The High Protein Diet Guide: Food Lists + Tips To Increase Protein Intake

High-protein diets seem to be all the rage.

But, what does a high protein diet look like? What are the best protein diets for overall health? What are some good tips for how to eat more protein if you do want to try a high-protein diet?

In this high protein diet guide, we will discuss the benefits of a high-protein diet, what to eat when following one, and tips for how to eat more protein if you want to follow a high-protein meal plan.

We will look at: 

  • What Is A High Protein Diet?
  • Benefits of a High Protein Diet
  • What Can You Eat On a High Protein Diet?
  • Is a High Protein Diet Bad for You?
  • How to Increase Protein Intake

Let’s get started!

A variety of high protein foods such as meat, poultry, dairy, legumes and nuts.

What Is A High Protein Diet?

Protein is one of the three macronutrients—alongside fats and carbohydrates.

A high protein diet isn’t a specific weight loss diet or defined dietary pattern with rigid rules about what you can eat, what you can’t eat, or even how much protein you have to eat every day.

Rather, high-protein diets describe an eating pattern that focuses on eating more protein than the typical Western Diet or recommended macronutrient ratio.

In general, most health and nutrition experts recommend a daily macronutrient balance where 50% of your total daily calories come from carbohydrates, 30% come from fat, and 20% of your calories come from protein.

There is some variability with all of these numbers, but a high protein diet is defined as one that increases the relative percentage of calories coming from protein or, generally, by decreasing carbohydrate intake. 

Sometimes, high protein diets also reduce fat intake, but the more common and more significant difference in what you eat with a high protein diet vs a standard diet is that you will cut carbs and increase protein intake.

A variety of high protein foods such as meat, poultry, dairy, legumes and nuts.

The purpose of a high protein diet is generally to support weight loss, boost metabolism, encourage muscle growth and repair, and boost athletic performance.

Because research has found that protein tends to be the most satiating macronutrient, high protein diets are thought to help control appetite so that you consume fewer calories per day and lose weight. 

Additionally, adequate protein intake is necessary to preserve muscle mass, especially when you are in a caloric deficit, in order to prevent the body from metabolizing muscle tissue. Muscle loss decreases your metabolic rate, which can slow your metabolism over time.

Thus, the high protein diet is generally a weight loss diet intended to help keep you feeling full while preserving muscle mass and vital functions of the body. Dietary protein serves as amino acids, as amino acids are the building blocks of larger protein molecules.

There are many functions of amino acids in the body as well as assembled proteins.

Amino acids are required to produce enzymes (proteins) to catalyze biochemical reactions, hormones, and repair muscles, and form other components of cells and tissues.

Post it notes that say benefits.

Benefits of a High Protein Diet

Here are some of the top potential high protein diet benefits:

Studies suggest that protein helps you feel full and satisfied due to its ability to increase the production of a hormone called peptide YY

Additionally, evidence suggests that a high-protein diet may support weight loss by decreasing the production of the “hunger hormone“ ghrelin and boosting metabolic rate.

Furthermore, evidence suggests that eating protein-rich foods and vegetables before starchy carbohydrates in a meal helps regulate blood sugar levels and decreases insulin secretion compared to when the foods are eaten in reverse order.

Ultimately, many studies have found that long-term adherence to high protein diet plans does seem to decrease food intake, body weight, and body fat percentage.

A variety of high protein foods such as meat, poultry, dairy, legumes and nuts.

What Can You Eat On a High Protein Diet?

So, what does a high protein diet look like?

Due to the laxity in the definition of a “high-protein diet “ and the fact that it is more of a descriptor for how you balance your nutrient intake between macronutrients, there is no single meal plan or diet menu that will necessarily represent all iterations of a high protein diet.

Rather, you can follow a vegan high protein diet by focusing on plant-based proteins like beans, tofu, seitan, lentils, other legumes, nutritional yeast, spirulina, and whole grains.

However, because many vegan sources of protein also contain carbohydrates, it can be difficult to get a “high-protein“ characterization of a high-protein diet with a strictly vegan diet, though it is possible, especially if you consume a very low-fat diet. 

