Bowl of hard-boiled eggs that is a good source of protein for energy

Does protein give you energy?

Medically reviewed on April 24, 2023 by Jordan Stachel, MS, RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Packing your diet with plenty of protein has numerous potential health benefits, from aiding muscle development to supporting the immune system. After all, proteins are the building blocks of the body, and they’re necessary components of many of the body’s most basic functions. [1]

But, does protein give you energy?

Put simply, it can. While protein is not the body’s main source of energy—that’s reserved for carbohydrates—your body may metabolize protein for energy if you’re experiencing a prolonged calorie deficit or if you’re undergoing intense physical activity and carbohydrate stores are depleted.

How can protein act as an energy source?

Normally, carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source. [2] While some dietitians argue that we should consume carbs in moderation, others insist that high-carb diets can support overall health. As a matter of fact, it’s mainly carbohydrate-based foods that give you easily accessible energy throughout the day.

Thus, what can’t be argued is the role that carbs play within the body.

When you ingest high-carb foods, such as quinoa, oats, and potatoes, the body breaks the molecules down into glucose, which provides the body with fuel once it enters the bloodstream. More specifically, glucose is used to create adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a readily-available energy source that can be stored at the cellular level. [3]

When consumed in excess, the body can store carb-derived glucose and can convert it into fat. This fat can be used as an energy source during exercise or fasting since fat is typically a slow-digesting energy deposit. [4] Foods high in fat, such as nuts, avocados, and fatty fish also convert into an energy source when digested and broken down into fatty acids and glycerol.

So, where does protein fit into all this?

If the body isn’t receiving enough nutrients from the diet, its fat sources are depleted, and glucose isn’t readily available. When this happens the body will start using protein as an energy source. Instances in which the body uses protein for energy include [5]:

  • Prolonged fasting
  • Intense exercise
  • Medical conditions, such as diabetes

Essentially, the body will begin to break down protein into ketone bodies, which are water-soluble molecules that replace glucose as the primary source of fuel. [5]

What types of protein best increase energy levels?

While protein isn’t a direct source of energy in most cases, it can help increase energy levels by providing the body with the necessary amino acids it needs to function properly. That said, there are numerous sources of daily protein that you can add to your diet to help improve stamina. These include:

  • Lean meat – Cuts of chicken, turkey, beef, and pork that have less fat are optimal protein sources. Look for products that are labeled as at least 90% lean. Lean meat is digested more slowly, providing your body with a steady source of energy throughout the day. [6]
  • Fish – Fatty fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, provide your body with energy and may also support heart health. [7]
  • Eggs – Eggs contain all nine essential amino acids, as well as vitamin B12, thiamin, riboflavin, and folate, which work together to boost energy levels, particularly after exercise. [8]
  • Dairy products – Regularly consuming dairy products such milk, yogurt, and cheese can be a nutritious addition to the diet. They’re high in protein, calcium, and vitamin D and may help to balance energy levels. [9]
  • Legumes – In addition to a high protein content, beans, lentils, and chickpeas also contain large amounts of fiber, which may also help to regulate your body’s energy levels. [10]
  • Nuts and seeds – Peanuts, almonds, and chia seeds are fantastic sources of protein. They provide healthy fats, too, which can help replenish energy stores. [11]
  • Quinoa – Quinoa is high in protein and carbohydrates, delivering both readily-available and slow-digesting energy sources to the body. [12]

Generally, it’s recommended that protein makes up 10% to 35% of total daily calories. [13] So, if your body requires 1,500 calories daily, 150 to 525 of those calories should be derived from high-protein food sources, such as those listed above.

Conversely, the Institute of Medicine recommends 0.66 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight to maintain the minimum level of protein needed to meet amino acid requirements. [14]

If you participate in regular high-intensity physical activity, increasing your protein intake can help support muscle growth, aid in recovery, and replenish your energy levels since protein intake can help facilitate muscle synthesis and growth. [14]

Additionally, high-protein diets may help curb hunger. This is because dietary protein [15]:

  • Is more satiating than carbs and fats
  • Can slow digestion of nutrients to prolong feelings of fullness
  • May reduce levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin

Support your health with Everlywell

While protein is not the body’s easiest source of energy (compared to carbohydrates), it can nevertheless provide energy in the absence of carbohydrates and fats. That said, your body’s energy levels are based on a number of factors, and certain medical conditions may contribute to feelings of lethargy or fatigue.

At Everlywell, we provide a variety of nutritional health products that include vitamins and supplements as well as at-home lab tests.

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  1. Harvard School of Public Health. Protein. The Nutrition Source. Published 2022.
  2. Jéquier E. Carbohydrates as a source of energy. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1994;59(3):682S685S. doi:
  3. Dunn J, Grider MH. Physiology, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). PubMed. Published February 17, 2022.
  4. P B. Importance of Fat as a Support Nutrient for Energy: Metabolism of Athletes. Journal of sports sciences. Published 1991.
  5. García-Rodríguez D, Giménez-Cassina A. Ketone Bodies in the Brain Beyond Fuel Metabolism: From Excitability to Gene Expression and Cell Signaling. Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience. 2021;14. doi:
  6. Making the Healthy Cut: Fish, Poultry and Lean Meats.
  7. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements - Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Published 2017.
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  11. Dutchen S. What Do Fats Do in the Body? Published December 15, 2010.
  12. FoodData Central. Published 2020.
  13. Wempen K. Are you getting too much protein. Published November 21, 2016.
  14. Carbone JW, Pasiakos SM. Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1136. doi:
  15. Blom WA, Lluch A, Stafleu A, et al. Effect of a high-protein breakfast on the postprandial ghrelin response. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006;83(2):211-220. doi:
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