Some people, such as athletes, may need more protein in their diet.
This article will discuss the health benefits of protein, guidelines for how much protein to eat, how to eat more protein in your diet, and what complications to watch for.
A person’s protein needs may change throughout their life based on their age and activity level. As a 2019 article in Nutrients He explains, much of the recommended protein levels are aimed at preventing muscle mass loss.
However, merely preventing muscle loss is different than optimizing protein intake. Optimum protein levels may be different than the levels you need simply to function.
Proteins are crucial because they function as the building blocks of your body. Proteins are key for:
Risks and health effects of too much protein
Overall, there is no clear scientific evidence that high protein diets for people without underlying health conditions are harmful.
In fact, a 2020 meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal presented compelling evidence that high protein diets are actually associated with several positive health outcomes. That study found that people who ate high protein diets from both animal and plant sources actually had lower rates of death. People in the study who consumed protein primarily through plant-based sources had even lower rates of disease and death.
People with kidney disease may need to avoid a high protein diet. If your kidneys are not working properly, it is more challenging for the body to use protein correctly. According to the American Kidney Fund, people with kidney damage may have protein leaking into their urine, which can lead to symptoms such as:
One 2020 study in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology He suggested that long-term consumption of a high protein diet may be linked to metabolic problems for those with a preexisting kidney disorder.
However, the study also said there is no clear evidence that eating large amounts of protein is dangerous for healthy individuals. It also explained that there is not a clear consensus on what a “high protein” diet entails for every person.
People may experience symptoms if they do not have underlying conditions and eat a high protein diet that is not balanced with other nutrients or if they suddenly switch to a high protein diet. These symptoms may include:
It is important to continue to eat a balanced diet while increasing your protein levels. Some popular diets, such as the Atkins diet, that promote high protein and low carbohydrates, can lead to nutritional deficiencies in some people.
Recommended protein intake
The standard recommendation is that healthy adults should eat at least 0.8 g of protein per kg of body weight. However, many adults may actually need more than 0.8 g/kg for optimum health.
For instance, athletes may need a higher intake of protein each day. A 2017 review from the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommended that athletes should eat 1.4–2 g/kg daily, with some athletes even needing more than 3 g/kg.
A 2016 review also stated that older adults should consume 1.2–2.0 g/kg of protein daily to help minimize or prevent the loss of muscle mass due to aging.
Protein needs will vary by medical conditions, age, and physical activity levels. You should talk to your doctor about your own protein needs.
High protein diet benefits
Eating a high protein, balanced diet within the recommended amounts can have benefits for your overall health. For example, it may:
- Reduce appetite and hunger levels: Swapping some of your carbohydrates or fats with protein can help suppress your appetite and decrease your hunger hormone.
- Increase muscle mass and strength: Eating more protein helps you grow muscle mass during training and helps maintain strength. It can also help reduce age-related muscle loss.
- Help maintain muscle while decreasing fat: Eating high protein foods helps decrease fat mass while preserving your muscle mass.
- Help your body heal injuries: Because proteins are the building block of your body, increasing your protein intake helps your body heal more efficiently.
Safety of high protein diets
Most people can safely consume the recommended amounts of protein.
People who use higher energy levels throughout the day may benefit from consuming more protein. This may include people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, athletes, or those who work physically demanding jobs.
When to avoid high protein diets
People who have preexisting kidney conditions need to discuss protein levels with their healthcare professionals. Eating too much protein when you have damaged kidneys may cause further problems.
People with diabetes should also discuss major dietary changes with their healthcare professionals as well. Drastic changes in your diet can affect your glucose levels.
How to choose healthy proteins
Many healthy proteins are available. Eating a variety of proteins will help you get more needed nutrients. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating proteins from both animal and plant sources, as well as the subgroups of eggs, nuts, and soy products to get the best range of nutrition.
When choosing an animal protein, opt for lean or low fat meats such as lean ground beef, pork loin, and skinless chicken breasts.
For seafood, choose options that are high in healthy fatty acids but lower in mercury, such as anchovies, salmon, and trout.
If you are vegan, many plant-based food sources contain high amounts of protein, such as beans, peas, and whole grains.
Healthy proteins to choose from may include:
- soy products
Read more about healthy sources of protein.
Eating a high protein diet comes with several health benefits. However, some people, like those with kidney issues, can be at risk of eating too much protein.
It is best to eat protein from a variety of sources, including animal and plant sources. These may include lean beef, poultry, eggs, seafood, beans, and lentils. If you are switching to eating a diet higher in protein, you should talk to your doctor about how much protein to eat and which foods are best for you.