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A high-protein diet encourages you to eat more protein and fewer carbohydrates or fat to enhance weight loss, improve energy, and enhance athletic performance. Protein is an essential nutrient for health, and is responsible for a number of important functions in the body, including hormones, enzymes, and cell repair and maintenance.

Some research suggests that a high-protein diet may help overweight and obese women lose more fat while maintaining lean muscle mass. In fact, diets rich in proteins help to decrease hunger, increase satiety, increase the metabolic rate and preserve muscle mass. However, when it comes to diets, one size does not fit all: what works for one person may not work for another.

In general, a high protein diet recommends getting more than 20% of total calories with protein. This typically means eating fewer calories from carbohydrates or fat to keep calories in balance.

The history of the high protein diet

High protein diets have been around for centuries. Indigenous peoples of the Arctic region – where plant life is scarce – feed only on marine life and caribou. African warrior tribes were known to survive on meat and milk alone. And some Native Americans are believed to have eaten mostly buffalo, with few vegetables.

During the 1970s, high-protein diets came into vogue with the Scarsdale Diet, which recommended a diet of 43% protein, 22.5% fat, and 34.5% carbohydrates. Modern diets that focus on high protein intake include Atkins, South Beach and Dukan.

How high protein diets work 

Any healthy diet for weight loss or wellness should include a balance of three macronutrients (or macros): fat, carbohydrates and protein. A high protein diet contains, as we said, at least 20% of calories from protein. The amount of protein you should eat depends on a few factors, including your age, gender, body size and activity level.

Protein guidelines

General guidelines recommend eating between 10% and 35% of total calories as protein. Active adults may require 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. This equates to 82-116 grams for a person weighing 150 pounds. The official recommended daily allowance (RDA) for healthy adults is a minimum of 0.8 g/kg/day (that's 54 grams of protein for a person weighing 150 pounds).

If you use a calorie tracking app or website to count calories, it's easy to track your daily protein intake. Many people on a high-protein diet use apps to track their macronutrient intake to make sure they're getting the right ratio of protein to carbohydrates and fat.

A suggested ratio for starting a high protein diet is 30% calories from protein, 30% calories from fat, and 40% calories from carbohydrates. After a few weeks on the plan, you may find that you do best with a little more or a little less of a macronutrient, and you should adjust your macro settings as needed.

What to eat on a high protein diet

There are no foods specifically prohibited in a high protein diet. It is recommended that you eat more lean protein and less refined carbohydrates, sugars and fats.

Eat more

  • Lean proteins, such as lean meats, seafood, beans, soy, low-fat dairy products, eggs, nuts, and seeds
  • Low-glycemic fruits, such as blueberries, strawberries and raspberries
  • Vegetables, including leafy greens, peppers, mushrooms, and crucifix vegetables
  • Whole grains

Eat less

  • Refined carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta and white rice
  • Saturated fat and fried foods
  • Sugar, including sweets and sugary condiments

Timing of recommended meals

There is no meal timing suggestion for a high-protein diet, although some people on a high-protein plan also practice intermittent fasting, which involves restricting calories to certain days of the week and fasting on others, or lengthening the time without eating, such as 16 hours a day.

Resources and tips

Following a high protein diet doesn't have to be difficult. Here are some tips to get you started:

Include protein with every meal. Plan meals around one protein, such as lean beef, chicken or pork, and fill the rest of your plate with veggies.

Skip the processed carbohydrates. Instead of eating refined grains, such as white rice, pasta and bread, include small portions of high-protein whole grains, such as amaranth or quinoa. You can also replace the pasta with spiralized zucchini or carrots and replace the white rice with curly cauliflower.

Snack on protein. Keep high-protein snacks on hand for hunger strikes between meals. Almonds, Greek yogurt, hummus, ricotta and string cheese are convenient snacks on the go too.

Start the day with protein. Eggs make for a protein-packed, filling breakfast. If you don't have time or don't like eggs, a smoothie made with protein powders, such as whey, pea protein or collagen, leafy greens and berries can be a satisfying breakfast.

Pros and cons of high protein diets

Like most weight-loss plans, a high-protein diet has its share of benefits and drawbacks.


