High-Protein Diet: Benefits, Risks and Contraindications


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The protein diet is a particular diet characterized by a reduced consumption of carbohydrates combined with a high intake of proteins and fats. Remember that proteins or proteins, after water, are the second constituent of the human body, they represent 18% of body weight because they are the indispensable “bricks” for building and “restructuring” the cells of all tissues and organs. This is why higher protein foods have played a central role in the human diet since the dawn of history well before the emergence of scientific thought and modern dietetics. Compared to other substances, they have two advantages: they cannot be stored and they produce only four calories per gram. Excess proteins are then eliminated, unlike excess carbohydrates, which produce the same calories but are stored in the form of body fat, as an energy reserve.

They are found mainly in foods of animal origin: eggs, milk, fish and meat are the protein foods par excellence as they contain the best quality proteins due to the presence of essential amino acids (molecules that are part of the protein structure). Fresh foods of plant origin, cereals, legumes and to a small extent vegetables and fruit contain a lower protein content.

Losing weight means burning more calories than those introduced, this happens not only with sporting activity and the consequent increase in metabolism, but also with the energy expenditure of maintaining vital functions. In fact, during the digestion of proteins, 25% of proteins are burned immediately after being ingested, against 3% of fats.

Scientific tests have also shown that thermogenesis (the number of calories the body burns at rest) is twice as high after a protein-rich meal than after a “normal” meal. This means that eating protein burns more energy, even without doing anything. In addition, proteins have a high satiating power, and a protein-based diet prevents the famous hunger attacks typical of other diets.

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The Functions of Proteins

Many proteins have a bioregulatory action as they form organic substances that modulate important physiological processes. These are those that make up the hormones, enzymes and antibodies, or those that have a transport function (for example the well-known LDL and HDL that transport cholesterol).

In particular conditions, proteins also have an energetic function but, while in a balanced diet this role is marginal, it is instead active during prolonged fasting or in the middle of a demanding physical activity of long duration. In both cases, the amino acids leucine, isoleucine and branched-chain valine, which play an important role as “energy suppliers” during prolonged muscular effort, are degraded for energy purposes.

Nutritionists recommend taking during the day a quantity of protein equal to about 15-20% of the daily caloric intake, this dose corresponds to a protein intake of 0.8-1.2 g of protein per kg. of body weight. To ensure the correct functioning of the organism and protect it from certain diseases, 2/3 of these proteins should derive from products of animal origin and 1/3 from products of plant origin. In the high-protein diet, significantly higher protein inputs are expected in the order of 1.8-2.2 g / kg.

The benefits of the high-protein diet

The effects of a high-protein diet are manifold:

  • keeps insulin levels constant;
  • increases the basal metabolic rate;
  • stimulates lipolysis and consequently weight loss.

The consequences of an excessive consumption of proteins depend on the total amount of energy introduced during the day, in particular if the number of calories consumed in the form of carbohydrates and lipids is sufficient to cover the energy requirements, the excess of proteins inevitably transforms, in storage fat, therefore, the diet will be high-protein and high-calorie.

If the amount of energy consumed in the form of carbohydrates and lipids is not sufficient to cover the energy requirements, the excess protein is instead used to obtain energy, therefore it will be high-protein but low-calorie.

In any case, both processes lead to an increased commitment of the liver and kidney involved in the elimination of the nitrogen contained in proteins, therefore it is always necessary to associate an adequate supply of water with a high-protein diet.

High-protein diet and sport

Nutrition is one of the factors that most contribute to achieving optimal physical fitness, a necessary prerequisite for achieving maximum athletic performance. Sports activity must be considered a particular activity, from a dietary point of view, only if carried out at a competitive level; in all other cases, only a healthy and adequate diet makes the body efficient and able to cope with training commitments.

The nutrition of the sportsman must ensure a sufficient supply of energy to cover the energy expenditure, sometimes very high, related to daily sports and related to both training and competitions. As for the general population, even for athletes, most of the food ration must be made up of carbohydrates (sugars) for 60% of the entire daily quota. They constitute the main substrate for the muscles in activity, are able to provide good energy and are represented in particular by complex sugars contained in pasta, bread, rice, corn. The proteins have a plastic function, they are taken in quantities equal to 1.0-1.5g / kg of body weight but can be increased up to 1.3-1.5 maximum 2.0g / kg of body weight desirable.

Athletes, however, are the greatest supporters of high-protein diets, especially those who practice power sports (rugby, weightlifting, sprint competitions, bodybuilding, etc.) as such a diet has some effectiveness in promoting mass gain. muscle and body fat reduction; it is not suitable for those who practice endurance sports such as running or cycling.

To protect one’s health, however, it is important that Hypoproteinemia is only one aspect of the diet and that the concept is not taken to extremes: all diets that take a particular concept to the extreme hide negative implications.

The high-protein diet is contraindicated especially in case of liver and kidney problems (renal failure, diabetic nephropathy, etc.). However, the protein intake should not exceed 1.8-2 grams / kg of body weight or 18-22% of the daily energy intake while that of fat should not exceed 40-45% of the daily energy intake. The basis of this type of diet is the combination of foods that can increase the fat burning process in the human body, resulting in weight loss.

Garima Roy
Garima Roy
A Cook, Teacher & Journalist.


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