Protein is one of three macronutrients (the others are fat and carbohydrates) that our bodies use in large amounts to carry out the various processes that keep our systems going.
“Your body needs proteins, as they are the building blocks of the muscle mass they help maintain and help tissues and cells grow and repair,” explains Roxana Ehsani, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D.N., dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Proteins also work to carry substances through your bloodstream; think transporting nutrients or oxygen to your tissues.”
Fall short on this vital macronutrient and you may face health complications including muscle loss, edema, and fatty liver disease, warns Ehsani.
Though different people have different protein needs based on factors such as age, weight, activity level, and fitness goals, some people can stand to benefit from a higher-protein diet. While there’s really no single standard for what is considered “high-protein,” The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N., considers about 0.5 grams per pound of body weight per day (and up) enough to yield benefits. Another way of looking at it? Getting 25 to 30 percent of your total calories from protein.
So, what does a high-protein diet’s impressive resume look like? Here are five benefits to note.
1. Muscle Maintenance
Maintaining adequate muscle mass is important in helping protect your body against myriad diseases, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Without sufficient protein, our bodies are unable to repair, rebuild, and maintain our muscle mass properly,” explains Ehsani. “In other words, when consuming a high-protein diet, our body can better prevent a loss of muscle mass compared to when we are eating a low-protein diet.”
Read More: 9 Easy Ways To Increase Your Protein Intake
Better yet, pair a high-protein diet with strength training exercises and you’ll not only maintain muscle mass but experience muscle growth, Ehsani adds.
2. Weight Management
Protein-rich foods temporarily rev up your metabolism as they make their way through your digestive tract and are absorbed by your body, explains Ehsani. For this reason, it’s not uncommon to experience weight loss when you start consuming a high-protein diet. “It simply takes extra energy in order to metabolize protein,” she says. (Yep, the body burns more calories digesting, absorbing, and metabolizing protein than the other two macronutrients.)
Plus, since muscle is more metabolically active than fat mass, the more muscle you have, the more energy you burn throughout the day, whether you’re resting or exercising, Ehsani explains. This means that getting enough protein to support muscle mass is ultimately good news for your weight.
3. healthy bone mass
A high-protein diet can help support bone health, too. “Bones are composed of proteins and people who eat more protein tend to better maintain their bone mass, especially as they age, and bone mass slowly declines over time,” Ehsani says. “Consuming enough protein can help reduce risk of bone disease like osteoporosis and prevent fractures.”
One of the most common reasons a meal might leave you looking for a snack just minutes later: It lacked protein! Yep, this macronutrient is a major player in feeling satiated. You see, protein naturally lowers your body’s level of the hunger hormone ghrelin, while increasing levels of peptide YY, which helps reduce appetite, Ehsani explains.
Read More: 8 High-Protein Snacks Nutritionists Love
To take full advantage of protein’s satiating benefits, she recommends aiming for 15 to 25 grams of protein per meal and 10 to 12 per snack. “Many people tend to eat foods low in protein earlier in the day than a big portion of protein at dinner time, but it should be more spread out throughout the day since our bodies don’t store protein,” she explains.
5. Healthy Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (a.k.a. hypertension) affects nearly half of all American adults and can lead to further health problems such as heart attacks, stroke, and kidney disease, according to the American Heart Association. Interestingly, one review published in PLoS One identified a link between higher protein consumption and lower blood pressure. (It’s worth noting that plant protein, in particular, may be responsible for this positive relationship.)