Sure, a high-protein and low-carb diet will help you lose weight—over the short term. But there is conflicting information surrounding high-protein diets regarding their effectiveness, long-term results, and safety.
For example, low carb diets have proven to result in a loss of muscle tissue (glycogen) and water loss, not necessarily fat loss.
However, there are a number of high protein diets that provide the body with the vitamins, minerals, nutrients and amino acids. Ensuring a well-rounded, balanced diet is key.
So, this begs the questions: What is the best high protein diet plan?
How much protein should I consume? Will a high protein diet help build more muscle?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” answer for everyone. The best high protein diet and the amount of protein you consume ultimately depends on your body type, your fitness levels, your weight loss goals and your dietary preferences.
So, let’s find out more…
HOW DOES THE BODY LOSE WEIGHT, BURN FAT, AND BUILD MUSCLE?
Before you can understand what high protein diet is best for you, you need to understand how the body works to lose weight, burn fat, and build muscle.
So, let’s start at the beginning…
WHAT IS GLYCOGEN?
What most people don’t realize is that many low carb diets result in a break down of glucose stored in muscle tissue.
This is known as glycogen. Glycogen requires water to “feed” or hydrate muscle tissue. Without the presence of glycogen, water is simply excreted via urine.
Therefore, we can conclude that the weight loss experienced with a low carb diet is really weight loss due to water weight. When an individual returns to balanced diet, the weight will return.
The weight gain isn’t due to fat storage but rather glycogen storage. Consuming carbohydrate sources is necessary in order to replace glycogen.
Although weight loss from water weight doesn’t seem like a bad thing, it’s worth noting that any modification in food or water intake can have different impacts on the body, and every individual.
This is why many low carb diets are considered dangerous. In fact, the most common results of a lack of glycogen is fatigue, lethargy, or the inability or lack of motivation to exercise.
Rather than cutting out carbs completely, many dieticians, doctors, and nutritionists recommend adding one serving of carbs (whole grains, bread, sweet potatoes or whole wheat pasta) each day in order to maintain a healthy balance of glycogen.
WHAT ARE AMINO ACIDS?
Next up on the list is amino acids. If you are trying to lose weight and build muscle, then this section is for you. Consuming foods that provide the body with an excellent source of amino acids is the key.
Amino acids are often referred to as “the building blocks” of proteins, and are also responsible for many crucial bodily functions, such as protein synthesis and even increase serotonin and adrenaline. Protein synthesis is the process of building lean muscle mass.
Amino acids that are consumed from foods are known as “essential amino acids”. Essential amino acids give the body a surge of energy when the body has run out of food to burn or if carbohydrate or calorie intake has been reduced.
This is important for individuals who want to try a high protein diet. Most high protein diets significantly reduce carbohydrate and caloric intake, which can naturally and significantly deplete the body’s energy sources.
In addition to amino acids, the body also needs different types of proteins in lose weight, burn fat, and gain muscle. Each type of protein has its own special job, including repairing and restoring cells, body tissue and muscle tissue, and even promoting hair, nails, and skin health, just to name a few.
This is because amino acids also help to repair muscles after an intense workout, which is why high protein diets are so important for losing weight, burning fat, and gaining muscle.
WHAT CONSISTS OF A HIGH-PROTEIN DIET?
Now that you have a better understanding of how and why the body uses and needs protein and amino acids, it’s worth mentioning that not every type of protein is created equal.
Furthermore, different sources of protein can have different results and effects on every individual.
Each protein source differs in how quickly the body digests it as well as the amount of the protein that is utilized by the body. Each protein is rated differently.
For example, proteins are rated according to the following:
- Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER)
- Biological Value (BV)
- Net Protein Utilization (NPU)
Here are some of the most common protein sources as well as the protein NPU and protein BV information for each source to help you determine which protein sources you should include in your high protein diet.
Red Meat or Beef – One of the most common sources of protein is beef or red meat.
This is because the body typically digests beef quickly, and uses between 70 to 80 percent of beef. Beef also provides a large source of essential amino acids.
However, although beef is a great source of protein, it is also high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which is why many high protein diets don’t permit it, especially for individuals who are trying to lose weight.
Whey Protein – Bodybuilders and fitness experts love drinking whey protein shakes.
Whey protein is often available in a powder form and is relatively easy to add to water or a milkshake and take with them on their way to the gym.
