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How to Eat More Protein

We all need protein. No matter your age, your weight or dietary preference, protein is essential to our health and often a primary recommendation when coaching individuals on how to improve their nutrition and meal quality. Although most people would say they know protein is important, many struggle to meet their full requirement. The reasons are many, but a little preparation and some creative inspiration go a long way toward ensuring the necessary intake. Do you get enough? Learn how much protein you need and gain how-to tips for working in more quality protein throughout your day. 

How Much?

So, how much protein do you need? We’ve talked about protein amounts and sources before and often reference the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommendation of 1.4 – 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight to get your total recommended grams per day. When coaching clients, I often take that total gram recommendation and divvy it up amongst all of their meals. This way, they reap the benefits of protein throughout the day versus just one large, protein-heavy meal at the end of the day (a.k.a. dinner).

If you’re tracking your food on myPlan or another online tracker, you can confirm whether or not you’re getting enough total grams and see how your protein varies throughout the day. Not into tracking your meals? Use the “hand method” approach instead. For women, I often recommend a hand-size portion of a protein rich food at every meal and for men two hand-size portions.  

How-To Tips

Below are some of the most common obstacles I hear about from clients who struggle with adequate protein intake--as well as clear strategies to address them. 

“It’s too expensive”

Generally speaking, high quality protein-rich foods will cost more than highly processed convenience foods. When coaching my clients, I warn them that their grocery bill will be higher. It’s all in the name of health! (Sickness is much more expensive, by the way.) Nonetheless, here are a few tips on successfully transitioning to healthier food while minimizing the price spike.

  • Prioritize quality. When shopping for protein, organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised and cage-free are all words you want to look for to find the best quality sources. If you’re just starting to transition to the Healthy Way of Eating, consider shifting your meat sources gradually to avoid overwhelming your grocery budget. The first priority is to start dumping the processed foods and replacing them with protein-rich ones. Once that’s a habit, start opting for more high quality sources.
  • Get to know a farmer. Buying meat from a farmer’s market or a local farm is one of the best ways you can save money as well as support your area economy.  
  • Go ground. Ground meats generally cost less than steaks or other “fancier” cuts. I often encourage my clients to buy ground meat to save money and encourage them to use the meats a few different ways during the week to keep up variety.  
  • Buy in bulk. Never buy less than a pound of certain meat at a time. Buying in bulk allows you to save money ounce per ounce. Once you get the hang of planning and shopping for meals, you’ll get an idea of how much chicken, fish or beef you’ll go through over time. At that point, consider larger bulk purchases. This could range from buying ground beef in 3-4 pound packages to purchasing half a cow from a farmer. 

“I don’t have time.” 

Protein foods do require some prep time and cook time. When coaching, I often have clients who imagine having to cook gourmet meals or spend countless hours in the kitchen to keep up their healthy eating lifestyle. It’s hardly the reality, however. If you think you don’t have enough time for protein, think again.  

  • Batch cook. Plan a day and time of the week to do some preparation for your meals and snacks. Since protein sources tend to be the most time-intensive, plan on batch cooking some chicken thighs, grass-fed patties or sausage to keep as stock for meals throughout the week. For snacks or other recipe ingredients, try batch cooking some bacon and/or hard boiled eggs. You’ll appreciate the ease of preparing a quick dinner or using the stock for your lunches.  
  • Learn to Cook.  Grilling and baking meats are some of the simplest, and fastest, methods to get protein on your plate. If you don’t have a large grill, invest in a counter top one to make things easy. If you’ve never cooked before, work with a coach or check out how-to videos online and practice. To save more time, make sure you “pull” your frozen meat from the freezer the night before to thaw in the refrigerator for the next night’s meal.  
  • Protein Powder. I often tell my clients to think of protein powder as “convenience chicken or meat”. I often encourage it as a protein source for those fast, out-the-door breakfasts or as a convenient option to keep at work for quick snacks or meal replacements when necessary. 

“I get enough at dinner…but the rest of the day...”

Most of my clients are really good at getting good protein at dinner, however, the rest of the day can be hit or miss. As I mentioned earlier, the benefits of protein come when eaten throughout the entire day. Limiting your protein intake to one lump sum at dinner won’t make for optimal health. Here are some quick tips to help you space out your intake.

  • Plan, plan, plan. Plan for protein at all of your snacks and meals throughout the week. Not only answer “what’s for dinner” each night, but make a list of protein-rich foods you’ll want to include at breakfast, lunch and snack time. Write out your menu for the week and put it on your fridge. This will serve its purpose when you’re grocery shopping (you won’t buy anything you don’t need) but will also help you stay accountable for your meals during the week.
  • Don’t eat breakfast for breakfast. This time of the day tends to be the hardest for people to eat ample protein only because they’re predetermined to think they should be eating the likes of bagels, cereals and orange juice. Make extra food at dinner to reheat at breakfast in the morning. Who says you can’t have a chicken salad or chili first thing?
  • Snack attack. If you need snacks in between meals (based on your hunger level), make sure they’re protein rich to help keep your blood sugar and energy stable. This could mean packing some high quality deli meat to accompany some cut veggies, relying on your protein powder at your desk, or going for some of those hard boiled eggs or bacon you batch cooked over the weekend.  
  • Does it have to be meat? I have many clients who have a hard time consuming meat or fish at every meal. If you can tolerate dairy, try some plain, full-fat Greek yogurt at a meal or snack time for a good protein source. Lately, I’ve been making Protein Truffle Balls or Energy Bars as my protein-based snacks. They’re both simple and easy to do on a weeknight (while watching your favorite TV show) or could be batch prepped over the weekend to give you some quick grab and go items.

What other barriers do you come across when trying to get enough protein in? Share your thoughts along with your best tips on staying consistent with protein intake!

Written by Anika DeCoster – Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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