Everyone needs more protein in their diet. Yes, everyone. Including you. You're probably thinking: “I eat enough protein! I had one slice of cheese this morning ” or “I had a huge serving of chicken for dinner, it’s enough protein for the day” or “ I had a bunch of mixed nuts, nuts are high in protein, right?”.
The truth is that even though you think you eat enough protein, most chances are that don’t. If the above statements sound familiar to you- great! Reading this article will shed some light on your eating habits and provide practical advice on how to conveniently incorporate more protein into your diet. It’s about being aware of what you put into your mouth, and once you’re aware, you can change a behavior (your eating habits) to a more favorable one.
What is protein?
The building blocks of protein are called amino acids (AA). There are 20 AA, 9 are essential, and 11 are non-essential. Essential AA need to be consumed through one's diet for various bodily functions.
Protein functions include: tissue building, Bones, ligaments, tendons, hair, nails, and teeth; cell functioning; enzymes ( digestive enzymes and enzymes responsible for forming ATP); body functioning; hormones; immune function (antibodies); fluid balance (albumin); pH balance (buffer lactic acid); transporters (hemoglobin).
So what does this all mean? protein has high satiety effects so you will feel fuller for longer. Protein also has a high thermic effect of food ,TEF. This means that when protein is ingested, the body burns more calories just by digesting it compared to when carbs or fats are digested. Moreover, protein is critical for cognitive functions- healthy brain functions and learning; it improves mood and fights anxiety (neurotransmitters). Protein is also vital for strong bones and injury recovery as well as lowering your blood pressure and stabilizing your blood sugar levels, slowing aging and increasing longevity. Lastly, protein increases fat loss and promotes muscle building, thus is crucial for weight management and a favorable body composition. Now that I listed all the advantages of protein consumption, are you sold yet? :)
Types of protein
High Quality Protein: a complete protein; usually from animal derived foods (chicken, fish, beef) which contains extra AA for protein synthesis.
Low Quality Protein: incomplete protein; usually from plant derived foods ( legumes, nuts).
Good Protein Sources
Egg beaters/egg whites
Dairy products (0%- 1% cottage cheese, Greek yogurt )
Fish (tuna, salmon)
Chicken & turkey breast
Lean ground beef (90% and leaner)
Deli meat (turkey, roast beef, ham)
Whey protein powder
Any Seafood (shrimp, scallops)
It is clear there is a difference between different types of protein sources. So 1 oz. of nuts is a source of low quality, incomplete protein (lacks AAs) while chicken is a source of high quality, complete protein. Similarly, contrary to popular belief, quinoa isn't a good source of protein. It may contain extra grams of AA but still remains a low, quality incomplete source of protein. Hence, my general recommendation is as follows: for any food to be considered a good protein source, it should contain about ~100 calories and ~20 g of protein.
How much protein?
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, your individual protein needs depend on various factors such as total caloric intake for the day, the mode and intensity of exercise, and the quality of the protein ingested. So, what amount of protein is sufficient for you specifically ?
A sedentary individual---------- 0.8g of protein / kg of body weight per day .
A resistance trained individual--- 1.4-2.0 g/kg
An endurance trained individual-- 1.2-2.0 g/kg
How often should you consume protein?
Ideally 3-4 times a day is optimal for those who strength train. However, you can get away with eating protein twice a day, though I wouldn't recommend it. Here’s a sample of my current diet:
Breakfast: 4 pieces of light bread, one cup of egg beaters, veggies.
Lunch: 5 oz of chicken breast/ lean beef, veggies, one cup of Israeli couscous .
Snack: 1-2 scoops of whey protein + almond milk/ 2 small containers of Greek yogurt sweetened with Dasani coconut pineapple drops.
Dinner: 2 cans of tuna ,light mayo, pita bread, 1 Tbsp. of olive oil, veggies.
I incorporate a protein source with every meal. If you aren't a huge fan of eating 3-4 solid meals a day, a great way to ascertain an optimal protein intake is using protein powder. My absolute favorite protein powder is the chocolate caramel flavored whey isolate by the Muscle Gauge Nutrition brand (I have no affiliations with the brand). Protein powder can be ingested at any time during the day and not only around workout time, as thought by many. It is highly versatile,tastes delicious, and can be mixed with oatmeal, used for milkshakes, and baked goods and so on. Majority of my clientele are busy people so protein powder is convenient and easy to incorporate into their daily routine.
What are your favorite protein sources?