Protein is the most important macronutrient for building muscle and it is involved in a plethora of body functions. Getting adequate amounts is different for each person, but there are some general guidelines everyone should try to stick to and avoid muscle loss, skin issues, and other negative side effects.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDV) for protein is 0.8 grams/kilogram of body weight, but research points out you may need much more than that. Even more, if you’re an active individual, pregnant or breastfeeding, move around a lot, or an actual athlete. That’s why it’s crucial to find ways to increase your protein intake on a daily basis and make sure you’re hitting the right amounts for you and your health goals.
Variety is Key
You know you need more protein but you’re tired of chicken and salmon? There are plenty of other foods that are rich in protein and can supply you with the same amounts as the most popular choices. Plan out your meals for the week and play around with pieces of meat you usually don’t go for, such as game meat, quail, pork ribs, or lamb. Instead of tuna and salmon, find a good recipe for cod or red snapper; have breakfast for dinner and make a delicious frittata, research some vegan options, and increase your protein intake with beans and legumes for a meatless Monday.
By adding variety to your daily meals you just might discover new foods to fall in love with. You’ll also give your body a chance to absorb nutrients from a variety of different sources and find out which ones are great for you and which ones don’t sit well on your stomach.
Don’t Underestimate Plant Sources
When you hear the word protein, you probably immediately think of meat and animal products. Plants that are rich in protein are vast too, and even if you’re not following a vegan or vegetarian diet (but especially if you are), it’s important to learn which ones you can add into your diet and know you’re getting a good amount of protein.
The best vegan sources of protein include tofu, tempeh, edamame, beans, lentils, spirulina, nuts, seeds, quinoa, wheat protein, and protein-rich vegetables such as potatoes and leafy greens. Even if you’re not ready to have a fully meatless meal, add some of these foods as a side dish or complimentary to your animal protein and you’ll already be getting more with each bite.
Track Your Macros
Thanks to a variety of protein calculators out there, it’s easy to ballpark your required protein intake for the day. All you need to do is input your age, gender, weight, height, and level of activity per week and it will give you an estimate of how much protein you should be getting. Now, even though this isn’t perfect, it’s still a great baseline to start with. Your body will likely tell you whether it’s enough or too much.
Once you get a number, it’s time to get a good one food scale and start measuring your ingredients so you know you’re getting the recommended values. One ounce of chicken has eight grams of protein and one ounce of tofu has only two. Know your protein numbers and weigh your usual meals. You’ll probably figure out you’re eating way too little for your daily requirements.
Include Protein Shakes or Bars
If you’re going to the gym on a regular basis, your protein intake is higher than the baseline and it’s important to feed your muscles and help them repair and grow. In many cases, if you just stick to your normal diet, you won’t successfully increase your intake only through food. That’s where protein shakesprotein bars, and other protein-rich products come in handy.
Usually providing 20-30 grams of protein per serving, in one convenient drink or snack you’re getting an equivalent to three to four ounces of meat without having to digest all that food or do the cooking. It’s a great way to increase your protein intake without much effort, especially if you’re on the go a lot or simply don’t have the time to add another meal to your day.
That being said, find the protein-rich products that work for you. The most popular ones are usually based on whey concentrate or isolate, but if you’re lactose intolerant or vegan, you might go for egg protein or pea protein powders.
Choose Protein-Rich Snacks
If you’re a snacker, be smart about your food choices and include items such as jerky, cottage cheese, nuts and seeds, hummus, Greek yogurt, peanut butter, or a protein bar. Their serving sizes are usually lower than you’d have in a meal, so they can definitely count as a snack. Plan ahead and always have a high-protein snack handy so you don’t reach for something else.
The usual snacks displayed in any store are rarely high in protein and they’re ultra-processed, filled with sugars, and way too high in fats. Choose your snacks wisely and sneak some extra protein into your diet in a delicious way. There are now brands that really made an effort in creating foods that are higher in protein than usual, making it easy to stay on top of your protein goals.
Enhance Your Usual Meals
If by reading this you’re thinking about how it’s going to be hard to change your complete meal plan and habits, you don’t have to. You can start by simply enhancing your meals and adding an extra ingredient that will make them higher in protein.
Add some peanut butter to your fruit bowl, top your morning cereal with chopped nuts and seeds, find a good, high-protein granola and sprinkle it on your yogurt, and add an egg to your lunch salad for extra texture. There’s plenty you can do with just a little twist that won’t have you deviate much from your usual meal plan.
How Much is Too Much?
Can you eat too much protein? Of course you can, but is it easy? Not really. Unless you’re chugging down bottles of protein powder or are able to eat pounds of meat per day without having any digestive problems, it’s hard to imagine you’ll go overboard.
That being said, hardcore bodybuilders who are incredibly rigid with their diet and weigh every almond might be able to hit high numbers, but for the general public, it’s rarely the case. The adequate protein intake for you won’t be the same for your partner, mother, best friend, or your neighbor, and it’s always best to listen to the signs your body is telling you and act accordingly.
Too much protein can be harmful to your health, especially kidneys, so if you start developing any digestive discomfort, bloating, or kidney issues, talk to your doctor and get to the bottom of your health problem. It might be your protein intake, but it might also be something completely unrelated.
Try implementing these tips into your daily diet and if you’re interested in some easy ways to swap your foods for their higher-protein versions and enhance your meals, here are our best tips.