If you struggle to fit an ample amount of protein into your diet, don’t worry – I’ve got you covered. Try these five easy tips to help increase your protein intake throughout the day.
I also created a FREE Protein Cheat Sheet that you can download at the end of this post. It contains almost 50 protein sources and their protein count.
Before we dive into my favorite tips to increase protein intake, I thought it was important to go over the what, why, and how much. Once I learned and understood all of these things it made it easier for me to prioritize protein.
What is Protein?
Proteins are essential macronutrients made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids that can be combined to make every protein in the body.
11 of these proteins, known as nonessential amino acids, are made by the body. The other 9 are known as essential amino acids and they must come from our diet.
Dietary proteins are broken into two categories: complete and incomplete. Complete proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids and are found in animal products. Some plant-based foods also contain all 9, but most plant-based proteins are missing 1 or 2 of the essential amino acids.
- dairy products
- hemp seeds
- chia seeds
If you eat a mostly plant-based diet, it’s important to eat a wide variety of foods that contain protein to ensure that you are getting all of the essential amino acids your body needs.
Why is Prioritizing Protein Important?
Protein has many functions in the body and is crucial for overall health. It makes up your hair, nails, bones, and muscles. It creates the structural framework for hormones to develop.
Protein helps repair and build your body’s tissues and keeps the immune system strong. Here are some of the key benefits of prioritizing protein throughout your day:
- increases muscle mass
- helps maintain strong bones
- reduces appetite and cravings
- helps maintain weight loss
- helps the body recover faster from injuries
- helps stabilize blood sugar levels
- promotes healthy brain function
- slows aging and promotes longevity
Are You Getting Enough Protein?
Are you getting enough protein throughout your day? I can tell you that most of the women that I have worked with do not get enough protein for optimal health. My health coach and friend, Dr. Leigh Anne Rushing, has said the same about most of her clients.
According to the RDA, a sedentary adult should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams per pound.
This is the bare minimum to prevent illness. I don’t know about you, but I am looking to thrive and not just survive.
More recent research suggests that optimal protein intake is much more than the minimal amount the RDA suggests.
There is no one-size-fits-all! Your sex, age, and activity level are some of the factors that impact your optimal amount.
Sarcopenia, which is the process of losing muscle mass, begins in our 30s. Menopause also causes loss of muscle mass.
So ladies, staying active and getting enough protein is key to staying strong and healthy.
According to the RDA, I should get about 43 grams of protein per day. As a 56-year-old active Grammy, I aim for about 90 – 100 grams per day which is more than double the amount per day than the RDA.
I break this up throughout my day. Usually about 25-30 grams per meal, and if need be, I have a snack with protein.
When I have 30 or more grams in a meal, I am full until the next meal and don’t need a snack
If you have been around here for a while, you know I’m not about counting calories, fat, macros, etc., but you may need to track your intake for a few days to see how much protein you are consuming and when. You can download my FREE Protein Cheat Sheet at the end of this post to help you.
You also need to listen to your body!
I have my clients keep a food journal when we first start working together. They track what they eat and how they are feeling after their meals and throughout the day.
Signs Of Protein Deficiency
Some signs that you may need to increase your protein include:
- loss of muscle mass
- skin, hair, and nail problems
- increased severity of infections
- mood swings
- low energy and fatigue
- hungry an hour after you eat
- poor sleep
- brain fog/low concentration
- irregular menstrual cycle
- trouble with weight loss
- low immunity/sick often
It’s important to note that severe protein deficiency in the United States is not very common.
Dr. Rushing and I both work with women who live full/busy lives and don’t always prioritize their nutrition. I see women skip breakfast or have some kind of bar, then have a salad for lunch with very little protein.
Skipping meals and/or eating meals that are not well-balanced can set your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride for the rest of the day.
It can result in cravings which lead to poor nutrition choices in the afternoon and evening. All of this can affect your sleep which can then cause more problems the next day.
My diet was very similar before Tom had his heart attack. Most days I skipped breakfast and had a frozen Lean Cuisine or a sandwich with a Coke for lunch.
By 3:00 pm I was starving and ate whatever I could grab at school for a snack. I honestly thought this was healthy. Well, I knew the Coke wasn’t healthy.
My weight was always fluctuating by 10-20 pounds and my sleep was horrible. I didn’t know why I wasn’t sleeping, and I thought the weight fluctuation was because I was getting older. Umm, I was only in my late thirties when this started.
When you know better, you do better!
Protein + Non-Starchy Veggies + Complex Carbs (Whole Grains/Starches) + Healthy Fats = Well-Balanced Meal.
Increasing your protein does not necessarily suggest increasing meat or caloric intake!
Aim for 1/2 of your meal to contain non-starchy veggies. The other half of your meal should consist of about 1/4 whole grains/starchy veggies/fruit and 1/4 quality protein, along with a small amount of healthy fats.
Several foods fall into more than one category. For example, nuts contain fat, protein, and complex carbs.
Proteins – meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, beans, quinoa, nuts, seeds, tofu, yogurt, cottage cheese (The FREE Protein Cheat Sheet has a larger list of protein sources with their protein amounts)
Non-Starchy Vegetables – salad greens, broccoli, cauliflower, all varieties of peppers, onions, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, zucchini
Whole Grains/Starchy Vegetables – barley, brown rice, bulgur, millet, oats, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, peas, corn, beets
Healthy Fats – unrefined oils, grass-fed butter, avocado, nuts, seeds, fatty fish
For snacks, I make sure to pair veggies or complex carbs with protein and/or fat. No naked carbs! This keeps your blood sugar levels from spiking and then crashing as I mentioned previously.
This is a guide and the formula I follow when I’m coming up with meals for myself and my family.