  • Builds muscle
  • Burn more calories
  • It can improve the diet
  • More filling


  • It could lead to nutrient deficiencies
  • It can be harmful to the kidneys
  • It can increase the risk of heart disease
  • Proteins turn into glucose in the body

The benefits of eating more protein

Eating a diet that includes lots of lean protein offers several benefits, especially when you're trying to lose weight.

Including protein in your meals and snacks can help you feel full and satisfied after you're done eating. This feeling of fullness can help you eat less throughout the day. Protein also helps build and maintain muscle mass. A strong body not only performs better during daily activities, but muscles that form an attractive figure also burn more calories than fat, even at rest.

When you plan a meal around a lean source of protein, you have less room on your plate for foods that aren't healthy. And learning to eat different types of protein can improve your diet, too. If you eat tuna, for example, you not only benefit from the protein in the fish, but also from the healthy fat it provides.

When you eat protein you burn a few extra calories because your body has to work harder to chew and digest the food. Scientists call it the "thermal effect of food." Keep in mind, however, that the number of extra calories is small, so you shouldn't create an entire weight loss program based solely on this benefit. 

A high-protein diet can be an effective weight-loss strategy, but this type of plan often cuts out other important food groups, such as fruits and grains, and doesn't provide a well-rounded diet.

The disadvantages of high protein diet plans

While high-protein diets can have many benefits, there are some potential negatives.5 For example, some high-protein diets severely restrict carbohydrates and can lead to nutrient deficiencies and lack of fiber, which can lead to constipation. Also, a high protein diet can lead to bad breath. 

Some versions of high-protein diets also advocate eating foods that are high in fat, such as cuts of beef, whole-grain dairy products, and processed and packaged meats, such as deli meats, sausage, bacon, and sausages. hot dog. A diet high in saturated fat can increase the risk of heart disease, and studies have found an association between processed meat intake and cancer.6

People with kidney disease should not go on a high-protein diet without talking to their doctor. Excess protein is excreted through the kidneys, which can worsen kidney function. Furthermore, the metabolism of proteins causes the production of nitrogen (ammonia). Nitrogen has to be excreted through the urine and therefore, people on a high protein diet are at a higher risk of dehydration and need to drink more water.

The body converts excess protein into glucose to be used for energy. People with diabetes may find a high-protein diet can raise blood sugar levels. Also, people with diabetes who use insulin may have difficulty managing blood glucose as the protein causes delayed blood sugar spikes.

The general nutrition guidelines: what they say about high protein 

Many experts recommend following a reduced-calorie, high-protein diet for weight loss. A diet that focuses on lean proteins, vegetables, fruits and whole grains is considered a healthy way to lose weight.

USDA recommendations

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines provide recommendations for a healthy, balanced diet. The guidelines from 2015 to 2020 recommend a percentage breakdown of macronutrients equal to:7

  • From 10% to 35% of calories from protein
  • From 20% to 35% calories from fat
  • From 45% to 65% of calories from carbohydrates

For healthy adults, the recommended dietary intake of protein (RDA) is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. This means that, at a minimum, you should be eating a little less than 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of body weight each day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds (68 kg) you should eat at least 54 grams of protein per day.

If you exercise for weight loss, you may want to consume more protein. A position statement developed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) of Dietitians of Canada (DC) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that exercisers should consume between 1.2 grams and 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.8 

A high-protein diet that includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats, beans and legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy products, and healthy oils falls within the guidelines for good health. The USDA recommends consuming about 1,500 calories per day for weight loss, but this number varies based on your age, gender, weight and activity level. 

Similar diets

There are several varieties of high protein diets, including the Atkins Diet, the Dukan Diet, and the Whole30 Diet.

Atkins diet: The Atkins Diet is a high protein, low carb diet that limits carbohydrates to 20g per day to start, increasing to 100g per day, and ends with a maintenance phase.

Dukan diet: The Dukan Diet is a low-carb, low-fat, high-protein weight loss plan, and it's based on the premise that it's hard to lose weight when you're hungry. Its focus is on lean protein and low-fat dairy products, which amplify satiety.

Whole30: the Whole30 is a 30-day diet that eliminates sugar, alcohol, grains, dairy products and most legumes, and basically leaves meat, vegetables and fruit. Intended as a short-term "reset" of your body, the plan aims to reduce cravings and break sugar addiction.