The benefits of increasing your protein intake (plus tips on how to do it)
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Good news if you’re looking to lose weight: instead of focusing on cutting out items from your diet, adding more protein to your meals may actually be the only change that makes a huge difference.
High-protein diets can conjure up images of bodybuilders drinking shakes or remind you of your co-worker who can’t help but rave about keto. Strict diets aside, there’s something to be said for the effects of protein on weight loss: eating more of it helps. Below are some of the benefits of increasing your protein intake, along with tips on how to go about it.
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Does protein lead to better food choices?
“I often increase protein intake when my patients want to lose weight for several reasons. The first is that a higher protein content leads to a healthier diet overall and retention of more muscle mass as they lose weight. This was found in a 2022 study,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, Quest Partner, RDN, MS, former Chief Dietitian at Cleveland Clinic and Founder and President of KAK Consulting, LLC.
Several other studies show a relationship between protein intake and hunger – it helps you feel fuller and less likely to snack on unhealthy foods or overeat. “Protein prevents overeating. It provides longer satiety, which helps men feel fuller for longer hours. This is because protein is digested slowly,” says Catherine Gervacio, registered dietitian and nutrition writer for Living.Fit.
Can Eating Protein Boost Your Metabolism?
So if you have a little more protein, you’ll end up eating less without even realizing it. You will also speed up your metabolism.
According to Gervacio, this is because your body uses more calories to metabolize protein: “There is a thing called the thermal effect on food (TEF), which is the energy used by the body to digest food. Proteins, compared to carbohydrates and fats, have the highest TEF. This means that the body burns more calories when protein is digested compared to the other two macros.
Do High Protein Diets Help You Lose Fat and Gain Muscle?
Plus, increasing your protein intake can help you lose fat and gain muscle. Chances are you don’t just want to lose weight. You probably also care about your body composition, which is how much muscle versus body fat you have. Adding more protein to your diet can help you achieve a leaner, more defined look. “It’s the only macro that delivers amino acids to the muscles,” says Gervacio.
“To lose body fat and gain leaner muscle, protein is needed to supply the body with amino acids. Amino acids are small bits of protein that muscles use for growth and repair. Carbohydrates and fats don’t provide amino acids,” she adds.
A 12-week study found that women in a normal weight range but with high body fat lost three extra pounds of fat and about an inch from their waistline on a high-protein diet compared to people on diets. low in protein. In other words, even if you don’t have a lot of weight to lose, eating more protein can translate to better physical condition.
How much protein do you need to lose weight?
Before you take the plunge and eat 12 eggs for breakfast every day, keep in mind that protein needs vary based on a few different factors. “Some of my male patients just want to aim for a general gram number, but protein needs vary by activity level, age, and overall health goals. For example, my older patients often need to double their protein intake to avoid muscle loss as they age,” says Kirkpatrick.
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Consider how much protein you are currently consuming. Some people have no trouble reaching a healthy range, while others struggle to get enough. According to Gervacio, the Dietary Reference Intake of protein for men is 0.75 grams per kilogram of body weight, which means you may not need to increase your protein intake if you’re doing already adequately filled. That being said, if you’re looking to lose weight, you’re likely also increasing your activity level, which translates to a need above the above average. Note: The type of workout you do is less relevant than your activity level.
“Protein requirements would always be higher for every level of fitness, whether someone wants to lose weight or build muscle. For example, a man who lifts weights because he wants to lose fat and gain more of lean muscle can increase protein as much as a guy who does mostly cardio and doesn’t really lift heavy weights,” adds Gervacio.
How can you incorporate more protein into your diet?
If you’re struggling to meet your daily protein goals, Kirkpatrick recommends focusing on getting some kind of protein at every meal and snack. “For example, having eggs for breakfast, adding salmon to a salad for lunch, and having snacks accessible and on the go. I recommend that my patients keep Quest Protein Bars at work, in their gym bag and in their car, so they always have a tasty and healthy snack on hand.
Keep in mind that too much of a good thing is possible: doing too much can lead to kidney problems. When in doubt, work with a dietitian or nutritionist who can help you customize an eating plan based on your goals.
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