A protein-rich diet keeps you full for a long time, promotes muscle growth, regulates your hormone balance, and ensures a better sense of well-being – yes, even losing weight is possible with a protein-rich diet. However, it is important to keep this in mind.
New diets, such as the ketogenic diet, are leading the way and are increasingly relying on plant and animal protein sources – with the aim of losing weight, building muscle, promoting growth hormones such as testosterone, and boosting fat metabolism.
But it doesn’t have to be quite as radical as the keto diet. We’ll show you how much protein you need every day, how to incorporate a high-protein diet into your daily routine, and which protein-rich foods to focus on.
What is a high-protein diet?
A high-protein diet focuses on proteins, as the name suggests. Protein, along with fats and carbohydrates, is one of the most important macronutrients that the body needs to survive.
Our muscles, hair, skin, heart, and brain are largely made up of proteins and amino acids.
Proteins are long-chain amino acids. Nine of the 20 amino acids cannot be produced by our body itself, so they have to be taken in through food.
Foods such as lentils, cashews, cheese, eggs, tofu, oatmeal, soybeans, meat, green vegetables, spelled flour, and tuna, among others, contain the nine essential amino acids.
A diet is called protein-rich if at least 20 percent of the daily calorie requirement is met by protein.
Which high-protein nutrition concepts are there?
It all started with the low-carb diet. It is one of the most widely practiced diets, which eliminates a large part of carbohydrate-rich foods from the menu.
A bit stricter, but still very popular at the moment, is the controversial ketogenic diet. With this Diät the energy requirement is covered only 5 percent by coal hydrates, to 35 percent by proteins, and to 60 percent with fats.
However, in addition to many advantages, the keto diet also brings some disadvantages.
For whom is the high-protein diet suitable?
In principle, a high-protein diet is relevant for each of us, because proteins perform vital functions in the body.
For example, they produce almost all enzymes as well as some hormones. Through proteins, we are able to absorb iron in the body. In addition, the antibodies of the immune system consist largely of proteins.
Proteins are therefore particularly valuable because they repair defective cells or transport oxygen and fats. You see – without proteins, no human being would be able to live. But in which circumstances should you increase your protein intake?
You are pursuing a weight loss goal
Proteins, with their 4 calories per gram, have just as many calories as carbohydrates, but they are metabolized quite differently: out of 100 calories from protein, up to 24 calories are already used for their digestion, according to the German Nutrition Society.
This process is called the thermal effect. That is, proteins boost metabolism by causing the body to burn extra calories as it digests protein. Nearly a quarter of protein’s dietary energy thus goes to waste without landing on the hips.
In 2010, a Danish research team led by Thomas Meinert Larsen and Arne Astrup from the University of Copenhagen proved in their Diogenes study that protein-rich meals maintain the feeling of satiety for longer, have only a minimal effect on blood sugar levels, and largely prevent a yo-yo effect after the desired weight loss success.
You want to build muscle mass
Without proteins no muscle building – a very simple calculation. A muscle consists of 20 percent protein. While carbohydrates and fats are important energy suppliers for muscle work, the supply of proteins is necessary to maintain and build up existing muscle mass or to repair muscle cells after training.
Speaking of regeneration: the growth hormone testosterone is crucial for this. The release of testosterone is largely controlled by protein-rich nutrition.
In addition to cell regeneration after a workout, testosterone ensures that muscle mass is gradually built up.
The testosterone level is also an important parameter for women: If it is too low, it can lead to muscles breaking down again and libido and energy levels dropping.
Building muscle mass depends on 70 percent on the right, high-protein diet and 30 percent on the ideal workout (e.g. strength training combined with a minimal HIIT workout).
How much protein should you eat every day?
The minimum health recommendation for protein, according to the German Nutrition Society (DGE), is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
For example, a person weighing 65 kilograms should consume about 52 grams of protein per day. Here you can find all protein-rich foods with their protein content per 100 grams so that you can compile your personal daily requirement with the protein suppliers that are suitable for you.
However, the minimum recommendation does not yet allow you to build muscle mass. It merely ensures that all vital functions in the body can continue to run – organs and immune systems thus remain intact.
How much protein should athletes consume?
According to the DGE recommendation, 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight are sufficient to build up muscle mass (defined muscles).
To withstand intensive strength training or to build up a lot of muscle mass, a daily protein intake of between 1.8 and 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is recommended.
Advantages and disadvantages of a high-protein diet
The advantages of a high-protein diet far outweigh the disadvantages:
- Control of the hormone balance
- Enzymes consist of proteins – therefore the consumption of proteins is enormously important, in order to be able to continue to form new enzymes.
- Amino acids are responsible for the transport of oxygen and fats in the body
- Building and repairing cells, e.g. tissue cells, muscle cells
- The long feeling of satiety, due to minimal influence on blood sugar levels as well as longer breakdown time of protein-rich foods
- Stimulation of fat metabolism
Disadvantages can arise with a high-protein diet if the calorie balance during the day is too positive. For example, if you eat more than you actually consume, you will gain weight even with a high-protein diet instead of losing weight as desired.
In addition, care should be taken to consume plenty of vegetables in order to absorb fiber and thus push the metabolism even further.
A one-sided source of protein could also be disadvantageous: when choosing, go for a mix of vegetable and animal protein sources to protect arteries from “calcification” and thus from cardiovascular diseases.
That the kidneys could be damaged by a high-protein diet was disproved by a Belgian study conducted by the Institute of Physical Education and Kinesiotherapy at the Free University of Brussels.
Thus, for a healthy person, an increased protein intake is not harmful. It only showed that the kidney needed up to seven days to adapt to the increased protein level (1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight).
The excess amino acids that the body no longer needs are converted to urea, among other things, and excreted again via the kidneys.
Healthy kidneys are not damaged by an excess of protein. However, if we consume more protein, we should drink enough fluids to support the kidneys and excrete the resulting urea through the urine.
In cases of kidney disease, doctors and nutritionists recommend curbing protein intake.
The best foods rich in protein
The Institute for Sports Nutrition points out that “the combination of plant and animal protein sources significantly increases the protein quality for the body.”
Important: Here, the intake of plant foods should cover half of the total protein intake per day.
In addition to the foods that have landed in the “Top Ten” list, there are many others that are also perfect for a protein-rich diet.
Animal protein is best utilized by humans, but we should not overdo it with meat consumption, especially processed meat products (sausage, ham, salami, etc.) should not be used too often.
Vegan protein sources: These are the best
If you are on a vegan diet, you can rely on many plant-based protein sources. A protein deficiency – as often claimed – can therefore not arise.
On the contrary, vegan protein sources also provide many important vitamins and minerals in addition to the high protein content.