What Is the High-Protein Diet?

High protein diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

What is A High Protein Diet?

Protein is an essential nutrient for health. It is responsible for several vital functions in the body, including hormones, enzymes, and cell repair and maintenance. High-protein diets encourage eating more protein and fewer carbohydrates and fat to boost weight loss, improve energy, and enhance athletic performance.

Diets high in protein help decrease hunger, increase satiety, boost metabolic rate, and preserve muscle mass. However, when it comes to diets, one size doesn't fit all, and what works for one person may not work for another.

What Experts Say

"A high-protein diet often means cutting carbohydrates. A healthier approach is a balanced diet that includes about 50% of calories from carbs, 20% from protein, and 30% from fat."

Kelly Plowe, MS, RD

The 7-Day Diet Plan

While there are many different versions of a high protein diet, here is one example:

Day 1: Eggs, cottage cheese, whole grain toast, berries; Greek yogurt with banana slices; Chicken breast, greens, toasted pita wedges, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, tzatziki; Whey protein shake with milk; Sirloin steak, sweet potato, sautéed spinach.

Day 2: Oatmeal mixed with protein powder, shredded zucchini, and egg whites, berries; Hard boiled eggs, apple slices; Tuna salad on whole grain, side salad; Protein bar; Chicken pasta primavera, roasted broccoli.

Day 3: Protein pancakes, mixed berry sauce; Cottage cheese with cinnamon and diced apples; Extra-lean beef chili with beans and veggies, cornbread; Whey protein shake, pear; Grilled chicken breast, green beans, brown rice.

Day 4: Scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, sautéed asparagus; Whole grain crackers, turkey pepperoni stick; Chicken salad wrap with greens, cucumber, avocado; Boiled eggs, pita bread; Poached white fish, lemon, broccoli, rice pilaf.

Day 5: Steak, egg whites, sliced tomato, whole grain toast; Greek yogurt with grapes; White fish tacos with cabbage slaw; Mixed berry and protein powder smoothie; Black bean brownie, almonds; Salmon with teriyaki sauce, stir-fry veggies, brown rice.

Day 6: Greek yogurt bowl with fruit, boiled egg; Tuna salad on crackers and cucumber slices; Apple, almond butter, premixed protein shake; Cuban style pork loin stuffed with Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, roasted potato wedges, kale salad.

Day 7: Egg white omelet, shredded cheese, mushrooms, spinach, whole grain toast; Protein bar, apple; Steak wrap with blue cheese, mixed greens, side salad; Cottage cheese with blueberries; Beef stew with veggies and barley, green beans.

What You Can Eat

A high-protein diet generally recommends getting more than 20% of your total calories from protein. That typically means eating fewer calories from carbohydrates or fats to keep your calorie total in balance.

No foods are expressly forbidden on a high protein diet, but eating more lean proteins and fewer refined carbohydrates, sugars, and fats are recommended.

There is no suggested meal timing for a high-protein diet. However, some people on a high-protein plan also practice intermittent fasting, which involves restricting calories to specific days of the week and fasting on others, or going for extended periods without eating each day, such as 16 hours a day.

How to Prepare a High Protein Diet & Tips

Any nutritious diet for weight loss or wellness should include a balance of the three macronutrients (or macros): fat, carbohydrate, and protein. A high-protein diet contains at least 20% of calories from protein. The amount of protein you should eat depends on a few factors, including age, sex, body size, and activity level.

General guidelines advise getting 10–35% of your total calories from protein. Active adults may require 1.2–1.7 grams (g) per kilogram (kg) of body weight per day. This equates to 82–116 grams for a person weighing 150 pounds. The official recommended daily allowance (RDA) for healthy adults is a minimum of 0.8 g/kg/day, which equates to 54 grams of protein for a person who weighs 150 pounds.

If you use a calorie tracking app or website to count calories, it's easy to check your daily protein intake. Many people on a high-protein diet use apps to track their macronutrient intake to ensure they get the correct ratios of protein to carbohydrate and fat.

