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
Whether you’re hoping to lose weight, build muscle, or just have more energy to power you through your day, a high-protein diet can help. “Protein plays a wide number of roles in the body,” notes Kelly Pritchett, PhD, RD, 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.”
The advantages of a high-protein diet
If you’re watching what you’re eating and trying to shed some extra pounds, making sure you have enough protein is key for both helping you reach your weight-loss goals and keeping you healthy. “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. Studies have also shown 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 for why a high-protein diet is so important, whether it’s 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
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 many experts say that number may be too low, especially if you are trying to lose weight. “The RDA is often considered to be obsolete,” says Adams. “If you are dieting and/or you are physically active, that number should be significantly higher.”
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.
Free apps like LoseIt and MyFitnessPal make it easier to keep tabs on what percentage of your calories are coming from protein (or how many grams you are eating with each meal).