The Benefits of Consuming a High Protein Diet
In years gone by, there have been a number of warnings about high protein diets with suggestions that it may lead kidney problems, increase the risk of heart disease and even cause cancer – these claims appear to be unfounded (1). In actuality, having a high protein diet can have a profound positive impact on the body in a number of different ways and may contribute toward reducing blood pressure, facilitating weight loss, maintaining and building muscle tissue, increasing metabolism, increasing satiety (fullness), and enhancing bone health.
Let’s firstly consider protein and its function within the body. Protein plays a vital role in a number of bodily functions specifically relating to maintenance, growth and repair of body tissues and structures. Although this is the primary function of protein, it is also required to produce a number of hormones such as insulin and human growth hormone (HGH) and can additionally be utilized as an energy source for the body.
Proteins are large molecules that are constructed through combining a number of smaller units known as amino acids. It is thought that amino acids make up approximately 75% of the human body! When protein is consumed, it is broken down into individual amino acids which are then absorbed and used by body. There are 3 distinct amino acids groups to be aware of – Essential, Non-essential and Conditional AA’s.
There are 9 essential amino acids that must be consumed through one’s diet. The reason these acids are considered essential is because the body is unable to synthesize them by its own means. As a result, it is vital that we ingest these essential AA’s on a daily basis. The 4 non-essential AA’s however, can be created by the body and therefore consuming them through our daily diet is of less importance. Finally, we have the 7 conditional AA’s which are not normally considered essential, with the exception being during times of stress or illness (2).
In order to consume an adequate number of essential amino acids, it is recommended to eat a number of animal-based protein products such as meat, eggs, and dairy. Understandably, it may therefore be fairly challenging for vegetarians and vegans to ingest enough essential AA’s, based on this recommendation. The primary focus of the vegan or vegetarian should be consuming a wide range of protein-rich plant-based foods.
By having a well-rounded diet that is high protein, we will ensure that growth and repair within the body is optimized. Every single day, our bodies experience a large degree of stress and strain and therefore there is a need for daily repair. Although protein deficiency is rare, failure to ingest an adequate amount of protein may lead to a number of serious health issues such as muscle wastage, muscle weakness, anemia (low blood iron), and decreased immunity (3).
When it comes to strength training, protein’s influence is even more telling. Training exposes the body to a stimulus which causes micro-tears (very small tears) to appear within the individual muscle fibres. In order for the tears to be efficiently repaired over the next 48 hours, ample protein is required. Failing to ingest an adequate amount of protein after a workout may contribute to a stunted recovery thus impacting movement, muscular strength, muscular soreness and training capability (4).
Top Protein-Rich Foods
When it comes to day-to-day nutrition, we are often tempted to make poor nutritional choices that can interfere with our progress – whether it be fat loss or muscle building. Life can be stressful at times, and it is typically in these moments where we make wrong choices. To combat this, the following list mentions a number of high quality food products which you should consider regularly adopting into your daily diet. These foods will not only provide you will a large serving of protein but may also contribute to building a healthier body.
1. Beef Jerky
Jerky is cuts of meat which have had the fat trimmed off before being dried to create a high protein, low calorie snack. Jerky serves as an excellent post-workout snack as it does not require refrigeration, contains approximately 40 grams of protein per 100g, is low in calories and tastes great.
With approximately 30 grams of protein per 100g serving, turkey is undoubtedly the best meat for delivering protein to the body. For most, it is not the most popular meat of choice (with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas) as other meats tend to be more flavorful; however, few meats compare in relation to the amount of protein delivered. An additional benefit of turkey is that it is very lean and is therefore low in both calories and fat.
There is a vast array of seafood products that we can consume to help us comfortably meet our protein requirements. 100g servings of tuna (24g), salmon (24g), cod (21g), and mackerel (21g) are all superb, low-fat, high-protein food choices. Consuming fish regularly has also been found to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. This is because fish contain an essential fatty acid known as Omega-3 which has been found to have many positive effects on the body.
Cheese is another superb protein food which can be added to a number of different meals. There are many of different types of cheese with each type containing a different amount of protein however, most cheese will deliver between 26 – 36 grams of protein per 100g serving. While cheese is excellent for boosting one’s protein intake, do be aware that most cheese tend to be high in calories, fat and salt.
5. Peanut Butter
Peanut butter, and nut butters in general, have grown a reputation for being highly nutritious as well as high in protein. Nut butters are made by grinding the nuts down into a paste that can then be spread. Peanut butter contains a whopping 25 grams of protein per 100g serving. As with cheese, it is important to recognize that because peanut butter is high in fat, this food is calorific and therefore should be consumed in moderation.
Close behind peanut butter, we have another nut product – this time in the form of almonds. Almonds are a great snacking option that contain 21 grams of protein per 100g, along with a high amount of healthy fats to promote heart health and micronutrients to maintain optimal bodily function. Considering the fact almonds do contain a high amount of fat, it should not come as a surprise to know that almonds are high in calories.
