What is a 'High Protein Diet'
They are everywhere... Stars use them, famous Mum's do it to get into shape after childbirth and athletes use them too. Even the CSIRO wrote a best selling book about it. Have you ever wondered what constituted a high protein diet and how you would go about it? Read on for the ins and outs of eating the "high protein" way.
Why is it called a "high protein diet?" Well, mainly because there are more protein foods in the diet in comparison to carbohydrates or fat i.e. a high carbohydrate or high fat diet. It doesn't mean that you just eat large amounts of protein. In fact most high protein diets allow for an abundance of fresh vegetables and occasional low glycemic carbohydrates. High protein diets are usually low in calories to stimulate weight loss.
The high protein diet is not a fad diet or miracle cure just for weight loss. In fact if you look at humans from an evolutionary standpoint you will see that we evolved on a predominately protein diet. If it swam, had feathers or ran through the bushes then we caught it and ate it. Body builders and strength athletes have used high protein diets since the 1940's when they would eat copious amounts of steak and eggs and drink whole milk (before it was ruined by pasteurisation and homogenisation).
Why would you follow a high protein diet for weightloss? Well when your calories are low and protein intake is adequate, amino acids (that's what protein is) are used for muscle growth and recovery. And if fat burning is important to you then muscle growth is a priority. Unlike fat tissue, muscle is highly metabolically active. The more muscle you have the more revved up your metabolism will be. The result is more fat burned during exercise and at rest.
Scientists have discovered that protein (in particular whey protein as found in protein powder) can help suppress appetite. Whey protein increases the secretion of an appetite controlling hormone called cholecystokinin (CCK). CCK acts on a part of the brain that regulates that feeling of fullness you get from a meal and prevents overeating.
Carbohydrates (carbs) aren't completely eliminated, just reduced. Carbs enter the bloodstream in the form of glucose, an immediate fuel supply for your body. When glucose is abundant there is no reason for you to access those fat stores. Also eating carbs causes the pancreas to secrete insulin, the hormone that clears the blood of carbs, amino acids and fat. The more insulin that is released (a large carb meal for example) the faster carbs are cleared from the bloodstream, providing less chance to burn them for energy. If your carb "stores" are already full then the liver converts them to fat - stored energy. When protein is consumed with carbs it slows their absorption and less insulin is released, giving your body more time to burn the incoming calories and giving you steady, even energy levels.
A meal on a high protein diet would contain a protein source - chicken, fish, beef, eggs or protein powder. Stick with fresh vegetables, some fruit, and low glycemic, gluten free carbs such as rice and corn pasta, brown rice, white potato and sweet potato. Eliminate simple sugars such as juice, alcohol and processed food. Remember to always eat protein with carbs, and eat frequent small meals every 2 ½ to 3 hrs. The longer you make your body wait between meals the less efficient it becomes at building muscle and burning fat. And increase your water intake - high protein increases urine output so drink lots. Water is also required to flush toxins from the body (metabolic by-products from fat burning etc) and for proper hydration.
During a high protein diet ensure that you are getting a variety of fresh vegetables. Vegies will provide you with plenty of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Aim to have a serve of vegetables at every meal. This will beat the monotony of eating the high protein way, add colour to your plate and help keep you "regular".
If you are stuck for time or just not hungry but you are due for a meal, then this is the time for a protein shake. The shake is not a substitute for real food. However it is a valuable convenience food or supplement to a high protein diet. Protein powders come in a variety of delicious flavours and mix well on water, allowing you to keep calories down. Look for a protein powder that lists whey protein (whey protein isolate or concentrate) as the main ingredient and does not contain any added sugars.
A small protein shake can be used 20 mins before a meal to create a feeling of satiety (fullness) and preventing you from overeating by its influence on the hormone CCK.
Of course your high protein diet must be used in conjunction with a regular exercise program for best results. You don't have to become a gym junkie to reap the benefit either. Taking a daily walk (hint - if your dog is overweight then both of you need more walks) and getting into the gym three times per week is plenty. Be sure to take some before photos of yourself as you'll be pleased with the results.