high blood pressure is a significant risk factor for heart disease, and managing this through dietary interventions can be hugely beneficial for heart health. Try to eat more proteins from plant-based sources such as legumes, nuts and certain grains, these not only contain protein but also many macronutrients that promote heart health.


Despite the long-term myth that protein is bad for our bones due to increasing the acid load and causing calcium leaching, protein does in fact help improve our bone health, especially when ageing. It provides the building blocks for bone tissue and helps improve calcium absorption, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. To maximise the benefits of this, It’s important to add lots of calcium-rich protein sources to your diet, such as salmon, sardines - or dairy products! 


Conclusion


Embracing a high-protein diet offers numerous benefits that extend beyond the realm of athletes and fitness enthusiasts. While protein is indeed essential for muscle growth and recovery, it has huge benefits for our overall health and well-being. 


We can optimise our nutritional intake and health by prioritising protein-rich foods that contain all essential amino acids, alongside a balanced diet with all other essential nutrients. Eating a variety of high-quality protein sources from both animals and plants is the most effective method to hit protein goals and feel most of the benefits. 


Protein should be eaten throughout the day at regular intervals but for those doing high-intensity exercise, consuming fast-absorbing protein after your workout can help increase muscle protein synthesis and boost muscle growth and recovery.  




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