A typical starting ratio for a high-protein diet is 30% of calories from protein, 30% of calories from fat, and 40% from carbohydrates. But a starting ratio is just that—a starting point. Many proponents of high-protein diets find they do better with a little more or a little less of a macronutrient, which means you can adjust your macros as needed while maintaining a high-protein approach.

Following a high-protein diet typically requires:

  • Including protein at every meal: Planning meals around a protein, such as lean beef, chicken, or pork, and filling the rest of the plate with vegetables.
  • Skipping processed carbs: Instead of eating refined grains, like white rice, pasta, and bread, including small portions of whole grains that are high in protein, like amaranth or quinoa, or replacing pasta with spiraled zucchini or carrots and substituting riced cauliflower for white rice.
  • Snacking on protein: Keeping high-protein snacks like almonds, Greek yogurt, hummus, ricotta, and string cheese on hand for when between-meal hunger strikes.
  • Starting your day with protein: Focusing on high-protein breakfast foods like eggs and smoothies made with protein powder, such as whey, pea protein, or collagen.

We've tried, tested, and reviewed the best protein powders. If you're in the market for a protein powder, explore which option may be best for you.

Sample Shopping List

Well-rounded high-protein diets often emphasize lean protein, nutrient-packed vegetables and berries, and whole grains. The following shopping list provides suggestions for getting started with a high-protein lifestyle. Note that this is not a definitive shopping list, and you may find other foods that work better. If you plan to buy in bulk, fill your cart with various fresh and frozen meats, seafood, and even berries to stock your fridge and freezer.

  • Lean cuts of red meat (sirloin tip, top round, filet mignon)
  • 75–80% lean ground beef
  • Chicken breasts and thighs
  • Seafood filets (salmon, cod, halibut)
  • Beans (black, pinto, kidney)
  • Vegetables (dark leafy greens, peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower)
  • Soy milk
  • Low-fat milk, cheeses, and yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds)
  • Berries (blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries)
  • Whole grains (quinoa, amaranth, barley)

Other Versions

Some versions of a high protein diet are less well-rounded than the examples provided here. The basic premise of a high protein diet is to eat a larger amount of protein than other conventional diets. Some people eat processed foods, fatty foods, and/or sugary foods along with a high amount of protein. Examples include the "if it fits your macros" (IIFYM) style of eating, or low-carb diets that focus on high fat foods like bacon and cheese.

Sample Meal Plan

Each meal on a high-protein diet features a serving of protein accompanied by plenty of vegetables and smaller servings of certain fruits and whole grains. You can also snack on protein in between meals to curb hunger. Nuts or low-fat string cheese are great options.

The following three-day meal plan offers a glimpse at what a high-protein diet might look like. You can choose to accompany these meals with water or a glass of wine at dinner. Keep in mind that if you decide to follow this diet, other meals may be more appropriate to suit your tastes and preferences.

Environmental Considerations

Environmentally-conscious individuals may note that red meat is the first item on the sample high protein diet grocery list. While the diet does encourage some red meat consumption, it's worth acknowledging that if red meat is a concern (whether environmentally or personally), you are still able to fully follow a high protein diet by substituting red meat with other proteins mentioned. This could mean adhering to a "once a week" red meat consumption or eliminating the food altogether—whatever balance you deem most appropriate.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Pros of A High Protein Diet

There are several benefits of a high protein diet.

  • You'll feel fuller longer. Including protein in your meals and snacks can help you to feel full and satisfied, which may help with portion control.
  • You'll build and maintain more muscle mass. A strong body performs better throughout daily activities, and muscles also burn more calories than fat, even at rest.
  • You may be more inclined to choose nutrient-dense foods. When you plan a meal around a lean source of protein, you have less space on your plate for less nutritious foods. And learning to eat different types of protein may also improve your diet. If you eat tuna, for example, you not only benefit from the fish's protein but also the healthy fat it provides.
  • May help with weight loss and maintenance: Eating a diet that includes plenty of lean protein provides several benefits when you're trying to lose weight. High-protein diets help build and preserve muscle mass, boost your metabolism, and increase satiety.
  • Boosts calorie burn: You also burn a few extra calories when you eat protein because your body has to work harder to chew and digest the food. This is known as the thermic effect of food. Keep in mind, however, that the number of extra calories burned is small so you shouldn't create an entire weight loss program based solely on this benefit. 

