10 Science-Backed Reasons to Eat More Protein
People like to argue about fats and carbs.
However, almost everyone agrees that protein is important.
Most people are eating enough protein to prevent deficiency, but there are some who would do better with a much higher protein intake.
Numerous studies have shown that a high-protein diet has major benefits for weight loss and metabolic health (, ).
Here are 10 science-based reasons to eat more protein.
The three macronutrients (fats, carbs and protein) affect our bodies in different ways.
Studies show that protein is by far the most filling. It helps you feel more full, with less food ().
Part of the reason is that protein reduces your level of the hunger hormone ghrelin. It also boosts the satiety hormone peptide YY, which makes you feel full (, , ).
This effect can be powerful. In one study, increasing protein from 15 to 30% of calories made overweight women eat 441 fewer calories each day, without intentionally restricting anything ().
If you need to lose weight or belly fat, then consider replacing some of the carbs and fats you are eating with protein. It can be as simple as making your potato or serving smaller, while adding a few extra bites of meat or fish.
Bottom Line: A high-protein diet reduces hunger, helping you eat fewer calories. This is caused by improved function of weight regulating hormones.
Protein forms the building blocks of muscles.
Therefore, it seems logical that eating more protein would help you build more of them.
Perhaps not surprisingly, numerous studies show that eating plenty of protein can help increase muscle mass and strength (, ).
If you're physically active, lifting weights, or trying to gain muscle and strength, then you need to make sure that you're getting enough protein.
Keeping protein high can also help prevent muscle loss when your body is in a "catabolic" (breaking down) state, such as during weight loss (, , ).
Bottom Line: Muscle is made primarily of protein. A high protein intake can help you gain muscle mass and strength, and can reduce muscle loss when losing weight.
There is an ongoing myth that protein (mostly animal protein) is bad for your bones.
This is based on the idea that protein increases "acid load" in the body, leading to calcium being leached from the bones in order to neutralize the acid.
However, most long-term studies show that protein, including animal protein, has major benefits for bone health (, , ).
People who eat more protein tend to maintain their bone mass better as they get older, and tend to have a much lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures (, ).
This is especially important for women, who are at high risk of osteoporosis after menopause. Eating plenty of protein and staying active is a good way to help prevent that from happening.
Bottom Line: People who eat more protein tend to have better bone health as they get older. They have a much lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
A food craving is different from normal hunger.
It is not just about your body needing energy or nutrients, it is about your brain needing a "reward" ().
As a former drug addict, alcoholic and smoker, I can tell you that a craving for junk food feels exactly the same as a craving for drugs, alcohol and nicotine.
Unfortunately, cravings can be incredibly hard to control. The best way to overcome them may be to prevent them from showing up in the first place.
One of the best ways to do that is to increase your protein intake.
One study in overweight men showed that increasing protein to 25% of calories reduced cravings by 60%, and reduced the desire to snack at night by half ().
The blue bar on the graph is the high-protein group, and the red bar is the normal-protein group. As you can see, increasing protein intake caused a drastic reduction in cravings and late-night snacking.
Studies in girls also found that just eating a high-protein breakfast reduces cravings and late-night snacking. This may be mediated by improved function of dopamine, one of the main brain hormones involved in cravings and addiction ().
Bottom Line: Eating more protein has been shown to reduce cravings and desire for late-night snacking. Just eating a high-protein breakfast may have a powerful effect.
Eating food can boost your metabolism for a short while.
That's because the body uses energy (calories) to digest and make use of the nutrients in foods. This is referred to as the thermic effect of food (TEF).
However, not all foods are the same in this regard. In fact, protein has a much higher thermic effect (20-35%) than fat or carbs (5-15%) ().
A high protein intake has been shown to significantly boost metabolism and increase the amount of calories you burn. This can amount to 80 to 100 more calories burned each day (, , ).
One on protein during overfeeding found that a high protein group burned 260 more calories per day than a low-protein group. This is equivalent to an hour of moderate-intensity exercise per day ()!
Bottom Line: A higher protein intake has been shown to boost your metabolism significantly, helping you burn more calories throughout the day.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major cause of heart attacks, strokes and chronic kidney disease.
Interestingly, a higher protein intake has been shown to lower blood pressure in several studies.
In a review of 40 controlled trials, increased protein lowered systolic blood pressure by 1.76 mmHg on average, and diastolic blood pressure by 1.15 mmHg ().
One study found that, in addition to lowering blood pressure, a high-protein diet also reduced LDL cholesterol and ().
Bottom Line: Several studies have shown that a higher protein intake can lower blood pressure. Some studies also show improvements in other risk factors for heart disease.
When it comes to losing weight, protein is the king of nutrients.
As mentioned above, a high protein diet boosts metabolism and leads to automatic reduction in calorie intake and cravings ().
For this reason, it is not surprising to see that people who increase their protein intake tend to lose weight automatically ().
In one study in overweight women, eating protein at 30% of calories caused them to lose 11 pounds (5 kg) in 12 weeks, without intentionally restricting anything ().
Protein also has benefits for fat loss when intentionally restricting calories.
In a 12-month study of 130 overweight people on a calorie-restricted diet, the high-protein group lost 53% more body fat than a normal-protein group eating the same number of calories ().
Of course, losing weight is just the beginning. Maintaining the lost weight is actually a much bigger challenge for most people.
Just a modest increase in protein intake has been shown to help with weight maintenance. In one study, increasing protein from 15% to 18% of calories reduced weight regain by 50% ().
If you want to lose weight, keep it off and prevent obesity in the future, then consider making a permanent increase your protein intake.
Bottom Line: Eating a lot of protein has numerous benefits for weight loss. It can help you lose more fat, and help you keep it off in the long-term.
Many people wrongly believe that a high protein intake harms your kidneys.
It is true that in people with pre-existing kidney disease, restricting protein intake can be beneficial (). This should not be taken lightly, as kidney problems can be very serious.
However, while high protein intake may be harmful in people with kidney problems, it does NOT mean that it has any relevance to people with healthy kidneys.
In fact, numerous studies have looked at this and found that high-protein diets have no harmful effects in people who are free of kidney disease (, , ).
Bottom Line: It is true that protein can cause harm in people with kidney problems, but this has no relevance to people with healthy kidneys.
Protein can help your body repair after it has been injured.
This makes perfect sense, given that it forms the main building blocks of the body's tissues and organs.
Numerous studies have shown that eating more protein after injury can help speed up recovery (, ).
Bottom Line: Eating more protein can help you recover faster after you have been injured.
One of the consequences of aging, is that your muscles shrink.
This is referred to as age-related sarcopenia, and is one of the main causes of frailty, bone fractures and reduced quality of life in old age (, ).
Eating more protein is one of the best ways to prevent age-related sarcopenia ().
Staying physically active is also crucial, and lifting weights or doing some sort of resistance exercise can work wonders ().
Bottom Line: Eating plenty of protein can help reduce the muscle wasting associated with aging.
Even though a higher protein intake can have health benefits for many people, it is not necessary for everyone.
Most people already eat protein at around 15% of calories, which is more than enough to prevent deficiency.
However, in certain cases, people can benefit from eating much more than that, or up to 25-30% of calories.
If you need to lose weight, improve your metabolic health or gain muscle mass and strength, then ensuring that you eat enough protein is important.
Read this article for more details on exactly how much protein you should be eating.
If you want to know which foods you should eat to boost your protein intake, then this article lists 20 delicious high-protein foods.