Protein is a key component to a healthy diet, but many people overlook or underestimate its importance. Much of the confusion revolves around getting “enough” protein and choosing the “best” sources. But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to protein consumption. That’s because:
- Getting “enough” protein is relative. A person’s ideal protein intake depends on their individual body, goals, and preferences.
- The “best” sources of protein, including plant-based protein, may vary from person to person. Some sources may be higher-quality than others, but intolerances and allergies need to be taken into account, as well as what a person is able to eat on a consistent basis.
By the end of this blog post, you will have some great ideas on where to get healthy protein, good sources for it (whether you’re a plant-based eater or meat eater), the benefits of eating enough protein and some of the downfalls of not getting enough.
How important is protein?
We need protein consistently from our diets in order to grow, maintain, and repair our tissues, hormones, and immune system. Protein is the cellular building block of our bodies. And during pregnancy, protein is even more important to create a new human life.
Some people may want to eat more or less protein depending on their preferences and goals, but we all need a bare minimum of protein to prevent issues like:
- losing muscle mass (which can cause a drop in your metabolism)
- having skin, hair, and nail problems
- healing more slowly if you get cuts or bruises
- experiencing mood swings (something none of us needs on top of those pesky mom hormones!)
- being more likely to break bones
If weight loss is your goal, your focus would be on eating more sources of lean protein. The little secret to that is that our bodies do not store protein, so whatever we eat as a lean source of protein is immediately put to use.
For my clients who are on a weight loss journey, I suggest to eat a source of quality protein when they’re hungry so that it will give them satiety and keep them on track for their goals.
The benefits of protein
Unless you have a specific medical reason to keep your protein intake low, most people will benefit from eating more protein.
The specific benefits of a higher-protein diet include:
- Appetite control: Eating a high-protein diet seems to improve satiety.
- Weight and body composition management: Higher protein intakes may help people eat less when they’re trying to lose fat, increase the number of calories burned through digestion (the thermic effect of food), and retain muscle during fat loss.
- Muscle growth or maintenance: Keeping protein levels high, combined with exercise, helps people gain vital muscle mass and hang onto it over time, especially as they age.
- Improved cardiometabolic health: High protein diets can help lower blood pressure, improve glucose regulation and blood cholesterol, and more.
- Better strength: Higher amounts of protein combined with exercise can also aid in strength gains.
- Improved immune function : Proteins are the building blocks of antibodies, and serve several functions in the immune system. People who are protein-deficient are more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections.
- Faster recovery: Higher protein intakes help to repair tissue damaged during exercise, as well as after injury.
There’s a big misconception out there that if you want to get more muscular, you just eat protein. We have all these visions of big, bulky men at the gym chugging their protein shakes. But protein doesn’t build muscle, it is a building block for muscle. You also have to lift heavy weights to grow those muscles — it’s a two-fold system.
The benefit of protein and strength training
When we eat higher amounts of protein combined with exercise, it can aid in strength gains. For me personally, this was a huge breakthrough.
Four years ago I started lifting heavier weights and focused more on my diet, specifically portions and macronutrients— which meant eating way more lean protein than I had ever consumed.
I began to rehab my diet.
I thought I was eating healthy, but then I became more enlightened about portions and macros and eating just enough carbohydrates and healthy fats.
At the age of 45, I have completely reshaped my body and dropped my body fat by 3%. (Age really is just a number. You can change/improve your body composition with exercise and nutrition at ANY point in your life!)
I also started lifting heavier weights, and learned how to swing and press kettlebells. In 2018, I earned a Russian Kettlebell Specialist certification, and became certified as a Precision Nutrition Level 1 nutrition coach. It’s the perfect combination to help AMC mamas increase their strength and change their body composition!
How much protein do you need?
Your protein needs depend on a variety of factors including your age, weight, activity level, health status, goals, and more.
Here are some general guidelines:
- Sedentary people should aim for a bare minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day (Or 0.36 grams per pound.)
- Adults over 65 should aim for 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. (Or 0.55 to 0.91 grams per pound of bodyweight.) New research shows that most older people need more protein than the bare minimum recommendation to slow down muscle loss.8,9
- Athletes and active people should aim for between 1.2 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. (Or 0.55 to 1.0 grams per pound of bodyweight.) People who are overweight and obese may want to stick to the lower end of this range, since protein needs are not as high relative to their bodyweight.