Cons of A High Protein Diet

Like most diets, there are potential drawbacks to eating a high-protein diet.

  • Nutrient deficiencies are possible. A high-protein diet is often lacking in dietary fiber which can cause constipation and other health concerns. Getting enough dietary fiber is not only important for colonic health, but it also helps reduce inflammation and protect against cancer.
  • High-fat and processed foods are sometimes encouraged. Certain versions of high-protein diets also advocate for eating high-fat foods, such as fatty cuts of beef, full-fat dairy, and processed and cured meats such as deli meat, sausage, bacon, and hot dogs. These are not the best choices for a balanced diet since foods like these are often associated with heart disease and cancer.
  • Too much protein may be unsafe for those with chronic diseases. People with kidney disease should not follow a high-protein diet without first speaking to their doctor. The body converts excess protein to glucose to be used for energy, which could cause a spike in blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
  • Can be restrictive: Some high-protein diets severely restrict carbohydrates and can result in nutritional deficiencies and a lack of fiber, which can lead to constipation and other health concerns. In addition, a high-protein diet can cause bad breath.
  • May not be suitable for people with kidney issues: Excess protein is excreted through the kidneys, which may worsen kidney function among people with kidney disease. In addition, protein metabolism results in nitrogen (ammonia) production. Nitrogen must be excreted via the urine. As a result, people on high protein diets are at increased risk of dehydration and need to drink more water.
  • May be high in saturated fats: Though most high-protein diets advocate for lean protein choices, others include and even encourage protein sources that are high in saturated fats. A diet high in saturated fats can increase your risk of heart disease, and studies have noted an association between processed meat intake and cancer.

While high-protein diets may have many benefits, there are some potential negatives. While this eating approach may be an effective strategy for losing weight, important food groups such as fruits and grains are often cut out, which does not provide a well-rounded diet.

Is a High-Protein Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

Many experts recommend following a reduced-calorie, high-protein diet for weight loss. A diet focused on lean protein, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains is generally considered a reasonable, balanced way to lose weight.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines provide recommendations for a healthy, balanced diet. The 2020–2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended percentage breakdown of macronutrients is as follows:

  • Protein: 10–35% of daily calories
  • Fat: 20–35% of daily calories
  • Carbohydrates: 45–65% of daily calories

For healthy adults, the recommended dietary allowance for protein (RDA) is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, which means you should eat slightly less than 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of body weight every day at a minimum. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds (68 kilograms), you should eat at least 54 grams of protein each day.

A high-protein diet that includes vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean meats, beans and legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy, and healthy oils fits within the good health guidelines. To lose weight, the USDA recommends a reduction of 500 calories per day. On a 2,000 calorie diet, that equates to roughly 1,500 calories per day, but this number varies based on age, sex, weight, and activity level. Use this calculator to determine the right number of calories for you.

There are a few different varieties of high-protein diets including the Atkins Diet, Dukan Diet, and Whole30. Here's how they compare:

  • Atkins diet: The Atkins Diet is a low-carb, high-protein diet that limits total carb intake to 20 grams per day to start, increasing to 100 grams a day, and ending with a maintenance phase.
  • Dukan diet: The Dukan Diet is a low-carbohydrate, low-fat, and high-protein weight loss program based on the premise that it's hard to lose weight when you are hungry and focuses on lean proteins and fat-free dairy, which boost satiety.
  • Whole30: The Whole30 is a 30-day diet intended as a short-term "reset" of your body (aiming to reduce cravings and break sugar addiction) that eliminates sugar, alcohol, grains, dairy, and most legumes, which basically leaves meat, vegetables, and fruit.

If you exercise for weight loss, you may want to consume more protein. A position statement developed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the Dietitians of Canada (DC), and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that exercisers should consume between 1.2 grams and 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. 

A Word From Verywell

The best diet for you is a diet that offers you the nutrients and fuel your body needs while also being a plan you can stick to. For some, this is a high-protein weight loss plan. If eating more protein helps you to eat less all day and build a stronger, more active body, then it may be a good program for you.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.