The body also digests whey protein quickly, and the body uses up to 90 percent, making it an incredibly efficient source of protein. Whey protein is also incredibly high in essential amino acids, including branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), such as Leucine.
BCAAs are also an excellent protein supplement for vegetarians and also individuals who have a protein deficiency.
Eggs or Egg Whites – Eggs and egg whites are another excellent source of protein.
However, the body is slow to digest them, when compared with beef or whey protein. On the up side, eggs have a high amino acid profile.
Although eggs tend to be high in cholesterol, this is why egg whites are a great option. Furthermore, the body uses 90 percent of egg protein, making it an efficient source.
Fish – Fish is low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and is considered a lean source of protein. The human body also uses approximately 80 to 83 percent of protein from fish.
Peanuts and Nuts – Peanuts are a source of protein that many individuals forget about—and that also make a healthy snack!
In fact, many vegetarians and vegans consume peanuts, nuts, and seeds for a complete source of protein.
Peanuts are naturally high in protein and healthy fats (omega fatty acids), but their digestibility and efficiency are only 43 percent.
So, peanuts and nuts are a great source of protein, but they aren’t as efficient as some other sources.
If you maintain a well-rounded, balanced, and healthy high-protein diet—complete with the right blend of healthy fats, cheese, and lean protein, you will not only see weight loss results, but you will also notice more toned muscle replacing fat.
It’s important to remember that losing weight and simultaneously building muscle might not always show a drop in the scale that you might hope.
Muscle weighs more than fat, so although you might not see the numbers on the scale go down, you will likely notice an improvement in your physique, energy levels, and also how well your clothes fit.
All in all, consuming a healthy, high-protein diet will help you gain muscle and accelerate fat loss.
HIGH-PROTEIN FOODS FOR VEGETARIANS AND VEGANS
These protein sources are great, but what do you eat if you are a vegan or a vegetarian?
The truth is vegans and vegetarians have a harder time getting the protein they need to build muscle, boost energy levels, and that also have a high protein NPU.
Yes, some vegetables and foods are naturally high protein sources, but they also have less amino acids than others. For example, peas and brown rice have more protein than hemp seeds.
Here is a list of the best sources of plant-based protein for vegans and vegetarians:
Whole grains (such as quinoa) – Not only is Quinoa high in fiber and protein, it also has a protein biological value (BV) of 83 percent, which means that it is one of the easier plant-based proteins to digest.
Soy beans – Soy beans have a high protein biological value of 96 percent, and can easily be added to salads, stir fry meals, and other nutritional shakes.
Peas – Is a pea a vegetable or a fruit? Although many fitness and nutritionist expert opinions differ, peas definitely fall into the legume family, which make them a rich source of protein.
In fact, one serving of peas delivers between 5 and 8 grams of protein. Furthermore, pea protein is also a rich source of essential amino acids and BCAAs, including leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
On the other hand, peas have a lower protein biological value. But this can easily be recouped by combining peas with brown rice or other vegetables. Depending on the foods that you combine with peas, you can maximize the biological value of peas up to 80 percent.
Tofu – Tofu is the go-to protein source for many vegans and vegetarians. Tofu contains eight essential amino acids (BCAAs), however, the biological value of Tofu is only 64 percent.
Soy Milk – Soy is one of the best sources of plant protein, however, soy also comes in different forms. Different forms of soy have different biological values. However, soy beans have a biological value of 96 percent. Soy milk is slightly lower at 91 percent.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF HIGH PROTEIN DIETS AND LOW CARB DIETS: WHICH IS BEST?
We now know that high protein diets are essentially linked to low carb diets, which lead to weight loss and muscle gain. However, how low is a low carb diet, and how high is a high protein diet?
How do you know which type of high protein diet or low carb diet is best for you? Of course this can greatly depend on the individual’s weight loss goals and muscle gain goals, but here are some facts and stats to follow.
Most nutritionists, dieticians, and doctors recommend consuming one source of carbohydrates (up to 30 grams, depending on the individual) per day, such as potatoes (white potatoes or sweet potatoes), white or whole grain bread, oats or bran and pasta (including whole wheat pasta).
The amount of carbs and protein one should consume depends mostly on gender and weight. For example, most men consume up to 3,000 calories per day, so the amount of protein and carbs that they would consume would be higher.
Women consume up to 2,000 calories per day—again, depending on weight and body mass (BMI).
