Home Weight Loss
Alyssa Shaffer Updated: May 09, 2023
Medically reviewed by Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD
From weight loss to building muscle, there's plenty of evidence behind the power of protein. Here's how to make it work for you.
Why you need protein
If you’re hoping to lose weight, build muscle, or just have more energy to power you through your day, a high-protein diet may be able to help. “Protein plays a wide number of roles in the body,” notes registered dietitian Kelly Pritchett, PhD, an associate professor in nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA. “From cellular growth and repair to creating enzymes, helping with fluid and electrolyte balances and forming antibodies, protein is crucial.”
Just know that the plans come with a few caveats, namely they can add a lot of fat to your diet while eliminating healthy fruits and vegetables. The increase in protein can strain your kidneys, as well, which is why you should consult with your doctor before adopting a high-protein eating plan.
The advantages of a high-protein diet
For people trying to shed some extra pounds, focusing on more protein could help with weight-loss goals. “You’ll shift more of your weight loss toward body fat and protect your lean muscle mass,” explains Roger E. Adams, PhD, a nutritionist and weight-loss consultant based in Katy, TX, and the owner of eatrightfitness.com. Research published in 2015 in Trends in Food & Science Technologyfound that protein has a satiating effect. “It takes a longer time for your body to break down and digest most protein, so it delays your appetite and keeps you feeling fuller, longer,” says Adams.
Read on to find out if a high-protein diet is right for you and, if so, how to get started. Just make sure you don’t overdo it—these are the signs that you’re eating too much protein.
Get the right amount of protein
High protein can mean different things to different people. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is .8 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight. For a 150-pound person, that’s about 55 grams a day. But protein diet advocates believe that number may be too low, especially if you are trying to lose weight. “If you are dieting and/or you are physically active, that number should be significantly higher,” says Adams.
A good rule of thumb is to aim for .8g to 1g of protein per pound of body weight, advises Adams. For a 150-pound person, that’s 120-150 grams of protein a day. If you eat three meals a day plus two snacks, that averages about 25 to 30 grams every time you eat. Or you can calculate protein as a percentage of your total calories—plan to get 20 to 35 percent of your total daily calories from protein. And check out some of the best protein diet foods for weight loss, while you’re at it.
Elizaveta Elesina/Getty Images
Watch your protein timing
“We often tend to backload our protein needs, or have more protein at the end of the day,” says Pritchett. But you’ll find it easier to eat protein throughout your day. Aim to get 15 to 20 grams (or up to 40 grams if you are bigger or more active) at small meals every three to four hours. “You may want to have more protein at larger meals and less protein at smaller ones,” says Pritchett. This will help keep you feeling full and allow your body to use the protein more efficiently. Here are the high-protein snacks nutritionists actually eat.
Add strength training
“When you keep protein intake higher it helps with any loss of muscle tissue,” says Pritchett. Since muscle burns more calories at rest than fat, you’ll keep your metabolic engine revved even as you lose weight.
That’s especially important when you are older since we tend to develop an age-related muscle lossstarting in about our 30s. “Older adults, especially, need to pay attention to their protein meals and make sure they are getting enough throughout the day,” adds Pritchett.
Of course, including regular strength training will also help keep your muscles strong. You don’t even have to go to a gym to start building muscle—these at-home exercises will also do the job.
Prasit photo/Getty Images
Eat protein after you exercise
Whether you like to run, swim, bike, lift weights, or just walk, you need adequate protein in your diet. “The amino acids, or building blocks of protein, are what make up your muscles, and when you exercise that muscle gets broken down and must be replaced,” says Adams. So it’s a good idea after exercise—especially weight lifting—to have a small snack that includes some protein. “Ideally you’re having some protein in a two-hour window after a workout since that is when your body has an elevated muscle protein synthesis rate—it starts to put together the new muscle tissue,” he explains.
Amax Photo/Getty Images
What to eat: Meat and poultry
What you eat on a high-protein diet is highly individual, but there are some choices that are better than others. “Animal products like meat, fish, poultry, dairy, and eggs tend to give you more protein per gram than plant-based sources,” says Pritchett. These foods are considered complete proteins, meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids necessary for your body to function. Steer clear of higher-calorie choices like fatty cuts of meat if you are watching calories. Chicken, of course, is often a go-to option for those on a high-protein diet, with 27 grams in a three-ounce serving.
