A high-calorie high-protein diet is one in which a greater number of calories than the body requires for energy are consumed and in which protein supplies a relatively significant number of those calories. Of the three macronutrients — carbohydrates and fat being the other two — protein typically provides the fewest of an individual’s calories at only 10-15 percent. A high-protein diet, therefore, may involve consuming 25 percent of one’s calories from protein. Individuals who may benefit from a high-calorie high-protein diet include anyone who wants to gain weight, whether the goal is to add muscle mass, recover from a disease or illness, or simply achieve a healthier body weight.
Nutrition experts generally recommend that a healthy individual consume 45-60 percent of his calories from carbohydrates, 25-30 percent from fat, and 10-15 percent from protein. Whereas carbohydrates and fat supply the body with energy and thus are needed in more substantial amounts, protein is essential for tissue repair. Whether to heal the micro-tears created in muscle tissue following a weight-lifting workout or help the body grow back healthy cells following a surgery, protein is the nutrient that facilitates this growth. This is why populations ranging from athletes and bodybuilders to cancer patients often are prescribed a high-calorie high-protein diet.
Calories are the body’s fuel source, so a high-calorie high-protein diet is also recommended for individuals looking to gain weight, particularly if that weight is from muscle. When the amount of energy taken in in the form of calories in food and drink exceeds that expended through movement, digestion, and other metabolic processes, the body stores that excess for later use as adipose tissue, or body fat. As protein is the macronutrient least likely to be accessed for energy, with carbohydrates the body’s primary source, increasing one’s protein intake while decreasing one’s carbohydrate and fat intake reduces the likelihood that these excess calories will be stored as fat. This is why bodybuilders and anyone looking to gain weight from lean muscle will turn to protein to supply the additional calories needed to support muscle growth.
Underweight individuals and those recovering from a disease can maintain their macronutrient ratios and simply increase their total calorie intake in order to gain weight. To facilitate the growth or repair of healthy tissue, however, and decrease the odds that the weight gained will come in the form of excess body fat, a high-calorie high-protein diet may be a preferred option. Obtaining these calories from high-protein, low-fat foods like lean meats, nonfat dairy, beans, and protein powders is a strategy that dietitians and doctors alike may suggest to achieve the desired weight gain.