If I could make a blanket statement real quick, the AVERAGE human does not eat enough protein to support their ideal body composition. There I said it. Most of us want to see more muscular definition but we spend no time preparing the right foods we need for the week. Now, the ‘right foods’ mean something different for everyone but the majority of us spend more time planning out our holiday to-do list then we do our meal plan for the week.
I’m not asking you to plan 10 meals for the week, I’m asking you to just start thinking about what you’re going to eat for the week. We get surprised every week on why we aren’t able to “stick to the plan” or why we go “off track”. It’s not that we are terrible humans, it’s just that, like anything else, we need a plan.
I find, not only for my clients, but also for myself, if I don’t plan out enough protein-rich snacks, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that I’m going to eat enough protein to support my optimal health &/or performance.
Carbs, Fats, & Protein OH MY!
Take a step back for a second and think about where the majority of protein comes from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans/legumes, nuts/seeds. The majority of these options are NOT convenient. You can’t just stick a piece of meat (okay, besides jerky) in your bag and schlep it to work or school. However, if we think about carbs & fat they are WAY more readily available.
Chips? Crackers? Cereal? Pretzels? Fruit? Yeah, carbs are easy.
Peanut butter? Avocado? Fried foods? Tortilla chips? Yeah, fats easy too.
However, good sources of protein need planning and chewing. We need to have time (ahem, MAKE time) to have protein ready to go so that we eat enough to support our body & health.
How Much Protein?
If you google “how much protein do I need?” You’ll run the gamete of finding out that you eat
1. too much protein
2. not enough protein
3. the wrong kind of protein and
the list goes on.
There are so many people who fear monger protein and caution you against eating enough. Here’s the honest truth. If you eat REAL WHOLE FOOD sources of protein, it’s REALLY hard to overdo it. Have you ever had been at dinner and thought “I could really eat another pound of meat.” My guess is for the majority of you the answer is no. However, many of you would probably be able to go back for more veggies, potatoes, pasta, dessert, wine, etc. No
So how much protein do we need? Ah, it depends. The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for protein is as follows:
- 0.8 grams per kilogram body weight
- 56 grams for an average sedentary male
- 43 grams for an average sedentary female
The RDA is basically the minimum you need to be nutrient sufficient. This is NOT the level that everyone needs to be optimal. Instead, it is the number you should never go below.
Ok, so how much?!
Sorry, I was getting there 🙂 How much you need depends on sex, age, height, weight, health status, body composition goals, physical activity, digestion, and so much more. So there is not hard and fast rule but note that the above 0.8 grams per kg should be your bare minimum intake daily.
The research shows (as does my experience with clients) is that you should be getting 15-25% of your total caloric intake from protein. However, I highly recommend working with a professional to nail down these numbers so you’re not guessing or not over/under doing it.
A good rule of thumb is 1-1.5g/kg body weight. The 0.8g/kg is really only to support basic life needs and okay if you do nothing but sit all day long. Heck, I’m not even sure that’s enough for that. For athletes training more than 5 days a week or doing 2 a-days, or those looking to gain muscle, it may be closer to 1.7-2.2g/kg body weight. Or as I’ve stated before:
- Absolute minimum need: 0.8g/kg body weight
- Physically active &/or looking to change body composition: 1.1-1.5g/kg body weight
- Elite Athlete (training >5 days/week): 1.5-2.0g/kg body weight
For example, I weigh 135 lbs and am active 5-6 days a week as well as walk probably close to 10k steps per day. I need approximately 2,400-2,600 calories/day and about 105-130g which was found by:
- 20% of 2,600 calories = 520 (cals) /4 (cals/gram) = 130g
- 135lbs/2.2 kg/lb = 61.4kg * 1.7 = 105g
Protein-Rich Food Ideas
In my eyes, a protein-rich snack should be something that has 10g or more of protein. For a meal? 20+ grams of protein. However, if you start thinking about how many grams you should/could eat in a day you might be surprised to find that 10g may not cut it for snacks and you may need 20g or so. Here are a few of my favorite protein-
- 4 oz. raw meat (prepped ahead of time), 20+ g
- Fish & seafood, 16+g per servings
- Jerky or Meat Sticks, 9g in 1 oz.
- Lunch meat (like Old World Naturals or Applegate), 10+g in 2 oz.
- Cheese & cheese sticks, 5g in 1 stick
- Canned fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, etc.), 20+g per can
- Hard-boiled eggs, 12g for 2 eggs
- Cottage Cheese, 25g in 1 cup
- Greek Yogurt, 20g in 1 cup
- Milk/Milk alternatives, 8+g in 1 cup
- Nut/Seed Butter, 8g in 2 Tbsp
- Nuts/Seeds, 27g in 1 cup
- Legumes, 15-30g in 1 cup cooked
- Quinoa, 8g in 1 cup cooked
- Oats, 5g in 1/2 cup
- Protein Powders, Shakes, & Bars (should be your last resort or in an emergency)
Note: animal protein is more bioavailable & contains complete proteins (aka all essential amino acids the body cannot make on its own) and therefore tend to be the preferred source for protein.
Note #2: Keep in mind that the digestion is not all the speedy and so you may need to stay between 20-30g in one sitting to gain all the benefits of protein. Otherwise, your body will get rid of it or store it for later use. I recommend a typical day look something like this:
- Breakfast: 20-30g protein
- Mid-morning snack: 10-20g protein
- Lunch: 20-30g protein
- Afternoon snack: 10-20g protein
- Dinner: 30g protein
- Snack/shake/other: as neeeded
Do you struggle with getting enough protein? What are some ways you’ve found to incorporate enough in your diet?