What to eat: Fish, seafood
Fish is also a good option for high-protein diets. Many types of fish are packed with protein and contain healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids. Both tuna and cod, for example, have about 20 grams of protein in 3 ounces, at less than 100 calories. More of a seafood fan? Pick up some shrimp: 3 ounces of shrimp has 17 grams of protein at only 90 calories; it’s also rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Here’s more on the best fish to eat (and which to avoid).
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What to eat: Eggs
For those who prefer avoiding meat, poultry, and fish, or are just looking for other options to keep protein levels high throughout the day, eggs are a great option. Eggs are one of the easiest foods to prepare—and easiest to digest—with 6 grams per 1 large egg. They’re also rich in disease-fighting antioxidants, including choline, lutein, and vitamin D. And there’s no shortage of fantastic egg recipes.
What to eat: Dairy
Dairy is a favorite option for high-protein foods because it’s relatively easy to find and there’s nothing to prepare. Greek yogurt, for one, has 15 to 20 grams in a typical 6-ounce container—about the same as 2 to 3 ounces of lean meat. (Regular yogurt has less than half that amount.) And a cup of 1 percent milk has 8g of protein, while a half cup of cottage cheese has 15 to 20 grams. When choosing dairy, it’s ok to have a little fat, says Adams. “Some fat—less than 2 percent— will help give you more satiety and help you feel fuller, longer,” he notes. “But just a little fat goes a long way.” Of course, dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese also provide ample calcium and vitamin D to help you build and maintain strong bones.
What to eat: Plant-based proteins
Even vegans who avoid all animal products can follow a high-protein diet. You can find ample amounts of protein in beans and legumes. Consider lentils, which have about 9 grams of protein in a half-cup, or chickpeas, which have more than 7g in a half-cup. Nuts and seeds are also key: A 1-oz. serving of almonds (about 23 nuts) have 6 grams of protein while an ounce of walnuts (14 halves) has more than 4 grams. And don’t forget soy. “It’s the only complete plant-based protein that has all of the amino acids you need,” says Adams. You’ll get 10g of protein in a half-cup serving of tofu and 8.5 grams of protein in a half-cup of edamame. Here are some more vegan protein sources to try.
Don’t forget your veggies
When you are on a high-protein diet it can be easy to crowd out vegetables, especially if you are also trying to cut down on carbs. But don’t ignore leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, and other healthy foods. You’ll not only be taking in plenty of fiber—crucial for both weight loss and for helping to keep your digestive system functioning at its best—but also getting important micronutrients such as key vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting phytonutrients. All-star choices include spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower, and lettuce.
Take it slow
If you’re not used to eating a high-protein diet, it’s a good idea to gradually increase how much protein you are getting over the course of a day. “All macronutrients are controlled by the pancreas,” notes Adams, “It can take three to five days for your pancreas to adjust to changes in the diet.” If you increase levels too quickly—say, go from 50 to 150 grams daily—you are likely to experience some dietary distress, including gas and bloating, he adds. Eating these 7 foods rich in natural probiotics can help keep your digestion on track.
While some experts worry that too much protein could overload the kidneys, more recent research in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that people with healthy kidneys should be fine when following a high-protein diet. In fact, evidence shows higher protein can actually increase kidney function. However, if you have existing kidney disease you should avoid a high-protein plan; the increased strain could worsen your condition. If your kidneys are healthy and you need ways to boost intake, check out these 35 ways to sneak more protein into your diet.
- Kelly Pritchett, PhD, RD, an associate professor in nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA
- Roger E. Adams, PhD, a nutritionist and weight-loss consultant based in Katy, TX and the owner of eatrightfitness.com
- Trends in Food & Science Technology: "Optimising foods for satiety"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Changes in Kidney Function Do Not Differ Between Healthy Adults Consuming Higher- Compared With Lower- Or Normal-Protein Diets: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
Medically reviewed by Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, on March 23, 2021
Originally Published: May 22, 2020
eggs. dairy products – milk, yoghurt (especially Greek yoghurt), cheese (especially cottage cheese) nuts (including nut pastes) and seeds – almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, macadamias, hazelnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds. legumes and beans – all beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, tofu.How long does it take to get used to a high-protein diet? ›
Everyone's body is different but generally, protein can be difficult for the body to digest. Instead, increase your protein intake slowly over a week or two, allowing your body to adapt to the higher levels of protein. As a general rule, focus on whole foods first.What should you consider before starting a high-protein diet? ›
- Lack of Carbohydrates = Lack of Balance. ...
- Our Bodies Need Only So Much Protein. ...
- The Type of Meat you Eat, Matters. ...
- Cutting out Fruits Eliminates Important Nutrients. ...