However, this is not necessarily ideal for optimizing health, promoting satiety, and supporting weight loss.

A variety of high protein foods such as meat, poultry, dairy, legumes and nuts.

Vegetarians, flexitarians, and pescatarians—who allow for the consumption of some animal products into the diet can more easily follow a plant-based high-protein diet by also incorporating eggs, low-fat dairy products, and fish (except for vegetarians).

However, most people that follow high-protein diets consume animal products as an emphasis in the diet since animal products tend to be high-protein foods. 

The goal is to try to get 20-25 grams of protein per meal.

Here are some common foods found on high-protein diet meal plans:

  • Poultry such as turkey, chicken, quail, and squab
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat dairy products, including skim milk and low-fat milk, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, etc.
  • Lean meat such as lean beef, lean pork, bison, lamb, cold cuts, turkey sausage, etc.
  • Fish and seafood, including tuna, salmon, cod, trout, sardines, scallops, muscles, shrimp, lobsters, clams, oysters, squid, etc.
  • Soy products such as tofu, tempeh, and soy milk
  • Legumes such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts
  • Seeds and nuts, including nut butters and seed butters
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Seitan (vital wheat gluten)
  • Protein-rich whole grains such as quinoa and whole wheat
  • Spirulina
  • Protein supplements, including protein powders, protein bars, bone broth, and collagen powder

There are no specific foods that you can’t eat on a nonspecific high-protein diet. 

The High Protein Diet Guide: Food Lists + Tips To Increase Protein Intake 1

Is a High Protein Diet Bad for You?

Although there are health and weight loss benefits of a high-protein diet, consuming too much protein can also be deleterious to your health, according to nutrition experts.

For example, studies show that chronic high-protein intake that exceeds 2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day for adults may cause digestive, renal, and vascular dysfunction and should be avoided.

Excessive protein intake, most notably, can cause kidney strain and can be deleterious to bone health.

How to Increase Protein Intake

Here are some tips for how to eat more protein if you want to start following a high protein diet:

Grilled chicken.

#1: Prioritize Protein

If you want to take on a high protein meal plan, you need to prioritize protein at every meal.

This not only means trying to center your menu planning around a protein but also consuming the protein first before filling up on starchy carbs or even green veggies if you tend to have a small appetite.

When you are following a high protein diet meal plan, prioritizing protein and vegetables at the beginning of every meal will not only help ensure that you are getting all of the protein you need but also that you are best managing your blood sugar and insulin levels.

#2: Have a High Protein Breakfast

A good way to eat more protein is to start your day with a high-protein breakfast. 

Studies have found that people who consume eggs for breakfast instead of breakfast cereal stay fuller for longer after the meal, and an egg breakfast may even decrease caloric intake at subsequent meals.

An omlette.

A breakfast of three large eggs will provide about 19 grams of protein

Other high-protein breakfast ideas include cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, protein pancakes, or a tofu scramble.

One cup of cottage cheese provides about 23 grams of protein, and studies show it can be as filling as eggs.

#3: Change Your Snacks

Swap snacks of plain fruit or other high-carb snacks for high-protein snacks.

An ounce of almonds, for example, provides 6 grams of protein

Low-sodium jerky, roasted chickpeas, edamame, hummus, hard-boiled eggs, and regular cheese can be good snacks for a high protein diet meal plan.

A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of cheddar cheese provides just five more calories but a full 7 grams of protein, plus a significant percentage of your daily value of calcium. 

One cup (155 grams) of edamame provides nearly 19 grams of protein. This nutritious legume is also high in an antioxidant known as kaempferol, which has been shown to reduce blood sugar and possibly support weight loss

You can also make healthy protein shakes with protein powder, Greek yogurt, veggies, fruit, and some nut butter or flax seeds.

Many studies suggest that whey protein powder may be the best in terms of curbing appetite.

For another high-protein diet option, check out the 40-40-20 diet here.

Protein powders and shakes.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.