Tammy’s 5 Tips To Increase Protein Intake
I use these tips daily! They not only help me to increase my protein, but they also help me to get a variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients into my body for optimal health.
Remember we want to thrive not just survive!
There are so many ways that you can add protein to the things you are already eating. Here are some of my faves!
- collagen to smoothies, coffee, tea, oatmeal, yogurt, soups, stews, etc. I usually purchase Thrive Market Collagen Peptides.
- protein powder into smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal, chia pudding, pancakes, muffins, waffles, and desserts.
I like to sub some of the flour in muffins, pancakes, waffles, and desserts for protein powder.
Sometimes I take a shortcut when I’m making muffins with my grandbabies and use Simple Mills muffin mixes. I add 2 scoops of protein powder right to the mix.
Not all protein powders are created equal. It’s important to look at ingredient labels. So many protein powders are loaded with added sugars, thickeners, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, and other ingredients that do not nurture the body.
Just Ingredients protein powder is my absolute favorite. All of their protein powders have high-quality ingredients with no fillers, artificial/natural flavors, or other junk, and all of the flavors I’ve tried taste amazing.
.I’m not an advocate of substituting meals with protein shakes on their own. Remember the balanced meal formula and create a well-balanced smoothie.
- nut and seed butter to smoothies and snacks. I like to alternate my nut and seed butters so I’m getting in different nutrients.
- quinoa to salads/bowls, soups, stews, and chili.
- hard-boiled eggs to salads/bowls and snacks. I love hard-boiled eggs because they can be prepped in advance and are easy to incorporate into meals and snacks.
- beans, legumes, and green peas into salads/bowls, soups, stews, and chilis.
I have become queen of the sprinkle! I have several mason jars filled with goodies on one of the open shelves in my kitchen.
It helps me to remember to sprinkle protein and other nutrients into my smoothies and on my meals and snacks throughout the day. As with my nut and seed butters, I like to alternate.
Nuts and seeds are small but mighty! They contain protein, fiber, and healthy fats. They also contain many vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, vitamin E, and selenium.
- chia seeds
- hemp seeds
- ground flax seeds
- pumpkin seeds
- Brazil nuts
- nutritional yeast – Nutritional yeast has 10 grams of complete protein in just 2 tablespoons. It also has fiber, Vitamin B12, and glutathione which is our body’s master antioxidant. I love it sprinkled on popcorn, pasta, and salads.
- granola – Try my Homemade Granola. So easy to customize with your favorite nuts and seeds!
- regular yogurt with Greek yogurt. Regular whole milk plain yogurt has about 6 grams of protein per serving. Greek whole milk yogurt has 16 grams per serving. A bowl of Greek yogurt with a little protein powder, some berries, and a sprinkle of nuts and seeds is an example of a quick and easy, high-protein, nourishing breakfast.
- water with bone broth. Instead of using water to cook rice, quinoa, or in other recipes that call for water use bone broth.
- sour cream and mayo with Greek yogurt. In my Chicken Salad and Egg Salad recipes, I use a combination of Greek yogurt and avocado mayo.
- wheat pasta with chickpea, lentil, or other high-protein pasta.
4. Plan Ahead
This is probably one of the most important tips on this list. Planning ahead is crucial, especially when you have a full schedule.
I talk a lot about meal planning, but I mostly refer to dinner. Getting protein in at dinner time is usually not a problem for most of us. It’s breakfast, lunch, and snacks that can be lacking in protein as I mentioned earlier.
I don’t think it’s necessary to sit down and write a plan for every meal of the day for the week!
As much as I love to plan, I’ve never done that. Here are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success!
- Stock your kitchen. I get most of my protein staples at Costco and Thrive Market. They have the best prices! I get a Thrive order delivered once per month and shop every other month at Costco. I also get a Butcher Box order once every few months.
- Plan on doubling some of your dinner recipes or the protein portion of them to have on hand for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.
- Pack a snack or lunch for the road when you know you are going to be running errands or carting kids around. I have an entire blog post coming with 30 on-the-go well-balanced snack ideas so stay tuned.
- Make breakfast easy for busy mornings by designating a specific meal for each day of the week. For example, every Monday is chia pudding, Tuesday is a smoothie, Wednesday is hard-boiled eggs, broccoli sprouts, yogurt with fruit and some sprinkles, etc. I used to do this with my youngest son. It made life so much easier!
Meal prepping is not at the top of most people’s list of favorite things to do. But, prepping a few things at the beginning of the week will make it easy to get quality protein into your meals and snacks throughout the week. Here are some of my go-to’s to prep in advance.
- hard-boiled eggs
- chicken – This Slow Cooker Chicken recipe is so easy! It’s great for salads/bowls, wraps, tacos, and snack plates.
- ground beef
- chia pudding
- overnight oats – Be sure you are not eating oatmeal with just fruit. Oats have a little protein, but they contain a lot of carbs. It’s so important to add some protein like collagen, protein powder, or yogurt into the oatmeal or eat it with some other additional protein like eggs.
- protein muffins and pancakes
- protein balls
I also like to make sure all of my jars of goodies are full and ready to be sprinkled. I’m much more likely to use them if they are right in front of me.
You can get all of my meal-prepping tips in my Meal Prep Like a Boss post.
Well, there you have it! I hope you have found this post informative and that these tips will help you to increase your protein intake.
Remember that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Start with one tip or one meal. Small changes make a difference and create sustainability!
Please let me know if you have any questions and don’t forget to download your free cheat sheet.
If you are overwhelmed with feeding yourself and/or your family, I can help! Together we can create a custom plan that empowers you to you fuel your body well, make your family happy and healthy, and bring fun and connection back into mealtimes. Work With Me!