7. Pumpkin Seeds
Seeds, like nuts, tend to be a nutritious, protein-rich food option. 100 grams of pumpkin seeds, will provide 19g of protein for the body. In addition to this, pumpkin seeds contain a vast number of antioxidants which promote immunity and help to fight infection or illness. Seeds can easily be added to a whole host of dishes to boost overall protein content.
8. Edamame Pods
Perhaps not a food that you expected to see on the list, edamame pods contain approximately 12 grams of protein per 100g serving. If you haven’t heard of edamame pods before, they are simply unripened soya beans that contain all essential amino acids required by the body. This makes edamame pods, not just useful for vegans and vegetarians, but for everyone.
9. Greek Yogurt
In the process of producing greek yogurt, whey is removed which causes the yogurt to become a lot thicker, creamier and a little more sour. This makes greek yogurt an excellent food product that can be added to a variety of dishes. There are a number of greek yogurt products available and therefore you can expect to gain between 10 – 20 grams of protein per 100g serving. Look to avoid flavored greek yogurt products as the majority of them have sugar added, are higher in calories and may be lower in protein.
10. Cottage Cheese
For a number of years, cottage cheese has been a staple part of the bodybuilder’s diet. This is due to its high protein and low carb content. It is produced by draining the cheese instead of pressing it (as with other cheese products) before adding cream to create cottage cheese. Cottage cheese contains 11 grams of protein per 100g and, unlike other cheeses which are typically high in calories, it only contains 98 calories per 100g.
11. Boiled Eggs
One boiled egg contains 6 grams of protein and a multitude of important vitamins and minerals which are essential for maintaining proper bodily function. As with high protein diets, eggs have also unjustly received a negative reputation for apparently increasing cholesterol levels in the body thus elevating the risk of developing heart disease. While eggs do indeed contain a large amount of cholesterol, it is “good” cholesterol (known as HDL’s) which actually lowers the risk of developing heart disease.
Tofu is an excellent food choice for everyone, not just vegans and vegetarians. Tofu comes from curdling soya milk (a process similar to making cheese) and contains 8 grams of plant based protein per 100g. One of the benefits of tofu is that it is very versatile and can practically be added to any dish to provide a powerful protein boost.
The last few items on the list are supplements which can certainly prove to be convenient and drive up your daily protein intake. However, don’t forget that these products are known as supplements for good reason. Simply, they supplement your overall nutrition and should not be over-relied on to fulfill macronutrient requirements. If you judge that you consume enough protein per day through your diet, there is no reason to begin taking protein supplements.
13. Protein Shakes
Protein shakes are quick, easy and practical. They do provide you with a quick protein boost and little preparation is required to prepare a shake. Protein shakes would certainly be recommend to a number of specific individuals. For example, individuals looking to building muscle will require a high daily protein and calorie intake in order to drive muscular growth. By taking a protein shake supplement they will make their calorie and protein target more manageable.
There are so many different brands, flavours and types of protein shake available that it can almost make it impossible to choose. Always check the nutritional information to make ensure that there is a high amount of protein with each shake. Secondly, check the sugar and overall calorie content of the protein shake as many shakes do contain a high number of both.
14. Protein Bars
Protein bars are a second supplement that can prove to be practical and effective for topping up protein levels. Many gyms and centers now sell protein bars which allows you to grab a protein-based post-workout snack. As with protein shakes, do be aware that many bars do contain an extremely high sugar content and ideally, find a bar that is low in sugar while still delivering a large protein dose.
15. Energy Balls
Energy balls are the final recommended supplement-based product. These can be purchased, however, it would be recommend to make your own – this way you know exactly what is contained within each ball. Simply, blend almond butter, almond milk, protein powder, and flour together before rolling them up in small balls and placing them in the fridge. You now have a healthy, nutritious and protein laden snack that can be consumed either pre or post workout.
Regardless of your goal, maintaining protein levels on daily basis should be high on your priority list. The amount of protein you consume per day depends on a number of factors however, the general recommendation is to aim for approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. However, if you are looking to build or maintain muscle mass, the recommendation is to consume a higher amount; between 1.0 – 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (5). By utilizing a number of the products in the above list, you will quickly find that hitting your daily protein target is more manageable than you imagined.
1) Antonio, Jose; Ellerbroek, Anya; Silver, Tobin; Vargas, Leonel; Tamayo, Armando; Buehn, Richard; Peacock, Corey A. (2016). “A High Protein Diet Has No Harmful Effects: A One-Year Crossover Study in Resistance-Trained Males”. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2016. doi:10.1155/2016/9104792. ISSN 2090-0724. PMC PMCPMC5078648. PMID 27807480.
2) “Amino acids: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia”. medlineplus.gov.
3) Boston, 677 Huntington Avenue; Ma 02115 +1495‑1000 (September 18, 2012). “Protein”. The Nutrition Source.
4) Weinert, Dan J. (2009-8). “Nutrition and muscle protein synthesis: a descriptive review.” The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association. 53 (3): 186–193. ISSN 0008-3194. PMC PMCPMC2732256. PMID 19714233.
5) Wu, Guoyao (2016-3). “Dietary protein intake and human health”. Food & Function. 7 (3): 1251–1265. doi:10.1039/c5fo01530h. ISSN 2042-650X. PMID 26797090