Protein is one of the three main macronutrients our body needs daily and most people (especially women) are protein deficient. Lacking the proper amounts of protein can lead to weight gain, unstable blood sugar levels, cravings, hunger and lack of lean muscle mass.
It’s easier than ever to over consume carbohydrates and fats with convenience foods that are popular in today’s society. On top of that, restaurants are known for adding unnecessary amounts of butter and oils to dishes and not including enough protein.
How To Increase Your Protein Intake
It is important to first be aware of how much protein you consume before you attempt to increase it.
Protein consumption is measured in grams. The easiest way to understand how much you consume is to use a food diary app like My Plate or My Fitness Pal. You can easily add in what you eat throughout the day and the app will give you a running total of how many grams of protein it all added up to be.
I would recommend logging your food for 14-21 days to see an overall average of what you consume. Naturally, there will be a day where you maybe don’t feel well and lost your appetite as well as a day where you go out for most meals and eat a lot of food.
Another benefit of logging your food is that you can see patterns and variances. Often, work days are different from days off and often weekends are different from week days. Taking all of that into perspective will help you know where you are starting.
Increase Protein Portion Size
Once you know what your average intake is, then you can begin to incrementally increase what you consume. It is recommended that you increase by 5-10 grams per week to make it sustainable.
Some examples of this would be eating one more ounce of meat than you normally would or even adding in one more egg to your breakfast. Maybe you are eating half a can of tuna now, but over the course of two weeks, you can increase to the full can. That two-week window will help you mentally and physically adapt to the change over time.
Typically, when protein intake increases, we feel fuller faster and for longer periods of time so this may mean that you may need to cut back on carbohydrates and/or fat to make room for the increase.
For example, let’s say you normally eat a chicken sandwich with chips for lunch. Let’s say that sandwich has a slice of cheese and avocado and mayo on it with two slices of deli chicken. In order for you to increase your protein intake, it would be recommended that you consume 1-3 more slices of chicken on the sandwich. However, those extra slices may cause you to get more full, so you need to cut back elsewhere. Knowing that the sandwich has cheese, avocado and mayo on it, it makes sense to reduce some of the fat intake and only choose one of those three. As for the chips, you may also need to reduce how many you eat by cutting it in half. Overall, you would eat more protein and reduce a little carbs and fats without completely eliminating them.
Eat Protein With Every Meal
Including protein with each meal in your day will also help ensure you consume enough protein. Nowadays, it’s common for breakfast to be a cup of oatmeal, a pastry or even just a cup of coffee (zero protein and mainly just carbs). This leads to hunger throughout the day, elevated blood sugar levels and being ‘snacky’ on the couch late at night.
A hearty breakfast that leads you to proper protein intake would ideally have between 20-40 grams of protein depending on your goals and starting point.
I personally love to mix and match at my meals to hit my protein goals. I’m not really a fan of eating two cups of egg whites; that’s too much for me in just egg whites. However, I can do one cup of egg whites and 3 ounces of ground bison or turkey. I love making scrambles with two proteins included and adding veggies plus greens for color!
Bottom line, front load your day with protein starting at breakfast. Common breakfast proteins are eggs or egg whites, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, or breakfast meats like turkey bacon or chicken sausage. Never forget to open up your horizons and remove the labels of “breakfast food” or “dinner food”. One of my favorite breakfast meals is actually a bison burger with sweet potato fries; commonly a dinner for most!
Use Protein Powder If Needed
In our Soul Fit Nutrition Coaching Program, our coaches are usually guiding their clients to incorporate one protein shake in their diet daily. We always have a “food first” mentality, but often, that one shake can give a nice 20-25 gram bump in protein that most people need.
I personally drink mine between 2pm and 5pm because that is my “danger zone” meaning that is the window of the day I am most likely to snack mindlessly due to stress. Drinking that protein shake during that danger zone keeps me away from things that do not belong in my diet and it keeps me fuller so that I don’t come into dinner time “hangry.”
