Those who pay close attention to their health and sports performance understand the importance of consuming enough protein. This nutrient plays an important role in helping your body function properly, along with cell growth and repair.
But increasing your protein intake isn’t always easy, especially if you’re short on time, a picky eater, or have specific dietary restrictions. Also, if you don’t consume the proper amount of protein required, several of your body’s functions can be disrupted.
What is protein?
Protein is much more than just a nutrient that will help you build those strong, massive biceps everyone in the gym envy. Protein is found in various plant and animal products such as fish, meat, dairy products, beans and lentils, eggs, seeds, and nuts, among others.
The nutrient is made up of building blocks called amino acids: 20 amino acids connect to form different combinations.
To function properly, your body requires all 20 of these amino acids. Once they’re digested, your body uses them to create new proteins, enzymes, and hormones. They are also used as a source of energy.
This is where things get a bit 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 must be included in your diet.
Searching some easy ways to add more protein to your diet? We’ve got you covered!
Why is protein important?
Protein is essential and should play an important role in everyone’s diet for several reasons:
- Protein is good for bones – Protein promotes and maintains strong bones, which is crucial for older people prone to fractures and osteoporosis. Also, many women develop osteoporosis after menopause, but eating plenty of protein and staying active can help fight it. Research it also suggests that the consumption of proteins of animal and vegetable origin can help in the preservation of skeletal muscle mass.
- Protein can help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight – A high protein diet can boost your metabolism and even increase the number of calories you burn at rest and when you are active. Because protein keeps you full longer and reduces cravings, studies show which can also support weight loss efforts.
- Protein can help your body heal and repair itself after injury – If you were injured at the gym or in a spin class, increasing your protein intake can strengthen the muscle tissue in your body. Following a protein-rich diet after injury can also prevent you from losing hard-earned muscle mass.
- Helps in the growth of strong hair and nails. – People who do not consume enough protein can often notice the deficiency in the skin, nails and hair. Without adequate protein, your skin can become flaky and discolored, and your nails and hair can become brittle. In severe cases, a protein deficiency can even cause Hair loss.
- Protein helps you stay healthy – In addition to lowering blood pressure, protein is also responsible for keeping muscles strong and functional throughout life.
How to increase protein intake
If you feel like you already eat a lot of protein and aren’t sure where to add it, check out these simple strategies to increase your protein intake.
1. Start your day with a high-protein breakfast
It’s time for your regular breakfast of frozen waffles to retire. Instead of having a high-carb breakfast, choose a protein-packed breakfast. Think oatmeal with peanut butter, breakfast burritos with beans and scrambled eggs, a lox bagel, or a shake that contains protein powder. These protein-packed meals will provide the fuel you need to conquer the day.
2. Have a source of protein with each meal and snack
Including a quality protein source with every meal and snack can make reaching 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 them to have between 10 and 15 grams of protein.
If your individual protein needs are very high or if you are training intensely and frequently, it is important to consume protein before and after workouts to support your performance and recovery.
3. Eat more plant-based protein
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 sources of protein include nut butter, legumes like beans and lentils, chickpeas, nuts and seeds, edamame, soy products like tofu, chia seeds, and more.
4. Proteins to prepare meals
If you’re juggling a busy social life, family, and demanding work schedule, meal prep is, quite simply, a life-changing way to eat nutritiously for your health.
Proteins can take longer to cook, so it’s helpful to have them prepared and safely stored in your fridge.
For example, boiled eggs. cooked meats and tofu can be conveniently grabbed when you’re running out the door or added to an easy dinner when you’re home late.
Don’t feel like preparing meals? Check out Trifecta’s Meal Prep option to have prepared protein and ready-to-eat meals delivered to your door.
5. Stock up on-the-go protein snacks
It is wise to have protein packed snacks like Greek yogurt, individually wrapped cheeses, hummus, beef or turkey jerky, trail mix, and protein bars on standby.
If you’re a heavy 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 be opting for a protein-rich snack instead of something unhealthy from the vending machine.
When you go to the grocery store each week, choose a few of your favorites and rotate them so you don’t get burned.
6. Add protein powder to meals or snacks
Sometimes you just don’t have the time or energy to prepare a meal or make a protein-rich snack.
You want to strive for whole foods first, but in those cases when you’re short on time or running low on food, having a quality protein powder on hand can be helpful to support your protein intake goals.
A protein scoop typically has between 15 and 25g of protein and can be an easy way to add protein to foods like oatmeal or a smoothie that might otherwise be lacking in protein.
Along with complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, protein should be considered an essential part of your diet. The good news is that adding extra protein to your diet is simple and delicious. Start by looking at your current diet and determine the “protein gaps.” Once you’ve noticed the meals or snacks where you’re lowering your protein intake, make a list of high-protein recipes and food items that can help you up your game.
When considering which proteins to add to your diet, be sure to include a mix of animal and plant-based products. This variety will result in a well-balanced diet that will provide you with sufficient nutrients and the necessary protein to support all of your body’s functions.