- Finding a Diet that Works for You.
Some high-protein diets limit carbs so much that you might not get enough nutrients or fiber. This can cause problems such as bad breath, headache and constipation. Some high-protein diets allow red meats, processed meats and other foods high in saturated fat. These foods may increase your risk of heart disease.What is the key to high-protein diet? ›
The best high-protein plans focus on lean proteins and include some carbs. Avoid huge helpings of fatty meats and make sure to include vegetables. Ask your doctor, or a dietitian, to help you pick the right diet.How can I protect my kidneys from high-protein diet? ›
How can you protect your kidneys and lose weight, too? For weight loss that won't compromise your kidneys, it's all about balance. “Don't get your calories from one source — combine protein with more fruits and vegetables,” Dr. Calle recommends.Does a high-protein diet work without exercise? ›
Some examples of protein-rich foods include chicken breasts, fish, Greek yogurt, lentils, quinoa and almonds. Adding protein to your diet has been linked to weight loss, even without exercise or conscious calorie restriction.Does a high-protein diet suit everyone? ›
“There are some people who can safely increase their protein intake to up to 2g per kilogram of body weight per day, such as older adults, strength athletes or those involved in high volume, high-intensity training and endurance athletes,” agrees Ibitoye.Is Peanut Butter high in protein? ›
Peanut butter is rich in heart-healthy fats and is a good source of protein, which can be helpful for vegetarians looking to include more protein in their diets. A 2-tablespoon serving of peanut butter contains up to 8 grams of protein and 2 to 3 grams of fiber.Do 2 eggs give enough protein? ›
“Eating two eggs each morning only offers you around 12 grams of protein,” says Horton. “To meet that 30-gram threshold, you'll need to step up the egg intake or layer in other protein sources.” Keep in mind: Upping your protein intake isn't just about building more lean muscle mass.
Eating more protein, while remaining in a calorie deficit, will not lead to belly fat gain. If you do start to gain fat, you're eating too many calories, be it from protein, carbs or fat. You may also be choosing higher-fat or higher-carb protein sources.Does high-protein diet cause belly fat loss? ›
Eating plenty of protein can boost your metabolism and reduce hunger levels, making it a very effective way to lose weight. Some evidence suggests that protein may be linked with reduced abdominal fat.Who is most in need of a high protein diet Why? ›
If you're physically active, lifting weights, or trying to gain muscle, you need to make sure you're getting enough protein. Keeping protein intake high can also help prevent muscle loss during weight loss (10, 11, 12 ).Which fruit has the highest protein? ›
Guava. Guava is one of the most protein-rich fruits around. You'll get a whopping 4.2 grams of the stuff in every cup. This tropical fruit is also high in vitamin C and fiber.Which food is king of protein? ›
|1 Spirulina View (Source)||100 grams||115% DV (57.5g)|
|2 Dry-Roasted Soybeans View (Source)||100 grams||87% DV (43.3g)|
|3 Grated Parmesan Cheese View (Source)||100 grams||83% DV (41.6g)|
|4 Lean Veal Top Round View (Source)||100 grams||73% DV (36.7g)|
- Top 10 Foods Highest in Protein.
- #1: Turkey Breast (and Chicken Breast)
- #2: Fish (Tuna, Salmon, Halibut)
- #3: Cheese (Low-fat Mozzarella and Cottage Cheese)
- Protein in 100g 1oz Slice (28g) Protein to Calorie Ratio. 32g. 9g. 1g protein per 4.7 calories. ...
- #4: Pork Loin (Chops)
- #5: Lean Beef and Veal (Low Fat)
- #6: Tofu.
- Burgers. Made from turkey or lean beef, both of these protein sources give you iron to help prevent anemia. ...
- Chicken. Protein from chicken can range from 14 to 28 grams. ...
- Cottage cheese. ...
- Deviled eggs. ...
- Egg omelet. ...
- Egg whites. ...
- Fish. ...
- Greek yogurt.
Water: Water is simply the best drink you can have! Water is a zero-calorie, perfectly hydrating, cheap drink. If you are in the earlier stages of kidney disease, choosing water most of the time to quench your thirst will keep your body and kidneys functioning well.What color is urine when your kidneys are failing? ›
When your kidneys are failing, a high concentration and accumulation of substances lead to brown, red, or purple urine. Studies suggest the urine color is due to abnormal protein or sugar as well as high numbers of cellular casts and red and white blood cells.What happens if I only drink protein shakes? ›
Eating solid food may cause excess weight to return if you don't make smart food choices. And if you rely too much on protein shakes to replace daily meals, you'll miss out on the healthy benefits of whole foods. Since protein has calories, consuming too much can make it harder to lose weight.
