The average American diet is not short of protein, which is great because protein is an essential nutrient present in every cell in our bodies. We can get protein from both plant and animal sources and it’s important to get a variety of different proteins for added nutrients and fiber in our diet.
The amount of protein we need to consume varies based on several factors like age and overall level of activity. For example, if you’re training hard athletically you’ll need to consume more protein to keep your energy level high. Understanding your protein needs will help you figure out if you really are getting enough, or if you need to increase your protein levels.
According to the American Heart Association 10-35% of your calories should be from protein. So, that’s about 46 grams of protein for adult women and 56 grams for adult men.
- 10 grams a day for babies
- 19-34 grams a day for school-aged kids
- 52 grams a day for teenage boys
- 46 grams a day for teenage girls
- 71 grams a day for pregnant or breastfeeding women
However, it’s important to remember that not all protein sources are created equal. Animal sources, like red meats, are also high in saturated fats and can contribute to heart disease. Therefore it is better to eat a variety of sources of protein like beans, legumes, lean meats, and fish. So what does that translate to in terms of food?
Drink an 8-ounce glass of milk, and you’ll have 8 grams of protein. Add 2 hardboiled eggs for 12 grams and a cup of yogurt for another 11 grams. Follow that up with a 3-ounce piece of meat — which is about the size of a deck of cards and has about 21 grams of protein — and a ½ cup of cooked Quinoa, which has 4 grams and you’ve already reached the 56-gram requirement for an adult man.
Are you active or training hard?
When you’re highly active and training hard, your muscle tissue breaks down at a higher rate. To repair and rebuild that tissue, you’ll need to consume more protein. How active is active enough to need more protein? Exercising at least 35-40 minutes a day, four or five days a week, usually means you need more protein. Especially if you’re including resistance training at least two times a week. The body does adapt to the increased stress on the body and it is important to understand the amount of protein needed is not significantly more than a sedentary individual.
Tips for eating more protein
Are you struggling to fit more protein into your daily routine? Making some smart swaps and planning ahead can help you easily increase the amount of protein in your diet. These tips may help:
- Snack smart. Easy and non-refrigerated snacks are usually carb-heavy and protein-light. But the right snacks are a great way to fit in more protein. Try adding peanut butter to your apples, pair string cheese with crackers, or pack nuts and jerky with you when you need something quick and easy.
- Greek yogurt. Switching from regular to Greek yogurt is an easy way to increase your protein intake. You can also swap plain Greek yogurt in recipes for things like sour cream, cream cheese, or mayo.
- Add beans to everything. Well, maybe not everything. But beans are packed with protein, which makes them a great addition to your regular meals. Throw extra beans on salads, in soups, and more.
- Vary your meat choices. It can get boring to eat the same thing all the time. Try to fit in more than just chicken into your diet. Learn to cook with several types of meat and fish. It’ll keep things interesting, and you’ll be getting your protein in at the same time.
- Prepare ahead. If you feel like eating enough protein is a burdensome chore, prepare ahead of time. Precook strips of meat and keep them in the freezer for future meals. Simply add a few strips to a salad for a quick lunch. If you like hard-boiled eggs, cook up a half dozen at the beginning of the week to add to your lunch or snacks.
Trying to lose weight?
Protein lasts longer in your stomach than carbs, which means more protein may help you decrease your appetite. Having protein at each meal will help minimize hunger pains throughout the day.
Are you getting older?
Increasing your protein intake once you reach middle age will help you maintain your muscle mass and ward off osteoporosis.
We all need protein in our diets. When you know how much you need and how to fit it into your daily routine, your body will thank you. You might even lose a little weight!