5 Ways to Get More Protein

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.

How Much?

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.

5. Supplement.

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!

 

16 thoughts on “5 Ways to Get More Protein

  1. #4 if where a lot of my clients have trouble getting in protein. It’s just getting them to think past the “typical snacks” of tail mix, peanut butter and celery, veggies and hummus, etc. Small meals can be snacks! Like having a smaller portion of what was eaten for lunch.

  2. Is there research on different protein needs among menopausal, aging women who are heavy? I’m naturally very tall and strong but also very, very heavy (more than just muscle heavy), which means I need a huge amount of protein and everything is changing in my body since I turned 50. Is there anybody doing what you do but with an older population that might have different nutritional needs?

    • That’s a really good question. I’m actually working on a new ebook geared toward perimenopausal and menopausal women, I will put this into my list of things to research.

      In general, it seems like everything usually comes down to finding a balance. Enough protein, enough carbs, enough fat, enough exercise, enough sleep, consistently over time. Whenever I go off on a new research tangent, it eventually comes back to that.

  3. Thank god. Im glad you put that into perspective. Taming the weight room & this post are very straight forward, A to B steps to get from here to there. Having a clear plan refocuses my brain & gets me off my ass. Thanks again.

  4. Great article! I’m curious if the Garden of Life protein powder you mix in your oatmeal causes it to break down because of the probiotics. I used a vega protein powder once that turned my oatmeal to soup!

  5. Great article! I’m working on getting my protein up. Question – when you say one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day, do you mean 1) per current weight, 2) per ideal weight, 3) per lean tissue weight (and if so, how do you figure that out?).

    I’ve heard a lot of conflicting ideas on this one. Thanks!

    • I mean per pound of current body weight. This is more than most people absolutely need, and for heavy people it can be really difficult, so it’s ok to not quite get there. I find that aiming high gets people where they need to be, even if they don’t get to that 1g per pound mark. 🙂

    • And by maintenance I really mean “offering as much muscle mass protection as possible”.

    • Agreed, 2.2g per kg is probably more than most people need. 🙂 I like to aim high, because by aiming high I ensure I meet my minimum needs. Almost no one meets the ‘high’ end of their target, in my experience.

  6. Great article! It does seem that a lot of people struggle to get their protein into their daily diet. I know I have at times and as a fitness coach this question does come up a lot. I agree that tracking your calories in a program really helps you stay accountable and helps you see where you are falling short after every meal so you can create a more balanced diet that would include more healthy sources of protein. The main question is what are some high protein foods that are meatless that people can eat other than supplements and protein bars? Thanks for the article!

    • Hi Val, my favorite meatless proteins are: eggs, greek yogurt, lentils, tempeh and tofu, and peanuts. Seitan is very protein dense if you can handle wheat gluten.

  7. great article and website!
    i’m at a pretty good weight for me and eat well but i do tend to do lots of physical activity (trail running, mtn biking, SUP, strength training) so i’m trying to make sure i’m fueling enough. problem is i seem to be having a hard time eating enough! based on the calculator i should be around 2200-2500 cal/day but i can’t seem to get past 2100. also, i kinda top out on protein at 100g (i’m 150lbs).
    i find especially after hard workouts, i’m just not hungry.
    any suggestions?
    thanks!

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