It is possible to each too much protein — if more than 35% of your daily calories come from protein, you might experience side effects. Eating too much protein can worsen kidney problems, and over time can cause symptoms like bad breath, indigestion and dehydration.How to lose 10 pounds in a week? ›
- Follow a low-calorie diet. Share on Pinterest A low-calorie diet is recommended when trying to lose weight. ...
- Avoid junk food. Junk foods are: ...
- Add lean protein. Lean protein helps build muscle. ...
- Move more. ...
- Try high-intensity cardio. ...
- Add weights. ...
- Eat fewer carbs. ...
- Reduce bloating.
Though high protein diets may be safe for people with normal kidney function, people with decreased kidney function should avoid them. High dietary protein may accelerate the decline of kidney function in this population ( 19 ). The kidneys filter and remove waste products of protein metabolism from the body.Does a high protein diet make you look younger? ›
It's conclusive that whey protein can help you feel good on the inside, but it can also help you look good on the outside. Protein is essential for generating healthy skin and nails. The collagen and amino acids found in whey protein help maintain skin's elasticity and firmness.What are two major dangers of eating more than the recommended amount of protein? ›
Extra protein intake also can lead to elevated blood lipids and heart disease because many high-protein foods you eat are high in total and saturated fat. Extra protein intake, which can tax the kidneys, poses an additional risk to people predisposed to kidney disease.Are bananas high in protein? ›
Like most fruits, bananas are not a source of fat or protein, just carbohydrates. When compared with other fruits, like berries, bananas are higher in energy (calories), which gives them a bad reputation of not being “good” for weight loss.Is peanut butter or banana good protein? ›
Both will keep you full longer
Fiber is found in both bananas and peanut butter, while peanut butter has the more significant amount of protein and fat.
Cheese has a lower protein, carbs, and fat content than peanut butter per calorie and is also lower in calories. The nutritional contents of peanut butter (100g) and cheese (100g each) were compared using 2020 USDA and NIH data.Does avocado have protein? ›
A whole medium avocado contains about 240 calories, 13 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams protein, 22 grams fat (15 grams monounsaturated, 4 grams polyunsaturated, 3 grams saturated), 10 grams fiber, and 11 milligrams sodium. Along with their low sodium levels, avocados contain no cholesterol.Which bean is high in protein? ›
With nearly 26.12 g/100 g, it's the legume with the highest protein content. Fava beans are a nutritional powerhouse, providing ample carbohydrates, protein, fiber and vitamins, even when dried!
Contains All Essential Amino Acids
The casein in Greek yogurt is a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids: methionine, lysine, isoleucine, histidine, valine, tryptophan, threonine, phenylalanine and leucine.
Eggs, yogurt and nuts or seeds are great sources of protein. Add vegetables. Greens may not be your go to breakfast option, but there are many ways to incorporate veggies into this meal. Try scrambled eggs with spinach and mushrooms or an omelet with bell peppers and onions.What breakfast has the most protein? ›
- 7 oz Greek yogurt, plain, nonfat 20 grams protein.
- ½ cup cottage cheese, low-fat 14 grams protein.
- 2 oz turkey sausage 14 grams protein.
- 2 large eggs 13 grams protein.
- 1 cup milk, nonfat 8 grams protein.
- 1 cup quinoa 8 grams protein.
- ½ cup black beans 8 grams protein.
The nutrient composition of oats is well-balanced. They are a good source of carbs and fiber, including the powerful fiber beta-glucan ( 1 ). They are also a good source of high quality protein, with a good balance of essential amino acids ( 2 ).Why am I still hungry after eating protein? ›
This is in part because protein isn't digested very quickly. So, when you eat protein, it slows the movement of food through the GI tract—and slower stomach emptying means prolonged feelings of fullness.Can eating too much protein affect your hair? ›
Interestingly, consuming too much protein can also lead to hair loss. This is because when the body has an excess of protein, it will start to excrete the excess through the urine. The hair follicles are then deprived of much-needed nutrients, which can lead to shedding and thinning.How does protein in urine look like? ›
Proteinuria is high levels of protein in your pee. If you have proteinuria, you may have to pee more often, and your pee may be foamy or bubbly.What protein burns belly fat? ›
It's highly recommended to consume whey protein for fat loss because it supplements more lean muscle throughout the body (similar to meat), which burns calories at a higher rate than body fat, says Dunn. There's a reason why whey protein is one of the most commonly used and researched protein powders on the market.Which protein is best for belly fat loss? ›
Whey protein is a type of protein powder made from milk. It's one of the best sources of protein for weight loss and can help you lose belly fat specifically.What are the 5 foods that burn belly fat? ›
- Beans. “Becoming a bean lover can help you lose weight and whittle your middle,” registered dietitian Cynthia Sass told Today. ...
