If there is one macronutrient that people struggle getting into their diet – It’s protein.
Protein hosts a TON of benefits, especially when we’re training hard in the gym! It’s the building block of the macronutrients. It helps to build and maintain muscle and other tissues throughout the body.
The recommended daily serving amount is about 0.8-1.2 grams per kg of bodyweight. But there are a host of different ways to calculate and variables based on your training history, current training, training volume and style, body size, sex, past history with dieting, movement level throughout the day, and a host of other factors.
But the bottom line is, it’s essential. Yet, a large majority of people struggle to eat enough protein throughout the day.
Carbs and fat are abundant and often easy to get into our food intake throughout the day. Let’s use the typical gas station as an example. There are chips, chocolate bars, soda, pretzels, nuts, candy, the options are really endless there…I think we’ve all been in one.
None of these foods are bad in moderation, but at the same time, none are really high in protein either!
In Wisconsin we have the benefit of Kwik Trip and they have yogurt, hard boiled eggs, and sometimes protein shakes as some protein-rich options but I know that’s not the case at all gas stations.
And yes, a gas station is an easy option, but it happens elsewhere too – portions at restaurants are often higher fat and carbs compared to protein. There’s also misconceptions on what “high in protein” really means.
To be labeled as “high in protein” a food must contain 20% or more of the recommended daily value of the amount of the RACC (Reference Amount Customarily Consumed).
Quick side note: The RACC differs from the serving size. Have you ever seen a product that has a nutrition label for the serving size of the food and then next to it, there’s one for the entire package? That second label is a result of a requirement to label for the RACC, if the total amount of the package meets those guidelines. That’s a recent change – While it was passed in 2016, only in July 2019 did that become required of manufacturers. (See the image at the right for an example.)
Okay, so back to protein.
When we’re talking food labeling the daily value of protein is 50 grams. Yep, that’s right. FIFTY GRAMS. If you’re someone who’s training regularly, pursuing a weight loss goal, or I would argue really just existing…Your body is going to require more than 50 grams of protein.
This leaves you high and dry when relying on products that say they’re “high in protein” on the shelves. These “high in protein” products contain just over 10 grams of protein. While a food that is labeled as a “good source of protein” must contain 10-19% of the daily value per RACC, so that’s about 5-9.5 grams per RACC.
But these foods often come with a HOST of other macronutrients – carbohydrates and fat. When I look at a food, for it to be a “protein source”, I want that food to contain majority protein in comparison to carbohydrates and fat OR have at least one serving, which is about 20 grams. (Word to note – This does change slightly if you’re following a plant-based diet!)
So, with marketing against us and protein seemingly scarce, how can we get MORE protein in our diet? Let’s look at 4 ways we can increase our protein intake.
Educate yourself about protein.
First and foremost – Do you know, off the top of your head, the foods that contain majority protein? If not, building that knowledge base can be SUPER powerful for you!
Lean cuts of meat, white fish, shellfish, jerky, egg whites, Greek yogurt and most whey protein powders are going to be majority protein. This isn’t an all-inclusive list – take time to search through some of your favorite foods. Learn what macronutrient they are predominantly.
This is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
You’ll have this knowledge forever and be able to assess at a glance if your plate contains one of these high-protein options.
Now, I do want to give a caveat here. I know that not everyone that listens to this podcast will consume animal products or want to consume a majority of them. There are plant-based foods that contain protein. However, many are also higher in carbohydrate as well. This simply requires more pre-planning and thought behind: “What is carbohydrates and what is the protein here? How much protein am I actually getting?”
This leads me to the next tip: plan ahead.
When you’re doing your weekly grocery list, make sure that the protein options are listed! Make sure that there’s a variety and they’re one’s that you’ll actually consume throughout the week!
For example, I know that tuna packets are great protein. Sometimes, I’ll pick a few up at the store. Without fail, they sit in the cupboard, untouched, for at least a few weeks. They sound good. They look good. But they’re not my favorite and I always choose other options.
When you’re making your list, choose protein options you’ll actually eat, not just foods that are high in protein!
Planning ahead is especially important for those plant-based eaters who are listening. Since there are few “only protein” options and often contain fat and carbohydrates as well, you’ll want to make sure that you’re not choosing a carbohydrate-heavy food as your “protein” for that meal.
This ties back to the gas station example that I gave in the beginning, and to a tip that I’ll share later on as well. But when we take time to plan ahead, we can make sure that we have protein on hand when we’re on the go OR that our other meals are a bit higher in protein when we know we’re going to be travelling or running errands the rest of the day.
This ties into my next example – We want to make sure that protein is in every meal.
Make sure it’s in every meal.
Making sure that protein is in every meal can help prevent getting to the end of the day with a huge lack of protein in your diet!
That’s a tough spot to be in…Often, these are the same days in which we consumed adequate carbohydrates and fat but the protein is low. When we plan ahead, have options in the house, and are incorporating them into each meal, we can ensure we’re consuming enough protein throughout the day.
Earlier, I mentioned the grams per day that are the recommendation. But we know that food tracking isn’t always everyone’s favorite thing, nor practical. At Unity, we often use the hand as a portion size guide. For protein, we want about a palm sized portion for women and two for males in each meal.
Now, keep in mind that this is a big generalization. While it’s a great place to start, you may need more or less depending on your activity level, body size, movement throughout the day, body fat percentage, and all the same factors that I mentioned before!
Choose high protein snack options.
If you’re struggling getting in protein during meals, choosing snack options that are high in protein is an easy way to add to your intake!
Sure, it sounds like a simple swap, but having 10-15 grams in throughout your snacks for the day can really add up. If one of your meals is lower in protein, this can help make up the difference or add to an already adequate protein-filled dietary intake.
Some great snack options are: Greek yogurt, hard-boiled eggs (especially if you add egg whites), protein shakes and some bars.
This is the icing on top of the cake if you will. It’s REALLY tough to get in your full protein intake through just these types of snacks, but they can add to a diet that’s already pre-planned and thought out ahead of time.
There you have it.
A little bit about the marketing of protein and four tips to get more protein in your diet! It’s time for our…
Take note of your dietary intake this week. What are your go-to protein sources? Are there meals that you’re consistently lacking in protein? What small additions or swaps can you make, if you do need to increase your protein intake? If your protein intake is adequate, I’m going to challenge you to find a new protein source to add into your diet this week! Try a new food, new seasoning, or new recipe altogether.
Do you prefer to listen? This post aired as a podcast episode on Fuel Your Freedom, Episode 8!
You can check it out here or on all major podcast platforms.