Sufficient protein intake is one of the most important nutritional concepts in fitness. Whether you're following a low-fat diet to pursue weight loss, or you're working hard in the gym to build muscle, you'll need to consume enough grams of protein each day to make the changes you seek.
And while it's easy to read up online about high-protein diets and incorporating protein powder shakes into your nutrition regimen, actually making these changes can be more difficult. When you're looking to achieve a fitness goal that requires a much higher degree of protein intake than you're used to, it'll likely require getting out of your comfort zone and trying new things.
Fortunately, you don't have to go it alone! Lots of people have been able to steadily increase their daily protein intake by following a few simple yet proven strategies. Below are five helpful tips to help you get enough protein in your diet so that you can change your body the way you desire.
Things in the fitness and nutrition industry change relatively rapidly. Sure, whey protein powder shakes and chicken breast have been staples in fitness diets for decades and probably will remain so for quite a while. But there are also plenty of other great sources of protein that you may not even know about. On today's market, you can find protein powder made from a variety of sources including hemp, casein and peas.
Some of these foods – like quinoa, chia seeds and greek yogurt – aren't necessarily new, but have experienced a resurgence in popularity over the last few years as new data comes out regarding their nutritional benefits. For example, recent studies have shown that quinoa is an excellent source of protein because it's easily digestible and contains all essential amino acids, a type of food sometimes referred to as a "complete protein." If you aren't feeling inspired by any of your current sources of protein, start looking around for more creative options.
Like many other things – exercise, meditation, relaxation time – we are more likely to actually increase our protein intake if we schedule it in advance. That doesn't mean you need to plan out every single gram of protein before you eat it! It's easy to start small by building protein into your routine a few times a week, and then scaling up from there.
For example, you can start to increase your protein intake by scheduling a protein shake three days a week – maybe a post-workout shake on days that you plan to hit the gym for strength training. If your goal is to lose weight, you might want to schedule a protein shake during a time when you typically tend to get most hungry, like between lunch and dinner.
The key is to be open to experimentation – try a different amount of protein at a different time until you decide for yourself what works best for your schedule.
Are you the kind of person who gets used to eating just a few types of foods all the time? Maybe you can't get enough peanut butter, or you add a side of black beans to almost every meal. There's nothing inherently wrong with eating the same kinds of foods frequently. In fact, this is a common tactic for those tracking protein, carbs and other macronutrients because it prevents them from having to constantly incorporate new foods into their tracking habit.
But for those who might be struggling to get enough protein each day, variety can be an important tool. One easy way to add some variety is to simply choose a substitute food for one that you eat very often. If you can't get enough cottage cheese, you might decide to try egg whites – both foods are relatively high in protein and are common in the diets of those practicing healthy eating, which simply means consuming foods that help you meet your fitness goals.
On the other hand, if you're someone who only gets proteins from protein-rich foods like chicken breast, lentils and legumes, you could try incorporating whey protein powder shakes or other forms of supplements into your diet. While protein shakes shouldn't be a substitute for high-protein foods in your diet, someone who wants to build muscle can add extra protein from common supplements like shakes and protein bars. A single scoop of a high-quality protein supplement like whey protein powder usually has the same protein content as a serving of lean meat like chicken breast or jerky.
You don't have to change your diet at all – you can simply add a shake or a protein bar on top of what you're already eating for a little protein boost that can add up each day for a serious improvement in your protein intake.
There's no reason to force yourself to try to consume the exact same amount of protein every single day – especially if your responsibilities and schedule varies on different days of the week. For example, let's say you lift weights for muscle growth three days per week and are looking to consume 130 grams of protein per day to hit your daily goal. If you consume 150 grams of protein on the days you lift and 115 grams of protein on days you don't lift, your weekly protein consumption actually remains the same: 130 * 7 = 910 = (150 * 3) + (115 * 4).
This practice of cycling is fairly common when it comes to other macronutrients, especially carbohydrates. If it works better for you, cycling your protein intake can be just as effective of a strategy to help you get extra protein in your diet.
Some of the most common sources of protein – like hummus, chickpeas and nut butter – can be prepared or incorporated into foods in many different ways. The same applies for lean meat protein sources like turkey and chicken. For example, if you usually cook chicken breast on the stove in a marinade with olive oil, basil and lemon juice, you might try combining it with some high-protein veggies like soybeans and edamame and baking them together in the oven. If a recipe you frequently use calls for mozzarella cheese, you could substitute or add ricotta, a cheese known for its high protein content. A single cup of ricotta cheese contains nearly 24 grams of protein.
The internet has made it easy to be creative with your meal prep and try the same ingredients in slightly different ways. If your goal is increasing protein intake, you might check out blog posts or videos that identify specific types of protein and then find a way to work those into your cooking routine.
Most people concerned about their fitness – whether they are looking to build muscle, lose fat, or simply maintain a desired body weight – will be interested want to increase their protein intake. But like any habit, increasing your consumption of protein takes time and adjustment. There's no single superfood that will unlock the key to eating a lot of protein. Instead, you should experiment with protein sources, vary up your recipe ingredients, and create a regular protein consumption schedule to make it easy for you to get enough protein spread out through the day to keep you moving towards your goals.
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