- Swap your beef for salmon. ...
- Yogurt. ...
- Red bell peppers. ...
- Broccoli. ...
- Edamame. ...
- Diluted vinegar.
The 16:8 method looks at each individual day rather than the week as a whole. During each day, the consumer has an 8 hour window to eat all of his or her calories, leaving 16 hours to fast. Usually this includes skipping breakfast, then eating in the window of 11am-7pm or 10am-6pm.How to speed up metabolism? ›
- Exercise more. Add interval training to your cardio routine and burn more calories in less time. ...
- Weight train. Add muscle mass to your body and you can burn more calories at rest. ...
- Don't skip meals, especially breakfast. ...
- Eat fat-burning foods. ...
- Get a good night's sleep every night.
A high-protein diet for weight loss and overall health should provide about 0.6–0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight, or 1.2–1.6 grams per kilogram, and 20–30% of your calories per day.How do I eat 100 grams of protein a day? ›
This photo shows:
- Four eggs (24 grams of protein)
- Three beef meatballs (15 grams)
- Two slices (2 ounces) of turkey bacon (10 grams)
- 3 ounces of turkey breast (24 grams)
- One can of tuna (27 grams)
- Deli meat (4 slices is 20g)
- beef jerky (Pacific gold brand is 14g per serving)
- shrimp (100g cooked 24g)
- chicken breast (4 oz is 26g)
- Chicken Thighs (4 oz is 19g)
- Ground Turkey (4 oz is 22g)
- Ground beef (4 oz is 22g)
High-protein diets typically include large quantities of protein and only a small amount of carbohydrate. Most people can follow a high-protein diet by eating meat, fish, dairy products, beans and legumes, eggs, and vegetables that are relatively rich in protein, such as asparagus and spinach.How many grams of protein does a 100 pound person need? ›
|Body weight (lb)||Body weight (kg)||Higher end (g)|
- Yogurt. ...
- Fish and seafood. ...
- Chicken and turkey. ...
- Soya. ...
- Nuts and seeds. ...
- Pork. ...
- Beans and pulses. ...
- Tofu and tempeh. Both tempeh and tofu are made from soy beans, however, tempeh requires the additional step of fermentation, providing it with an extra depth of flavour.
According to the Dietary Reference Intake report for macronutrients, a sedentary adult should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound.What food has high protein and low calories? ›
- Chicken Breast. Chicken breast is arguably the most popular lean meat option for healthy meal plans due to it being widely available and versatile to cook with. ...
- Turkey Breast. ...
- Pork Loin. ...
- Salmon. ...
- Tuna. ...
- White Fish. ...
- Shrimp. ...
Eating lean meats, such as lean cuts of beef, chicken, fish or seafood is an excellent way to increase the protein in your diet without adding lots of additional calories. Baking or grilling your meats is a healthy way to prepare them, without adding extra calories from frying.What does 300 grams of protein look like? ›
In case you were wondering, 300 grams is actually a lot of protein. By way of reference, 300 grams of protein equals 7.5 ounces of chicken (60 grams), one 12-ounce steak (85 grams), two 6-ounce cans of tuna (80 grams), a half dozen eggs (35 grams), 3 cups of milk (25 grams), and 7 ounces of tofu (15 grams).How many grams of protein should a 120 pound person eat a day? ›
The average person should eat 0.36 grams of protein for every pound they weigh (or 0.8 grams per kilogram). Based on that recommendation, a 120-pound woman should eat 43 grams of protein each day (120 x 0.36) and a 170-pound man should eat 61 grams of protein each day (160 x 0.36).How many protein shakes a day? ›
If you're of average build and go to the gym regularly, two protein shakes a day is enough to maintain your body mass. But if you're seriously involved in athletic sports, fitness practices and strength exercises, you may need to drink three to four protein shakes daily to sustain your physique and performance.How hard is it to eat 200 grams of protein a day? ›
To consume 200g of protein per day, you'll need to eat high-protein foods like lean meats, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts, beans, and soy products. Opt for high-protein snacks during the day, like plain yogurt or a handful of nuts.