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6 Mistakes People Make With a High Protein Diet

Don't just go hell-for-leather on the eggs and meat.

Along with HIIT, protein has really had its moment over the past couple of years. As the health and wellness movement has grown, so has the interest in the food group you learnt about in school, and lots of people have switched to high-protein diets to accompany their exercise regimens.

It's easy to see why the two go hand in hand; eating a high amount of protein allows for muscles to develop, repair and maintain themselves by keeping your metabolic rate high. And even better, it’s great for your hair, hormones, bones, and skin.

But it’s imperative, of course, to remember to take extra care when changing your diet in any way - and increasing your intake of protein is no exception. Which is why Dr Josh Axe (DC, DNS), co-founder of Ancient Nutrition is here to lend a helping hand, flagging six of the most common mistakes people make when adapting to a high protein diet:

1. Selecting unhealthy sources of protein

    Dr Axe is quick to urge you to take care when selecting proteins, as some can surprisingly be harmful to your health. "Not all protein foods are created equal. In fact, while salmon, chicken and grass-fed beef are all highly nutritious, processed meats like bacon, corned beef, sausage and jerky are often pumped full of additives and preservatives that can be harmful to your health," he says. |Not only that, but eating processed meat has been linked to a number of different diseases, including heart disease, COPD and colorectal cancer.”

So what proteins should we be eating? "Select healthy protein foods like wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, skinless poultry, eggs and dairy," Dr Axe says.

2. Neglecting plant-based proteins

    The word protein might cause meat to spring to mind, but that's not the only option, you know. "Many people think of high-protein diets as an excuse to load up on the meat, poultry and fish. However, while these foods definitely are great sources of nutrients, that doesn’t mean they should be the only protein foods in your diet.

"Plant-based protein foods are high in several key vitamins and minerals that may not be found in meat and also supply a good amount of fibre, which is essential for supporting digestive health and regularity. Beans, seeds, lentils and tempeh are a few of the top plant-based sources of protein, each of which offers a unique array of nutrients and health benefits," he explains.

3. Eating too much protein

    Protein might be good for you, but the same 'everything in moderation' rules apply to that, too. "Moderation is always key, especially when it comes to protein intake," says Dr Axe. "In fact, overdoing it on the protein can have several negative effects on health. For example, if you eat more protein than your body needs, excess amounts will be stored as fat in the body, leading to weight gain. Eating high amounts of protein can also force your kidneys to work harder, which may worsen kidney function in those with kidney disease," the doctor adds.

4. Not drinking enough water

Let’s not forget the science behind the diet. "When you eat protein, it’s broken down by the body into amino acids, which contain a compound called nitrogen. Excess nitrogen is flushed out of the body with fluids, which is why it’s important to increase your intake of water on a high-protein diet," says Dr Axe. In other words: "Be sure to up drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, especially if you’re physically active. As a general rule of thumb, aim for 30ml of water for each pound of body weight to stay hydrated."

5. Cutting out other food groups

Protein might be your new love interest, but don't sack off all the other foods that had your back before. "Protein is one key food group on the high-protein diet, but it’s not the only food group that should be considered," advises the doctor. "Carbohydrates such as fruits, veggies and whole grains, for example, are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre, all of which play a central role in health and disease. Meanwhile, healthy fats help provide energy for your body, enhance nutrient absorption and support cell growth. Putting the focus solely on protein and neglecting these other vital nutrients can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies and may take a serious toll on health over time," Dr Axe adds.

6. Not exercising

Basically, exercise and proteins are the perfect duo. So if you're going to undertake a high protein diet, you want to make sure you're doing the necessary exercise, too. "Protein is absolutely essential when it comes to muscle growth, which is why it’s often spotted as a star ingredient in post-workout shakes and supplements. However, following a high-protein diet alone won’t do much for muscle growth and exercise performance if you’re not pairing it with a regular gym routine," points out Dr Axe.

How much exercise is the right amount? "It’s typically recommended to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week along with regular strength training for each muscle group at least twice per week. Combining this with a healthy, protein-rich diet can help maximise muscle growth and optimise your routine."