For example, most “low carb” diets, such as Atkins (which we will review in greater detail below), reduce daily carbohydrate intake from 45 percent to only 5 percent.
If you have spent any time researching effective diets for losing weight and/ or building muscle, then you likely have discovered that high protein diets and low carb diets are in.
The most common high protein diets and low carb diets include the Atkins diet, the Ketogenic diet, and the Dukan diet. In fact, these three diets are featured on the 2016 US News & World Report’s roundup of best diets for weight loss and muscle gain.
These diets have two things in common: increasing the amount of quality protein and reducing the amount of carbs.
Here is a detailed synopsis of each diet:
Ketogenic Diet: In short, the ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb diet. This diet only allows 75 percent of daily calories to come from fat, only 5 to 10 percent from carbs, and the rest from protein.
By severely limiting carbs to 50 grams or less, this diet helps stimulate the fat burning process known as ketosis.
This diet is one of the easiest to follow. It does not require phases, and once individuals sustain the correct fat, carbs, and protein ratios in their diets, and reach their weight loss goals, then the diet ends.
Individuals on the Ketogenic diet usually experience almost immediate weight loss results, which helps boost motivation to maintain the diet. However, as we explained above, the immediate weight loss is likely due to water weight, not necessarily fat loss.
However, this diet isn’t exactly easy to follow, especially if you are used to consuming pasta, potatoes or even legumes. No refined carbs are allowed with this diet.
Although this might sound incredibly difficult, the emphasis on consuming foods that are higher in (healthy) fats and protein can make individuals feel more satisfied at every meal. Therefore, meal planning is incredibly important when following this diet plan.
Finally, one of the biggest disadvantages to this particular diet is the danger of nutritional deficiencies, especially since so many essential fruits and vegetables aren’t permitted with this diet. Furthermore, consuming a sufficient amount of fiber each day can also be difficult.
Atkins Diet: When compared with the Ketogenic diet, the purpose of the Atkins diet is to track carb intake. The Atkins diet also consists of four phases, which can be difficult, but doesn’t burden the individual with counting calories.
Here is a summary of phases:
Phase 1: Cut out all carbs, reducing daily intake to 20 grams each day, which will primarily come from veggies.
Individuals must eat a good source of protein with each meal or snack and at least three servings of fat. This phase lasts approximately two weeks.
Phase 2: In this phase, the amount of allowable carbs increase to 50 grams per day. This means individuals are allowed to eat more veggies and fruits (mainly berries), such as nuts and seeds.
Individuals are required to remain at this phase until they are approximately 10 pounds away from their target weight.
Phases 3 and 4: The final two phases of the Atkins diet teaches the individual how to maintain his or her target weight, once it is reached.
Individuals must maintain their goal weight for approximately four weeks. Once this happens, these phases then allow the individual to expand into a range of foods, such as fruits, starchy vegetables, whole grains and dairy.
This diet has extreme diuretic effects, which is normal when restricting carbs from any diet. There is also an emphasis on eating real food and cutting out empty calories and added sugars.
In fact, Atkins also promotes its own line of products, which include protein bars, protein drinks and shakes, and other meals. However, doctors and researchers question the validity and overall health value of these foods…
Furthermore, doctors, dieticians, nutritionists and doctors also question the allowable fatty sources of protein, such as bacon or steak, which are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, both of which can lead to cardiovascular issues. Some studies have shown that the Atkins diet can actually lead to long-term health issues.
In summary, many people have seen drastic weight loss benefits from the Atkins diet, but also dislike how it makes them feel.
This is because cutting out carbs can leave an individual feeling fatigued, moody, and unmotivated. Therefore, many individuals often drop the Atkins diet before the last two phases.
So, if your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, and build muscle, then start by reducing empty calories, sugars and sweets, and carbohydrates, and increase your protein intake by consuming turkey, chicken, eggs and fish.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN SHOULD YOU EAT?
We now understand the importance of consuming healthy amounts of protein and amino acids, good sources of protein, and what happens when we cut out carbs.
These simple dietary choices can make a huge impact on weight loss, fat loss, and muscle gain, so it’s important to ensure that you are consuming the right amount of protein—even if you don’t exercise.
So, this begs the question: How much protein should you eat?
If you were to ask a fitness expert or professional bodybuilder how much protein you should eat each day to lose weight, the answers will likely vary.