Whether you like a Whey protein shake or Plant based protein shake, it doesn’t matter, as long as it feels good in your body. Whey protein shakes have dairy, so if you have sensitivities to dairy, I would go with plant based. So many companies have created some unique flavors like Truvani’s Banana Cinnamon or you can stick with a classic Chocolate like Raw Fusion’s plant based chocolate protein powder.
Just make sure you don’t use the shakes as a crutch and consume more than two on a daily basis. Have a ‘food first’ mentality.
How Much Protein Should You Eat in a Day?
For the average American, it is recommended that people should consume between .6 and .8 grams of their body weight.
That means, for example, a person that weighs 162 pounds would want to consume between 97 grams and 130 grams of protein per day. There are some caveats to this. If you are overweight, that math will seem frankly ridiculous, especially if your starting point is 60-80 grams a day. An example of this would be a 273 pound person. That math would indicate that a person would need to consume between 163-218grams a day.
Be weary and if you are unsure of where to start, work with an expert coach to better understand what is best for your body and goals.
It is VERY important to note that this gram goal window is something to work towards and not just do overnight as mentioned above. If you are consuming on average 50 grams of protein a day, you would not want to make the jump to 100 grams the next day. Instead, increase by 5-10 grams per week to work your way to the ideal 100 grams. Then you can work your way to the higher goal of 130 grams.
Above all, please consult your physician as your doctor knows your health and medical history to help you be aware of kidney concerns or anything else that would impact your ideal protein intake. You can fill your nutrition coach in on what your doctor recommends and they can fold that into your individualized plan.
Ah, protein bars… A.K.A. ‘Glorified Candy Bars.’
I have fallen into their trap as well. Companies are so good at marketing these danger bars. Stick with a food first mentality, followed by one protein shake a day with protein powder and see how that goes. You will find ways to expand what you consume without having to add these bars that are notorious for being high in fat, high in sugar and high in carbs. They can be so artificial and processed that you really aren’t doing yourself any favors nutritionally.
My one caveat with protein bars is that they can be beneficial when travel is happening or a long day where you are stuck in one spot (like being a vendor at an all day expo). Having a protein bar for the airplane ride is far better than eating the salty bag of nuts or pretzels they provide. And eating a protein bar when you would otherwise skip a meal is better. Just ensure your bar has at least 12 grams of protein, less than 7g of sugar, and minimal ingredients. I always choose Rx Bars for myself and our clients in Soul Fit Nutrition Coaching.
Protein pastas changed my life! It’s a great way to tackle hitting protein goals as well as your carb goal (because carbs are good for you and you need to eat them)! Imagine pairing some protein pasta with some turkey meatballs and parmesan cheese and hitting all three of your macronutrient goals for that meal? So many brands provide this in a variety of pasta types. I love Barilla Protein Plus and Banza’s Chickpea Protein pasta and eat them weekly!
Vegetarians and Protein Intake
Most Vegetarians struggle with protein intake. Depending on what kind of vegetarian you are, some food groups are not options based on your reasoning for being a vegetarian. Opening up to options that are not four-legged meat like yogurt, eggs or fish can help substantially, but it depends on the ethics of your vegetarian diet you have chosen.
Vegetarians usually consume more carbohydrates because of sources of protein like quinoa and lentils, as well as higher fats when it comes to nuts. Some companies have created higher protein ‘fake meats’ from brands like Quorn or Impossible Foods. Again, depending on the “ethics of your diet”, you need to discover what you will and will not eat.
Overall, you are not alone if you struggle hitting your protein goals daily. It takes strategizing, building up incrementally and planning to do this day in and day out. Eating enough protein will set you on the right path to improved body composition.
If you need help with protein or any other realms of nutrition, book a free no obligation call with me to learn more about our Soul Fit Nutrition Coaching Programs.