Slightly upping your protein intake on a low-calorie diet may help you feel more satiated on fewer calories so that you eat less and achieve your weight-loss goals. It will also help you maintain lean muscle mass as you lose fat. But a 1,200-calorie diet isn't suitable for everyone, high protein or not. Many men won't be able to meet their nutritional needs on such a low-calorie diet, and neither will some women who weight more than 165 pounds or who exercise regularly. Always check with your doctor before starting a low-calorie diet.
How Much Protein You Need
National guidelines for protein intake recommend adults get anywhere from 10 to 35 percent of their calories from protein. On a high-protein diet, you'll want to stay on the upper end of that spectrum, getting about 25 to 35 percent of your calories from protein. That means you'll need about 300 to 420 calories or 75 to 105 grams of protein each day. Divide that up into four or five small meals eaten at regularly spaced intervals, each offering an average of 250 calories and 15 to 21 grams of protein. According to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in November 2011, people who eat smaller meals more frequently are better able to maintain weight loss.
High-Protein Foods to Include
With such a low calorie allotment, it's crucial to choose lean sources of protein so you don't go over your calorie limit for the day. Some good choices are nonfat cottage cheese; shrimp and tuna; egg whites; turkey and chicken breast; tofu; lean meats like sirloin; beans; and seitan, a vegetarian protein made from wheat.
For a satisfying morning meal with 270 calories and 24 grams of protein, whip up an egg-white omelet with one whole large egg and two large egg whites. Add a cup of chopped broccoli and 1 ounce of Swiss cheese. Have half a grapefruit on the side for a dose of filling fiber.
Midmorning, blend up a smoothie with one scoop of whey isolate protein powder, 1/2 cup of nonfat milk and a medium banana for 240 calories and 22 grams of protein.
At lunchtime, have 2 ounces of roasted chicken breast without skin, with 1/2 cup of brown rice and 10 baby carrots for about 235 calories and 19 grams of protein.
Snack on 1/2 ounce of almonds, 3 ounces of light tuna in water and 1/2 cup of raspberries for about 230 calories and 23 grams of protein.
For your last meal of the day, enjoy 4 ounces of baked tofu, 1/2 cup of quinoa and a cup of cooked spinach for 210 calories and 17 grams of protein.
Vary your sources of protein among animal and plant foods to control your intake of unhealthy saturated fat and to get more healthy unsaturated fats. Eat at least two servings of fish each week to increase your intake of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Don't go above 35 percent of your calories from protein, as there are certain risks that come with eating too much protein. These include dehydration, kidney problems and a loss of calcium that, over time, can lead to osteoporosis.