Some claim that 1 to 2 grams per pound of body weight is sufficient whereas others will say that lean protein should make up 10 to 35 percent of calories each day. As you may have guessed, this isn’t exactly a one-size-fits-all approach, and can mean different things for different individuals.
Many athletes and aspiring bodybuilders have followed the same notion for years: one gram of protein per pound of body weight.
However, Clinical studies have shown that consuming the “right” amount of protein really depends on multiple factors, such as the following:
- Energy intake
- The amount of carbohydrates available
- Exercise and activity level and intensity
- Quality of protein sources
- Timing of protein consumption (or last meal)
- Exercise and activity intensity and quality
- Fitness level and training history
- Pre-existing medical conditions or medical history
Furthermore, as you begin to discover what is the right amount of protein for you, and as you begin to build more lean muscle mass as a result, don’t neglect your hydration.
In fact, keeping up with hydration might be just as important—if not more—than your protein intake. If you begin to slack off on how much protein you consume, then you could put yourself at risk for a protein deficiency. This means that you will end up losing strength and muscle rather than building it.
DOES THE TIMING WHEN I EAT PROTEIN MATTER?
So, when is the best time of day to eat protein?
Should you eat it before a workout, or after, or both? Does it even matter?
Some recommend consuming a source of protein every three hours. However, studies have shown that timing may not necessarily matter; it is consuming the right amount of protein that works best for YOU each day that matters most.
For example, some individuals prefer to eat three large meals per day, whereas others will consume six smaller meals throughout the day, which is also known as intermittent fasting—a practice that many fitness experts and weight loss experts swear by.
Some studies show that timing does matter, and even has a direct impact on building muscle, whereas other studies do not. Some studies show that the body uses protein to help improve muscle performance before a workout.
Other studies show that consuming protein after a workout and before bed is best for muscle recovery and repair.
IS EATING TOO MUCH PROTEIN BAD FOR YOU?
This is a common question that many individuals ask. Some believe that eating too much protein is bad for you or could cause long-term and adverse side effects.
However, the issues that we discovered are related to other factors, such as a pre-existing medical condition, medical history or even dehydration.
Kidney Issues – Many believe that too much protein can cause kidney issues. The kidneys are the body’s natural waste filter and help maintain nitrogen balance in the blood.
Some studies suggest that large amounts of protein put too much pressure on the kidneys, which can cause issues.
However, studies have also concluded that these occurrences were linked to those with pre-existing kidney issues.
So, is there a definite link between how much protein you eat and kidney problems? Not necessarily.
Dehydration – Studies have also shown that individuals with extremely high protein levels were also severely dehydrated.
By simply drinking more water—especially for those who are highly active—can easily prevent hydration, and really has nothing to do with how much protein you eat and when.
Weight Gain – Many individuals who want to lose weight, and spend a great deal of time paying attention to what they eat and all of their free time at the gym will absolutely shed weight and burn fat.
However, as individuals continue this routine, the body will begin converting food into energy, building muscle. Remember, muscle weighs more than fat.
If you are working hard at the gym and to stick to your diet, but you stopped seeing the scale move weeks ago, then this is likely because you have begun replacing fat with muscle.
So, weight loss that is associated with an increased protein intake isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
All in all, the human body can handle consuming and digesting large amounts of protein at once, so don’t worry too much about how much protein you eat in one sitting.
Yes, there are some things to watch out for when increasing your protein intake, but none of these reasons by any means should keep you from consuming protein.
CONCLUSION: WHAT IS THE IDEAL PROTEIN DIET FOR YOU?
In conclusion, regardless of whether you want to try a low-carbohydrate diet, high-protein diet, low-calorie diet or a combination of both the three, the best weight-loss diet is one that is rich with high-quality protein sources.
Determining the ideal weight-loss diet or high protein diet really depends on YOU—your gender, your body type, your age, your health and fitness levels and your weight-loss goals.
Furthermore, if you have specific dietary preferences or if you are a vegan or a vegetarian, then getting high-quality protein sources is more of a challenge, but with the information we have supplied in this article, you are now armed with information on the best plant-based protein to include in every meal.
All in all, increasing your protein intake and reducing caloric intake isn’t necessarily dangerous, as long as you are smart about what you eat, how much, and how well you stay hydrated.
Regardless of your dietary preferences, body type or fitness level, increasing protein intake will help burn fat, build muscle mass, and help you lose weight.