This is another question I get pretty regularly, ‘How do you/How can I get enough protein?’ Protein is important for a number of reasons, and I recommend getting a fairly ample amount, it’s one of the few diet recommendations I actually make. It’s not too hard to meet your needs if you have the right information and tools though.
Why Do You Need Protein?
First, it’s good to know why getting enough protein is so important. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here, other people have covered this topic very well so I’ll summarize and link to a couple good articles if you want to know more. The current RDIs for protein are very modest and based on minimum needs to maintain health for sedentary individuals. Many studies have indicated that athletes, both strength and endurance, require more protein than the current RDI of 0.8 grams per kg of body weight in order to support adequate recovery and lean mass building. People on weight loss diets also need more in order to minimize loss of lean mass and promote satiety.
It appears that amounts up to 2.6 (or more) grams per kg of body weight are beneficial for people who exercise and/or are on a weight loss diet. Many of my readers fall into one or even both of these categories. This is why I generally recommend a protein intake of one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day (which is equal to 2.2 grams per kg or body weight). To delve deeper into the science, check out this article over at exrx.net and Impruvism’s awesome post on protein needs during dieting.
Here are 5 tips for ensuring you’re meeting your protein needs adequately:
1. Track your diet for a few days.
It’s entirely possible that you’re already getting enough protein. Virtually every food contains some protein, even foods we don’t normally consider protein foods. Fruits and vegetables and grains all contain small amounts of protein that can add up over the course of the day. The best way to determine if you’re meeting your needs is to keep track of your diet for a few days. You may find that you’re doing just fine and don’t need to change anything. If it turns out that you’re falling short, seeing where your protein is coming from can give you ideas for bumping that number up.
2. Eat enough food.
The easiest way to increase your protein intake is to simply increase your calorie intake. If you’re undereating (which many people are, especially women who are concerned about their weight) increasing your calorie intake will automatically increase your protein (and carb and fat) intake. Eating adequate calories can also reduce binge eating episodes, cravings, fatigue, anxiety and insomnia. Use a diet log to determine if your calorie intake is adequate. You can use this calculator to determine your calorie needs (or if you want to get even more accurate, you can geek out with a FitBit sleep and activity tracker). If you are consistently falling short, increasing your calorie intake will likely solve several issues in one fell swoop.
3. Skew portions more toward protein.
This one is easy. Don’t change what you eat, simply increase your portions sizes of protein dense foods and decrease portions of non-protein-dense foods proportionally. For instance, if your meal is chicken and rice, have a few more ounces of chicken and a few less ounces of rice, but aim for the same calorie intake. You don’t need to make drastic changes here. Simple little tweaks can make a big difference without dramatically altering the content of your diet.
4. Add protein to snacks.
Snacks tend to be where most people skimp on protein. If you tend to snack on fruit, add some cheese, yogurt, or peanuts. Hard boiled eggs are quick and easy to add to snacks. Or have a high protein bar like Almond Honey Rise Bar (20 grams of protein and only 3 ingredients: almonds, honey and whey). For convenient vegan options, I like Larabar Alt and Vega Sport products.
Of course, getting your protein from food is ideal, and you should absolutely try to get as much food-sourced protein as you can, but if after all that you’re still not quite meeting your target, it’s ok to supplement. Really. You don’t have to drink protein shakes (unless you want to! shakes are perfectly fine!), you can add protein powder to oatmeal (that’s what I do. My oatmeal breakfast usually works out to over 40 grams of protein when I factor in the protein in the oats themselves, and the milk and protein powder), and baked goods (I know lots of people who add protein to cookies, bread and homemade energy bars). Smoothies made with fruit, yogurt or ice cream are a great vessel for a shot of protein. Adding protein to a mousse or pudding can make a good snack or dessert. Get creative. There are lots of good quality protein supplements on the market (I give some tips for choosing one in my blog post on the topic here). Both rice and whey tend to be very neutral in flavor, but there are many other options (I use Garden of Life which is made from sprouted seeds). Another option is to add egg whites to beverages or oatmeal. Egg Whites International makes a very convenient pasteurized egg white product that you can drink…I know, sounds kinda gross, but in coffee or a glass of juice it’s totally flavorless. Please note that I’m not saying egg yolks are bad here. Egg whites are simply a really convenient way to bump your protein intake. (Egg Whites International does not throw away the yolks by the way, they are used to make other foods). Eating whole eggs is good too. 🙂
Once you know how much protein you need and how much you’re already getting, fine tuning things is pretty simple, and usually won’t take too much effort. The benefits of getting adequate protein include better fat loss, better satiety and better recovery from workouts. You don’t need to live on chicken breasts and protein shakes though! It’s pretty easy to make a few tweaks to your current diet. No extreme measures necessary!