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How to Increase Your Protein Intake: 6 Tips From a Registered Dietitian

Those who pay close attention to their health and athletic performance understand the importance of consuming enough protein. This nutrient plays a considerable role in helping your body function properly, along with growing and repairing cells.

People trying to increase their muscle mass, boost metabolism, support their bone health, or lose weight will typically exceed the minimum amount of protein their body needs.How much protein should you eat in a day?

But increasing your protein intake isn’t always easy, especially if you’re limited on time, a picky eater, or have specific dietary restrictions. Plus, if you fail to consume the adequate amount of protein required, several of your body’s functions can be disturbed.

 

What is protein?

Protein is much more than a nutrient that will help you develop those strong, massive biceps that everyone at the gym envies. Protein is found in various plant-based and animal products like fish, meat, dairy products, beans and lentils, eggs, seeds and nuts, and more.

The nutrient is made up of building blocks called amino acids— 20 amino acids connect to form different combinations.

To function correctly, your body requires all 20 of these amino acids. Once they are digested, your body uses them to create new proteins, enzymes, and hormones. They are also used as a source of energy. 

Here’s where things get a little more complicated: only 11 amino acids can be made in your body, known as non-essential amino acids. As for the other 9, these are considered essential amino acids, and these must be included in your diet.

Looking for a few easy ways to add more protein to your diet? We've got you covered!

Why is protein important? 

Protein is essential, and it should play a large part in everyone’s diet for several reasons:

  • Protein is good for your bones - Protein promotes and maintains strong bones, which is crucial for older individuals prone to fractures and osteoporosis. Additionally, many women develop osteoporosis after menopause but eating plenty of protein and staying active can help combat this. Research also suggests that the consumption of animal and plant-based proteins can aid in the preservation of skeletal muscle mass. 
  • Protein can help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight - A diet high in protein can boost your metabolism and even increase the number of calories you burn at rest and when you are active. Because protein keeps you feeling full for longer and reduces cravings, studies show that it can also support weight loss efforts.
  • Protein can help your body heal and repair after an injury - If you’ve injured yourself at the gym or spin class, upping your protein intake can reinforce your body’s muscle tissue. Following a high-protein diet post-injury can also keep you from losing the muscle mass that you’ve worked so hard to gain.
  • It aids in the growth of strong hair and nails - People who aren’t consuming enough protein can often notice the deficiency in their skin, nails, and hair. Without adequate protein, your skin can become flakey and discolored, and your nails and hair can grow brittle. In severe cases, a protein deficiency can even cause hair loss
  • Protein helps you stay healthy - Besides lowering your blood pressure, protein is also responsible for keeping your muscles strong and functional throughout your entire life. 

How to increase your protein intake

If you feel like you already eat a lot of protein and aren't sure where you can add it, check out these simple strategies to boost your protein intake.  

1. Start your day with a high-protein breakfast

It’s time for your usual breakfast of frozen waffles to retire. Instead of eating a breakfast high in carbohydrates, choose a breakfast packed with protein. Think overnight oats with peanut butter, breakfast burritos with beans and scrambled egg, a smoked salmon bagel, or a smoothie containing protein powder. These protein-packed meals will provide the fuel needed to conquer the day.

2. Have a source of protein with every meal and snack

Including a quality source of protein with each meal and snack can make hitting your daily protein intake goals much more achievable. 

Depending on your individual needs and goals, you should consume at least 20 to 30 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

As for snacks, you should aim for these to be 10 to 15 grams of protein.

If your individual protein needs are very high or you are training intensely and often it important to consume protein before and after workouts to support your performance and recovery. 

3. Eat more plant-based proteins

People often think of chicken breast and red meat when they think of protein. But plant-based proteins will provide you with the same vital benefits.

Popular plant-based protein sources include nut butter, legumes like beans and lentils, chickpeas, nuts and seeds, edamame, soy products like tofu, chia seeds, and more. 

Studies suggest that a mix of plant-based and animal proteins is essential when meeting amino acid requirements. 

4. Meal prep proteins

If you’re juggling a busy social life, family, and demanding work schedule, meal prepping is, quite simply, life-changing for eating nutritiously for your health. 

Proteins can be more time-consuming to cook, so it’s helpful to have these prepared and securely stored in your refrigerator.

For example, hard-boiled eggs. cooked meats and tofu can be conveniently grabbed as you run out the door or added to an easy dinner when you get home late. 

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5. Have protein grab-and-go snacks stocked 

It’s wise to have protein-filled snacks like greek yogurt, individually-wrapped cheeses, hummus, beef or turkey jerky, trail mix, and protein bars on standby.

If you’re a big snacker or have a hard time meeting your protein needs, consider keeping some in your desk drawer at the office and in your car. This way, you’ll opt for a high-protein snack instead of something unhealthy from the vending machine. 

When you go to the grocery store each week, pick up a few of your favorites and rotate them so you don’t get burnt out. 

6. Add protein powder to meals or snacks

Sometimes you really just don't have the time or energy to meal prep or make a high-protein snack.

You want to strive for whole foods first, but in those cases when you're short on time or are getting low on groceries having a quality protein powder on hand can be helpful to support your protein intake goals. 

One scoop of protein is usually between 15-25 g of protein and can be an easy way to add protein to foods like oatmeal or a smoothie that otherwise may be lacking in protein. 


Takeaways 

Along with complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, protein should be considered an essential part of your diet. The good news is that adding additional protein to your diet is simple and delicious. Start by analyzing your current diet and determine the “protein gaps.” Once you’ve realized the meals or snacks where you’re slacking on your protein consumption, make a list of protein-packed recipes and food products that can help you up your game. 

When considering which proteins to add to your diet, be sure to include a mixture of animal and plant-based products. This variety will result in a well-balanced diet that will provide you with sufficient nutrients and the protein needed to support all of your body’s functions.