A high-protein, low carbohydrate diet is simply what it says on the tin. It consists of eating large quantities of protein throughout the day, whilst keeping your intake of carbohydrates as low as possible.
The idea behind it is that by restricting your carbohydrates, you are inputting less ‘energy’ to your body, therefore your body will turn to your fat stores to burn for efficient fuel – and the result? Weight loss!
What is a high-protein, low carbohydrate diet?
Specifically, there is no such thing as ‘the’ high-protein, low carbohydrate diet. It is more of a diet style, so you would refer to it as being ‘a’ high-protein low carb diet.
One of the main aims of the diet is to put your body into a state known as ketosis; this is the actual term for the above process (when our body doesn’t receive enough carbohydrates, stored fat is broken down for energy.) This can be achieved by just following a high-protein, low carb diet, or you can specifically focus on entering ketosis whilst attempting to build muscle. Read more on the ketogenic diet.
Summary of the high-protein, low carb diet:
The diet is fairly simple.
✓ Try to eat minimal amounts of carbohydrates, depending on how much weight you wish to lose:
– Slow and steady weight loss:
Aim to eat under 200g carbohydrates per day.
– Moderate weight loss:
Focus on eating less than 100g per day, and for rapid weight loss less than 50g.
– A lot of weight to lose:
It might be best to try a more structured version of this diet, for example: The Atkins Diet.
✓ Furthermore, you should try to maximise your intake of fibre whilst following the diet – most of your carb allowance should be fibre-rich, satieting carbs. See more below…
High-protein, low carb diet foods
Let’s look at the foods which you should focus on consuming when following the diet in order to achieve the best results.
Leans meats should make up the bulk of your diet when following a high-protein, low carb diet plan.
Foods like chicken, turkey, lean beef, pork etc. are good choices. “Fattier” meats like lamb can be enjoyed every now and then, but you should mainly stick to the leaner cuts.
Fish is not only an excellent source of protein, but Omega-3 and essential fatty acids. You should aim to eat at least 2 portions of fish every week. Salmon, trout, tuna among others are great to add in to your diet.
Some fish are more expensive than others, but tinned fish such as tuna and salmon can be quite cheap and make for a good protein enriched snack.
Since you are not bulking out your meals with carbohydrates, you should eat large quantities of vegetables in order to keep you full and decrease cravings. Broccoli, asparagus, spinach, carrots etc. are all fantastic to add to your meals, sandwiches, salads etc.
Some vegetables contain carbs in than others, therefore it’s important keep track of how much you eat so you don’t surpass your daily intake.
✓ Healthy fats and oils
Whilst you are avoiding unhealthy processed fats, you should try to include natural healthy fats in your diet. Avocados, coconut oil, olive oil etc. are all great sources of healthy fats.
High protein, low carb diets should be filled with fruit, however, like with vegetables, some have high levels of carbohydrates and more importantly, sugars.
It’s important to monitor your intake to prevent from surpassing your daily recommended goal.
✓ Nuts and seeds
This diet allows the consumption of some complex carbohydrates (high in fibre, therefore keeping you fuller for longer – and not simple carbohydrates, such as sugar-rich foods), e.g:
✓ Sweet potatoes, brown rice, oats etc. However, it’s important to limit your intake, especially if you are following one of the lower carbohydrate principals i.e. less than 50g per day.
As far as drinking is concerned, you should focus on drinking mainly water – try infusing your water with fruits to make it a bit more interesting!
– You are allowed low calorie beverages such as tea and coffee – zero calorie/low calorie sweeteners are also acceptable.
– Alcohol can indeed hinder your progress but is okay in small quantities.
What can’t you eat on a high-protein, low carbohydrate diet?
As the name of the diet suggests, you shouldn’t be eating large amounts of carbohydrates.
This doesn’t mean to say you are unable to eat ANY carbs, but you should restrict your intake.
You should aim to keep your sugar intake as low as possible – this is classed as a simple carbohydrate.
Foods such as sweets, juices, ice cream etc. are all high in sugar, as are many other foods which you may not expect. Be sure to check how much sugar is in the foods you are eating and keep track of how much you are consuming per day.
You do not want to use up all of your carbohydrate macros on simple carbohydrates. Instead, focus on complex carbs, such as whole grains.
✗ Gluten grains
Similar to above, you should try to avoid the ‘unhealthy’ grains, such as white bread, pasta etc. These can bloat you and will use up lots of your carb macros.
✗ Trans fats
Avoid these at all costs. Whilst some healthy natural fats are okay, trans fats (click to read more) are a big no on most weight loss diets. They may be referred to as ‘hydrogenated’ on the ingredients list.
✗ Processed foods
– Cakes, bread, sweets, etc. Likewise, you should try to limit your intake of highly processed foods. It is pretty obvious which these are; unnatural foods with lots of ingredients that are mass produced.
You should avoid these foods as much as you possibly can. It is okay to have some every once in a while, maybe as a ‘cheat meal’ but you should find that your cravings will decrease as you go along and your dependence on these foods will lessen.
Benefits of a high-protein, low carbohydrate diet
The main benefit of this diet is inevitably weight loss.
✓ A low carbohydrate diet is ideal for someone who wants to lose weight quickly, or someone who has a lot of weight to lose.
With any diet, you should not begin it if you do not intend to finish it. This diet will not prove to be a quick fix so you should commit to it and you will see results.
✓ The reason this diet works so well is due to the fact that your body is forced to burn stored fat for energy, rather than carbohydrates that are consumed through your diet.
Furthermore, your body will produce less insulin due to the fact that less carbohydrates are being consumed – Insulin is a powerful hormone that promotes the storage of fat. By reducing the amount that is secreted you can prevent weight gain and promote weight loss.
✓ The diet is also great for lowing levels of LDL and raising levels of HDL, which can reduce your risk of contracting cardiovascular related diseases.
High-protein, low carb diets | Side effects
There are no specific ‘side effects’ to speak of, however the diet may not be ideal for you if you have any pre-existing medical conditions. Consuming too much protein, (without putting it to good use through training) in the long run, has been linked with kidney problems.
Furthermore, you should try to stick to lean protein sources to prevent you from consuming too much fat:
✗ This could lead to further health issues so if you are required to eat small amounts of fat, you should consult your doctor before beginning this diet to ensure it is suitable for you. That also goes for any other medical condition which you fear may be affected by the diet.
✗ Women who are pregnant require folate (folic acid) which is added to many products which are high in carbohydrates:
By cutting carbs, you are getting less folate which could be harmful. You can always supplement folic acid into your diet, however it is probably a better option to take a more conservative approach when it comes to weight loss whilst pregnant or before pregnancy.
Take Home Message
A high-protein, low carbohydrate diet is a great way for anyone to burn fat and lose weight on a short-term basis.
You should stick to the recommended foods, avoiding the ones in the ‘bad’ list and coupled with regular exercise, you should see yourself losing weight in no time.
I would personally recommended that you set yourself a calorie goal and track your macros! More information on calculating your macros can be found here.
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Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.