The media love to tell stories about how too much protein will damage our health.
However, protein is the most important macronutrient, and it is critical for our overall health.
Unfortunately, many people do not consume an adequate amount, and this is particularly true for those who need it the most.
This article presents nine science-backed health benefits of consuming more protein.
1) Protein is the Most Satiating Macronutrient
There are three macronutrients in the human diet; carbohydrate, fat, and protein.
Each of these macronutrients has its own characteristics, and each one can have a very different effect on our health.
Satiety, which can be defined as a feeling of fullness and hunger suppression, is one of the most important aspects to consider when planning a healthy diet.
Most importantly, if we feel satiated, then we won’t have hunger cravings and overeat food.
Yes, calories do matter, but regulating total energy intake is much easier if we do not feel the need to snack every few hours.
In other words; protein suppresses hunger better than an equivalent amount of carbohydrate or fat.
2) Protein Helps To Build Muscle
Consuming enough dietary protein is essential for anyone who wishes to increase their muscle mass.
Although resistance training plays an essential part in building muscle, it will be difficult to make progress without a well-formulated nutrition plan.
This lack of focus on nutrition is one mistake that many young people make; they work out hard, see a lack of results, and assume that they don’t have the right “genetics” to build muscle.
In truth, what you eat is just as important as what you lift.
There are a wealth of studies that back this up, and two recent trials showed;
- Over a 4-week period, a randomized trial demonstrated that a protein intake of 2.4 grams per kilogram of body weight increased lean body mass more than 1.2 g per kg of body weight (4).
- A systematic review analyzing 49 studies featuring 1863 participants showed that protein supplementation significantly improves strength and muscle size (5).
3) Important For Healthy Hair and Skin
What we eat is far more important for healthy hair, nails, and skin than any cosmetics regime.
On that note, protein plays an integral role in the optimal health of all of them.
When we consume protein, it breaks down into its constituent amino acids, which are known as the “building blocks” of our body.
The reason we call these amino acids “building blocks” is because they have a critical function in the growth and repair of cells within our body.
Amino acids also contribute to the formation and structure of our skin and hair, with the main component of both being a structural protein called ‘keratin’ (6).
As a result, maintaining a sufficient protein intake is beneficial for promoting healthy hair, nails, and skin.
4) Amino Acids Play a Significant Role In Immune Response
Ensuring sufficient dietary protein has various health benefits for immunity.
Notably, protein enhances the human immune system, and specific amino acids such as arginine, cysteine, and glutamine play a key role in immune response (9).
Interestingly, these amino acids may also help to improve the effectiveness of T-cells at clearing abnormal cells, including cancerous ones, from the body (10).
In stark contrast, protein malnutrition—a deficiency of dietary protein—has been shown to increase the risk of several health problems.
5) Higher Protein Intake Protects Bone and Muscle Mass In the Elderly
It is unfortunate, but the individuals who often consume the least protein are those who need it the most. The elderly.
As we age, the rate of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) declines, and the ability to build muscle falls rapidly in our 60s and 70s.
Sadly, skeletal muscle loss, frailty, and injuries often follow.
It may sound shocking, but by the time people hit their late 70s, it is common for them to have only 25% of the muscle mass they had during their prime years (15).
Despite this, we can protect against much of this muscle loss through our lifestyle habits.
For example, there are two main components involved in the regulation of MPS, and these are exercise—especially resistance training—and dietary protein intake.
Therefore, an exercise program combined with sufficient protein intake can help us to stay physically healthy as we age.
See here for a summary of the research on how much protein is “sufficient” for the elderly.
Further to this, insufficient dietary protein also raises the risk for osteoporosis and bone loss throughout adulthood (16).
Since protein plays a dual role in bone and muscle formation, ensuring an adequate intake can help to reduce the risk of age-related bone and muscle mass loss.
6) Eating More Protein Can Support Weight Loss
Quick-fix crash diets may work for a short time, but they are unsustainable, and when people go back to their regular way of eating, the weight quickly comes back.
For long-term sustainable weight loss, it is vital that we find a diet we can enjoy and follow.
As discussed earlier, the evidence clearly shows that higher protein diets improve satiety.
If we feel satisfied with the food we eat, then that gives our chosen diet the biggest chance of success.
For these reasons, diets that emphasize a greater focus on protein often enjoy a higher adherence rate.
Studies on Higher Protein Intake and Weight Loss
Here are some (of many) recent high-quality studies that examined the potential of high-protein diets for weight loss;
- A randomized clinical trial featuring 105 participants found that individuals on a high-protein diet lost more weight (7 kg) than those on a standard protein diet (5.1 kg) in a 6-month intervention. Additionally, the participants with the highest adherence rates to the high-protein diet lost “significantly more” weight (17).
- A systematic review of twenty randomized controlled trials found that participants consuming higher protein diets lost more body fat while simultaneously retaining more lean mass (18).
7) Greater Protein Intake Can Improve Body Composition
Based on the benefits discussed so far, this advantage of protein is fairly straightforward to understand.
Since protein can both assist with weight loss and promote muscle mass, higher protein diets can help to improve body composition.
For instance, a 12-month randomized clinical trial featuring 130 participants examined a high-protein diet versus a high-carbohydrate plan.
Despite calories being controlled, this study demonstrated that high-protein diets more effectively reduce body fat than high-carbohydrate diets. Additionally, this greater fat loss was especially significant in the more dangerous trunk region (19).
Extremely High Protein Intakes and Weight
Respected sports scientist Dr. Jose Antonio produced an interesting study that examined “over-consumption” of protein in resistance-trained individuals.
To summarize; the study investigated the effects of a hypercaloric diet featuring a protein intake equivalent to 5.5 times the recommended daily allowance.
Perhaps surprisingly, this extremely high protein intake led to no significant changes in fat mass or body fat percentage (20).
8) Protein-Rich Foods Are Nutrient Dense
Think of almost pure sources of carbohydrate such as sugar and refined white flour; they contain virtually no nutritional value.
We can say the same for isolated dietary fats; sure, butter and olive oil contain some fat-soluble vitamins, but we can’t call them nutrient-dense.
On the other hand, foods with high protein-density tend to be very nutritious.
For example, chicken breasts and lean pork chops are two of the most protein-dense foods.
Although they are not the tastiest food in the world, chicken breasts are not just a source of protein, and they also supply significant amounts of B vitamins, phosphorus, and selenium (21).
It is the same for lean pork chops. Once again, this protein-dense meat is rich in B vitamins, and it also provides substantial amounts of phosphorus, selenium, and zinc (22).
In summary; increasing protein intake tends to increase nutrient intake too.
9) Protein Boosts Metabolism
Whenever we eat any food, the processes involved in digesting and processing that food increase the body’s metabolic rate (23).
We sometimes refer to this effect as either the ‘thermic effect’ (TEF) or ‘diet-induced thermogenesis’ (DIT).
In simple English, this means that we must expend energy after consuming a meal to process and absorb the nutrients.
Markedly, protein has a much higher thermic effect than either carbohydrate or fat.
To put it another way; consuming protein requires the use of energy equivalent to circa 25% of its calories to digest it.
As a result, consuming greater quantities of protein leads to a greater energy expenditure than lower protein diets.
As shown in this article, dietary protein can have many health benefits.
The amount of protein we all need will vary depending on personal circumstances, activity levels, age, and other such factors.
However, increasing protein at the expense of processed carbohydrates and isolated fats can improve the nutrient-density of the average diet.
For a healthy example of a high protein, lower carbohydrate diet, see this guide here.