- Healthy people who want to change their weight or body composition should strive for 1.6 to 3.3 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. (Or 0.75 to 1.5 grams per pound.) Going above the threshold for active people (2.2 grams of protein per kilogram) may not be necessary, but there’s little evidence it’s harmful.
So let’s do the math to give you an example.
A 165 pound person whose goal is to reduce overall body fat would strive to eat 0.75 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound.
165 x 0.75 = 123 grams of protein daily (minimum recommendation)
165 x 1.5 = 247 grams of protein daily (high-end recommendation)
An average between the two: 185 grams of protein each day. I will admit, that is a LOT of protein to intentionally consume over the course of a day. It will require you to be strategic about planning out meals and to have your pantry stocked.
But fat loss doesn’t require perfection.
My clients have successfully lost weight and body fat by simply incorporating a lean source of protein at each meal. The point is to be more mindful and work on the continuum of making good, better, best food choices.
For example, if you typically eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast, you could improve your choice, and opt for an egg white scramble instead, or 2 hard-boil eggs, or a container of Skyr yogurt instead of a carb-based bowl of cereal.
Another example, if you already eat some protein for breakfast, how could you incorporate more protein— at each meal.
I like to get my protein from a variety of sources, but here are a few of my favorites:
- Smoked salmon on Ezekiel toast
- Lean chicken, pork tenderloin, 93% ground turkey, or chicken
- Tuna fish mashed with avocado (instead of mayo)
- Trader Joe’s Mahi mahi fish burgers
- Tilapia filets
- Eggs (whites are the protein source, yolk is the fat source)
- Quinoa or farro, made with bone broth
- Skyr or low-fat greek yogurt
- Spinach, kale, collard greens
- Thorne Research Whey Protein Powder (chocolate flavor)
- Jocko Mölk Whey Protein Powder (peanut butter chocolate flavor)
- Vital Protein Collagen Peptides (great option for vegans, also non-dairy)
My recommendation to clients is to aim for 30 grams of protein at breakfast. 30 grams of protein in lunch, 30 grams of protein in dinner, and then other foods you’re eating will also contribute to that protein consumption.
How I incorporate lean protein in my diet & for boys
BREAKFAST — I like to have smoked salmon on Ezekiel bread (a sprouted grain bread) with a ¼ of an avocado, or spinach and four egg scramble (4 whites:1 yolk). A few days a week I opt for a protein smoothie: blending protein powder, water, ice cubes, 1/4 avocado, frozen strawberries. Breakfast is dependent on time.
LUNCH — is usually a greens salad, with a lean protein (chicken, pork tenderloin, eggs, or white fish). My greens tend to be dressed with balsamic vinegar, balsamic glaze, OR lemon with drizzle of EVO.
LATE AFTERNOON SNACK — I love Skyr yogurt; high in protein and low in sugar, and has a smooth, creamy consistency. I like will sprinkle in fresh or frozen blueberries. I also like rolled oats as a base with blueberries, cinnamon, a scoop of collagen peptides, and pour unsweetened vanilla almond milk over the top. If I’m on the go, my snack may an RX Bar.
DINNER— We have a routine of cooking a big batch meal on Sunday (turkey chili, chicken Picadillo, beef stew, pulled pork, etc) and eat it for leftovers 2-3 nights during the week. My husband’s love of cooking works to my advantage! When weather cooperates, he will grill salmon, chicken, pork tenderloin, burgers (90% lean ground meat), and will also grill in big batches to freeze or eat during the week.
FAMILY FAVORITE — Another favorite source of protein for the whole family is Kodiak pancake mix. We love our pancakes, especially the boys, and this is a great way to sneak some extra protein into their diets. One serving of Kodiak pancake mix has 14 grams of protein, and we will mix with an egg, add 1 tbsp of flaxseed, ½ cup of pumpkin, and 1 scoop collagen peptides, plus pumpkin spice seasoning (the boys have NO idea)…so we’re sneaking in even more protein and healthy fat! This turns regular buttermilk pancakes from a good breakfast choice into a protein-packed, nutrient-dense breakfast choice.
So now you know the secret of protein and all of its benefits!