At The Fitness Group, we are passionate about teaching good nutrition for sport and exercise to our students and its impact on fitness and general health. But with so many diets out there, which are the most effective for your long-term wellbeing? In this article, we explore the world of the high-protein diet, arguably the oldest soldier fighting on the front line of humanity’s battle against the bulge.
The History of High Protein Diets
The traditional consensus about the ancient human diet is that we had a high protein, low carb existence for many thousands of years until the foundation of early settlements. Therefore, our bodies are naturally evolved and aligned to that older lifestyle rather than the carb-heavy diet of the centuries that followed. Famously, the paleo diet translated this conclusion into one of the dietary world’s most publicized offerings.
So, does that mean high protein diets are best for us in the 21st century? Well, it’s not quite that simple…
The Diet Debate
Recent research has argued that humans adapted to starchy plant-based meals much earlier than we previously thought and that these carbs were critical in the growth of the human brain.All this debate makes recommending the optimal healthy diet for your clients potentially a minefield of contradictory and possibly misleading information. So in the next part of this article, we will summarise some balanced facts to cut through all the distracting chaff and help you provide solid, fact-based advice about introducing more protein into a healthy diet.
Healthy High Protein Diets: Ultimately, It’s About A Balanced Diet
Whatever the complexities around the high protein (HP) approach to dieting, there is evidence from many reputable sources that a high protein regime can lead to weight loss under the right circumstances — such as the research published by the University of Copenhagen in the International Journal of Obesity. Protein-rich foods are naturally more filling than many carbs and therefore less likely to lead someone to slip back into unhealthy snacking habits triggered by hunger — a key aspect of successful weight loss and maintaining lean muscle mass.
Of course, losing weight and reducing body fat is not always the aim of a high protein diet; it can also be targeted toward muscle growth, particularly in a sporting and fitness context. In this scenario, meal planning becomes even more critical and may include more complex carbohydrates to help them bulk up. Simple carbohydrates with higher sugar levels should still be avoided. The timing of meals, pre and post-workout, should also be factored in to maximise the benefits.
However, as with many aspects of life, too much of one thing and a lack of another tend to have repercussions. For example, there are differences between how the body processes animal and plant proteins. An overreliance on animal proteins has been associated with health conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
Here are some key recommendations to ensure your clients approach higher protein diets safely and effectively.
- Drink plenty of water. Very high protein diets are associated with dehydration, which can impact athletic performance.
- Lower carb does not mean no-carb! Encourage your clients to get the balance right.
- Avoid processed carbs in particular. These include white rice, pasta and bread. Complex carbs such as whole grains are far better for healthy adults.
- Avoid diets that excessively rely on fatty meats and saturated fat. There are plenty of lean meat protein sources such as fish and lean beef, and plant-based alternative protein sources such as soy protein and tofu are available for vegetarian or vegan diets.
- Ensure your client factors in their own unique personal health profile when considering a high protein intake diet. Actively encourage them to consult with a qualified health professional, such as their GP, to provide medical advice.
- For clients on a weight loss diet, high protein snacks from both plant and animal sources are useful to avoid unhealthy snacks. Again, lean meats with fewer calories and plant foods containing vegetable protein are ideal high protein snacks to decrease hunger and help maintain healthy body weight.
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