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Who Should Try a High-Protein Diet?

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Photo: Starcevic / Getty Images

You've seen her at the gym: the toned woman who always kills it at the squat rack and seemingly lives on hard-boiled eggs, grilled chicken, and whey protein shakes. It's totally normal for you to wonder if a high-protein diet is the real secret to slimming down. Especially since it's about as trendy as healing with crystals and body positivity.

Generally paired with a low carbohydrate intake (think paleo or Atkins), a high-protein diet has been shown to boost weight-loss results, improve feelings of satisfaction after meals, and even help control blood sugar levels. Plus, it helps to repair your muscles when they tear during exercise. (Don't worry, small tears are normal. When they repair, your muscles come back stronger than before.)

But this way of eating isn't a one-size-fits-all solution for anyone looking to lose a few pounds. In fact, consuming significantly more than the recommended amount of protein (roughly 0.8 to 1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight—or 55 to 68 grams for someone weighing 150 pounds—according to nutritionist Jennifer Bowers, Ph.D.) can lead to a few issues. One University of Connecticut study reported dehydration as a problem, while other research has shown that high-protein diets are linked to an increased risk of colon cancer and kidney disease. And people on high-protein diets rich in red meat have higher levels of uric acid in their blood, which can increase the risk of gout.

So what types of people would actually benefit from a high-protein diet? Potential bodybuilders and anyone looking for short-term weight loss, says Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., cochair of the Greater New York Dietetic Association. "This way of eating isn't for long-term sustainable weight loss over a year," he says. "Anyone who has kidney function issues is at risk for kidney stones or gout, or people with diabetes or high blood pressure should definitely steer clear of them." 

As with any eating routine, Valdez advises anyone considering this type of diet to follow up with a primary care physician or registered dietitian.

"You will need higher water intake, vitamin B6 (for protein metabolism), and other vitamins like calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and iron," he says. "When you're cutting down on carbs and sugar, there's low glycogen storage in muscles, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies."

If you've got the go-ahead from your physician, then make sure you're smart about your protein picks. It's always best to reach for whole food sources of your macronutrients, rather than powdered supplements. (But, if you're in the market, these are the best protein powders for women.) Valdez recommends Greek yogurt or other popular foods that are high in protein, like salmon, beef, or tofu—roughly 3 ounces (about the size of a deck of cards) is a good serving size.

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