Very few people suffer from protein deficiency, but this does not mean that increasing your intake is not important for health.
A protein-rich diet has many health benefits and science has confirmed them in numerous studies.
Learn what proteins are for and what role they have in your health.
1. Increase muscle mass and strength
Protein is an essential macronutrient that makes up muscles, tendons, organs, and skin and is used to produce enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and other molecules.
Without protein, life as we know it would not be possible.
Since proteins are one of the components of muscles and these tissues tend to break down and regenerate, it is obvious to think that proteins serve to increase muscle mass.
And that’s right: a plentiful intake of protein helps rebuild worn-out and deteriorated muscle tissue and contributes to muscle gain (1).
However, protein consumption should be combined with weight-bearing exercises when your goal is to build a lot of muscle mass.
Likewise, increasing protein intake also helps prevent muscle loss that normally occurs when a person diets to lose weight .
Protein prevents muscle loss while keeping your metabolism up and your body burning fat (2).
Regarding the amount of protein needed to gain muscle, experts disagree.
The general recommendation is to consume 2.2 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight , but many studies suggest that between 1.5 and 2.2 g of protein are sufficient – depending on each person (3).
2. Reduce the desire to eat
The main characteristic of proteins is their powerful satiating effect.
When you eat protein-rich foods , you feel full more easily and your stomach stays fuller for longer.
Numerous studies have confirmed that a high protein intake translates into a spontaneous and automatic reduction in calorie intake , reaching up to 441 fewer calories per day (4).
The feeling of satiety produced by proteins is due to the way in which they affect weight-regulating hormones (5):
- Levels of the satiety hormones GLP-1, peptide YY, and cholecystokinin are increased.
- They reduce levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin.
In short, a diet rich in protein reduces appetite and hunger , automatically restricting the number of calories ingested without even realizing it.
3. Burn more calories
When consuming a food, your body needs to burn calories to digest and metabolize it in order to make use of the nutrients it contains.
Depending on the thermic effect of each food, your body will need more or less calories and, specifically, proteins require more calories to metabolize than carbohydrates or fats, for example (6).
In this way, it has been shown that a diet rich in protein increases metabolism and increases calorie burning by up to 80-100 calories per day (7).
A person who consumes large amounts of protein can burn up to 260 more calories than a person who consumes little protein, which is equivalent to one hour of moderate-intensity workouts (8).
4. Eliminate Cravings
Cravings are a kind of “reward” that our brain asks for without having a physiological need, that is, without being hungry.
When you have a craving, you feel like eating something sweet, full of calories , and most of the time it is very difficult not to be tempted.
For this reason, the best way to beat a craving is not to have it, and here protein can be your best ally.
According to various studies, a protein diet decreases cravings by up to 60% and the desire to snack late at night by 50% (9).
The following graph shows the difference in cravings and desire to eat during the night of two groups of individuals who ingest different amounts of protein (9):
As you can see, the group that ingests more protein has half the cravings and desire to snack at night than the group that ingests less protein.
5. Lose weight and keep it off
At this point, you can deduce that eating protein helps you lose weight , right?
You have already seen that protein significantly reduces appetite, increases calorie burning and prevents cravings, all positive factors that lead to weight loss.
Some research shows that consuming 30% of your total daily calories in the form of protein produces a weight loss equivalent to 5 kilos (10).
In the same way, a protein diet significantly increases the elimination of abdominal fat , which accumulates around the organs making your belly grow and is the cause of various diseases (11).
However, what you cannot imagine is that protein intake not only helps you lose weight , but also helps you keep it off.
In one study, increasing protein intake by just 3% decreased weight regain by 50% ( 12).
6. Prevent bone diseases
Excessive protein intake has always been believed to increase the risk of osteoporosis and other bone diseases.
Protein can cause some weakening of the bones by increasing the body’s acid levels, as the body draws on calcium from the bones to neutralize it.
However, this only occurs in the short term and many studies have confirmed that a diet rich in protein positively affects the bone system in the long term (13).
In other words, a high amount of protein increases calcium retention and absorption and improves bone metabolism , which translates into a lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures , especially in the elderly and postmenopausal women (14).
7. Regulate the tension
There is some scientific evidence that a high protein intake favors the reduction of blood pressure in patients suffering from hypertension, a risk factor for many cardiovascular diseases.
Several studies have revealed that increasing protein intake can reduce systolic blood pressure by 1.76 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 1.15 mmHg (15).
There is also evidence that a protein diet helps reduce LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels (16).
8. Recover after an injury
Protein deficiency has been associated with a lower rate of scarring and healing, reduced collagen production, and wound dehiscence, that is, the spontaneous opening of a sutured area, with “stitches” (17).
Having said this, it can be concluded that a diet rich in protein can remarkably promote wound healing and healing and accelerate tissue recovery after injury.
9. Protect your muscles from aging
Over the years, your health gradually deteriorates in many aspects and muscles are one of the victims of aging.
Sarcopenia is one of the main diseases that attacks people of advanced age and consists of the degenerative loss of muscle mass and strength .
It is a disease associated with age and its prevention is possible through an increase in protein consumption (18).
Physical exercise is also another method of prevention, and weight lifting or resistance training can significantly reduce the risk of sarcopenia (19).
10. They do not harm your kidneys
Experts advise people with kidney problems to avoid consuming too much protein , as it can make the situation worse (20).
However, this does not mean that protein intake harms or damages your kidneys.
Numerous studies have confirmed that protein diets do not negatively affect the health of your kidneys when they are fully healthy (21).