Show me a diet log and the first thing I am going to look at is how much protein is in it. No matter what diet philosophy you follow there is no denying protein is important in healthy, active people. Unfortunately I look at too many diet logs and see people eating far too little protein and my immediate recommendation to them is to eat more.
Their response back is always “How?”
It is a fair question. Making any dietary change often results in us being very puzzled about how to implement it. Let’s face it, much of what we eat is done out of habit, changing habits are hard. If you find yourself completely lost on how to add more protein to your diet here are some tips and tricks.
Many people try to rely on “protein poor” food sources to meet their protein requirements.
Lots of things have protein in it, the question is how much of it do you need to eat to get a decent amount of protein?
Let’s take broccoli as an example.
How much broccoli you would need to eat to get 31 grams of protein vs something like steak?
The answer….12 CUPS!!!!!
I challenge you to eat 12 cups of broccoli!
What about peanut butter? That has protein in it. right?
Let’s look at how much peanut butter you would have to eat to get 25 grams of protein.
Six tablespoons of peanut butter would give you about 25 grams of protein. That is doable. However check out how many calories that is, 686 calories! Say you are eating 2000 calories and need to get 100g of protein a day.
In order to get that from peanut butter you would need to eat more than 2000 calories in just peanut butter!
Even something like an egg which is often viewed as a good protein source doesn’t have that much protein in it. One large egg has about 7g of protein. Want to get about 30g of protein, you need to eat 4 eggs.
Am I against eating eggs, broccoli, or peanut butter?
Not at all, I eat all of these foods.
However, I don’t rely on them for their protein because when I need to eat 140g of protein a day, they contribute very little to me reaching that goal. They are either far to volumus (broccoli) or calorically dense (peanut butter) to make it feasible.
So tip #1 is to select protein sources that have a high ratio of protein to calories and protein to volume. The best sources are going to be meat, fish, foul and some dairy. Just be careful of fatty sources of animal protein and dairy, just because it comes from an animal doesn’t mean that it is going to have a good protein to calorie ratio.
If you are someone who is only eating one or two meals a day it is going to be difficult to get in all the protein you need in such a small amount of time. Protein is generally considered the most satiating macronutrient, meaning no other food is going to make you feel as full as protein does. If you need to eat 120 grams of protein a day and need to do that in one meal, that is going to be nearly impossible.
I generally suggest that people get three portions of protein a day. This is doable even if you are trying to only eat in an 8 hour window. In practice though it is going to be easier if you expand your eating window.
Ask yourself why you are eating in such a condensed eating window? Unless it has to do with treating some type of medical condition, there is no reason why you can’t expand your eating window a bit in order to make it easier to get in the protein you need. It would be far more beneficial for your long term health than a few extra hours of not eating may be.
When people think about eating more protein they often think of eating plain, boring chicken breast and that does not sound appetizing at all.
The good news is that there are plenty of good protein sources that are not chicken. Steak is an obvious (and delicious) choice but I challenge you to expand your horizons even more. Lamb, pork, buffalo, all kinds of fish, mollusks, yogurt, cottage cheese, even wild game. Browse the meat and seafood section of your local grocery store and see what you can find, I bet your will be surprised. My local chain grocery store for example has buffalo, pork, lamb, even venison and boar sausage! If you are willing to make a trip to your local farmers market you will likely find an even better selection of protein sources. You can also consider online businesses like US Wellness Meats or Crowd Cow.
Another complaint I hear when people try to eat more protein has to do with palate fatigue. To avoid this problem combine multiple protein sources together at one meal. For example, instead of just having eggs, have smoked salmon and eggs or sausage and eggs or eggs and greek yogurt. Get creative and experiment with combining all kinds of protein sources together to keep things interesting.
Another barrier people often encounter when trying to eat more protein is that time it takes to prepare it. My first suggestion would be to meal prep. I will often cook a whole chicken on the weekend, divide it up, and freeze it in different portions. That way when I need it I can just take it out, defrost, and eat. No cooking necessary.
Another way to overcome the time it takes to prepare protein is buy canned protein. Tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, oysters, clams, and even chicken come in cans. You can also look into jerky as well (as long as it doesn’t have added sugar, etc). Epic makes some good jerky that is clean and very convenient.
If you believe protein is bad for your health or the planet’s health I encourage you to dive deep into these beliefs and challenge them if you can. When it comes to health concerns, like meat causing cancer or being bad for your kidneys I encourage you to read this post from my blog.
The health of our planet is a concern shared by nearly everyone. There is interesting science emerging that is showing that when animals are raised properly they will actually benefit the health of our planet. I encourage you to read the book or watch the documentary called Sacred Cow to learn more.
Using a protein powder is always my last resort when it comes to ways to increase protein intake in someone’s diet. The reason being it is a processed food and with that comes a couple of concerns. My first concern is that protein powders lack all the other amazing nutrients that come with whole food protein sources. My second concern is quality. Protein powders are notorious for being contaminated with some nasty stuff, and that says nothing about where the protein is coming from.
Choosing the right protein powder can be hard, there are so many options. The best is going to be a whey protein from grass-fed cows. If whey is not an option, you can also find beef and egg protein powders. Plant based protein powders are also an option but it can be hard to find ones with the correct amino acid ratios. I have some recommendations for some of my favorites in this blog post.
On the topic of protein powders, collagen protein powders do not count towards your protein goal. Collagen is a type of protein but it is missing some of the key building blocks that allows your body to build lean muscle. I encourage you to get collagen in your diet, just don’t take a collagen protein powder and think it helps you meet your protein goal.
In summary your best bet to increase your protein intake is going to be eating protein dense food sources and allowing yourself to eat three protein sources a day. Eating enough protein is going to help you no matter your goal, whether it is weight loss, building muscle, improving metabolic health, improving micronutrient intake, having a more robust body, cognitive performance…anything. Helping you reach your goals is what my newsletter is all about. I send articles and videos just like this one directly to your inbox each week, all you need to do is fill out the form below with your email to sign up!