Ok – you’ve started a new fitness kick. It’s going great. But now your PT has told you to “up your protein intake”.
So how DO you eat enough protein?
The “why” isn’t what we’re going to get into here (let’s just say recovery, muscle growth/retention and feeling satisfied after a meal are the basic reasons), it’s the HOW and the WHAT.
If you’re female, you’ve probably been given a daily target of anywhere between 80-120g. If you’re a guy, we could be talking anything from 140-200g (much more than that is overkill unless you’re The Rock).
Don’t be daunted by the numbers. It’s perfectly do-able. But, there’s always a but, it won’t happen by accident. Making sure to eat enough protein to support training and exercise is unlikely to happen by accident unless you’re already enough of a carnivore to give PETA nightmares.
You have to plan properly to eat enough protein
You’ll need to make sure that every main meal you consume has a protein source as the “main” part of it. You’ll also need to make sure than most of your snacks are based around protein sources, rather than carb sources. We’re thinking jerky, boiled eggs, protein bars, mini-cheeses etc, rather than Mars Bars and crisps.
Vegetarians and vegans – sorry, it’s just a simple fact that you are going to REALLY plan your nutrition. Unless you plan on relying on supplements (not ideal) then you are going to struggle to eat enough protein if you don’t plan. There are plenty of non-animal based foods that have protein, but not in anything like the quantities that meat has; even so-called high protein vegetarian/vegan protein sources require you to eat a huge quantity to simply get the protein content of one chicken breast.
To save you having to carry and pen and paper around with you all day, use an app like MyFitnessPal to track your food intake.
What’s the best protein sources?
So, let’s talk sources. Some are obvious – some not so.
Chicken and turkey are high protein (20-30%), but relatively low calorie – so an obvious top choice.
Other meats all have varying quantities, but will generally be at least 15% protein.
Dairy (milk, eggs, cheese) are lower down, but still have a good content – they just start to bring in more fat and therefore higher calories.
A growing trend towards protein-yoghurts, cereals, breads etc can help, but don’t be deceived – the additional protein is simply whey (the same stuff in protein powders); it’s not some super-milk from a special kind of protein-cow. It’s certainly valid, but you’re often paying a huge premium for a very, very cheap additive.
Bottom of the list (sorry vegans and veggies!) are the seeds, nuts, pulses, oats, beans etc etc. On the face of it, some of these will have a high protein content per 100g – but you simply can’t eat the quantities needed, and still not hugely overeat in calorie terms, every day. We’re not saying it’s impossible to get all your protein needs as a veggie/vegan, we’re just saying it won’t happen without fairly meticulous planning.
For most people, trying to twist their diet away from being 70-80% carbohydrate based, and to get something like 30-35% of their calories from protein, is a massive deal. It won’t happen overnight – you’re needing to change habits; shopping habits, eating habits, evening snack habits, eating out habits. There’s a lot to think about to eat enough protein, but with some proper planning and guidance it’s very do-able. Just don’t try to change everything at once. That rarely works, and leaves people feeling overwhelmed and like they’ve failed.
Try to change the basis of one meal a day at first. Get used to that for a week, then try and change another meal. Small habit changes always, always end up “sticking” better than wholesale lifestyle upheavals.