Okay, we’re switching gears to nutrition today after all the COVID/FEELINGS talk and chatting all about protein.
Let’s be honest, I’ll probably still talk about feelings at some point cause you know, I’m me… but I definitely want to reel it in and make sure I’m still serving those of you who are thinking “I’m good on the mindset stuff, for now, Ali… I’m really here for the nutrition stuff.
I gave a general overview of protein in the article What is “Counting Macros”, Anyway? but today, we’re doin’ a deep dive.
You might be wondering…
What is protein and what role does it play in your body?
How much do you need?
What are some easy (and delicious) bulk protein recipes?
What are some good protein snacks?
What habits will help you get more protein throughout your day?
…you name it and we’re (hopefully) chatting about it. Let’s dive right in!
What is Protein?
Protein is one of the three macronutrients and plays an imperative role in your body.
During digestion, protein is broken down into amino acids which are important in the creation of enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and antibodies – this means that protein is basically involved in EVERY process going on in your body.
There are two types of amino acids: essential (your body cannot make these and you need to get them through your diet) and nonessential which your body can make.
There is also an amino acid behind secret door #3:conditionally essential amino acids.
These are usually made by your body in high enough quantities for health but during certain times (ex: when you’re overly stressed!) your body needs a bit of help through the diet.
It helps to…
- Keep your muscles strong by giving them the fuel they need to recover from workouts and day-to-day activities.
- Plays an important role in making hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters in your body.
- It keeps you feeling full because it takes a long time for your body to break down.
- Helps replace worn-out cells
- plays a role in the transportation of different substances through your body
- Helps stabilize blood sugar levels (and therefore, decreases cravings/hunger and keeps energy level through the day)
- Supports a healthy immune system
- Keeps your metabolism stoked (aka – you burn more calories at rest when you eat more protein!)
- May help increases levels of a hormone in your body called glucagon. Glucagon can help to control body fat because it is released when blood sugar levels go down. This drop in blood sugar causes the liver to break down stored glycogen into glucose for the body to use as energy
- AND MORE!
Convinced of its importance, yet?
How Much Protein do You Need?
Protein requirements differ between individuals based on many factors like:
- Goals (ex: muscle gain? weight loss? weight maintenance?)
- Training style, frequency, and intensity
- And to some (very small) degree, preference
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (about 54g for a 150lb woman) but it is very important to keep in mind that the studies that helped to determine this “recommendation” didn’t take training, body composition or optimal health into account.
0.8g/kg body weight may be enough to prevent protein deficiency but that doesn’t mean that we want to scrape by with the bare minimum, right?
Protein needs increase quite a bit with weight and interval training… potentially to as much as 1.4-2+g per kg of bodyweight.
But remember, it is very important to consult a doctor or a coach who has been trained to get to know your body and your needs before making huge shifts in your diet!
Where Can You Get Protein?
Protein is found in things like…
- Meat products (chicken, turkey, beef, etc.)
- Dairy products (yogurt and cottage cheese are my favs!)
- Supplements (protein shakes, collagen powder)
- Vegan products like tofu, tempeh, and seitan
- Small amounts in legumes, nuts, seeds, and some carb sources.
Download the infographic below so you have some ideas in a pinch (aka – when you’re aimlessly walking around the grocery store!)
Alright, I’m Convinced…
Now that you’re all on board the protein train, let’s chat about ways to get more protein in your diet by answering a few more questions…
1. What are some easy (and delicious) bulk protein recipes?
Easy doesn’t have to mean boring. Here are some of my protein go-to’s:
Chicken breasts in the crockpot
Time will vary depending on how much chicken you’re cooking but a good rule of thumb is about 6-8 hours on low or 3-4 hours on high for 4 large chicken breasts (~3lbs).
I prefer to keep it SUPER simple. Add ~1C of chicken broth to your crockpot with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and any other desired spices. If possible, check as you go to make sure you’re not overcooking.
Once done, drain about 1/2 the liquid and shred chicken (the remaining liquid will help it stay moist!) and store in an airtight container in your refrigerator.
Thinking to yourself, “that sounds boring AF?” here’s the trick – you gotta keep TONS of yummy, healthy condiments around that you can mix into your “boring” chicken depending on what you’re in the mood for. My favorites:
- G Hughes Smokehouse Sugar-Free BBQ
- Bolthouse Avocado Salsa
- Bolthouse Honey Mustard (or ANY of their amazing dressings!)
- Buffalo Sauce
Keeping it simple during your bulk prep allows you to decide what you want as you get through your week!
More of an instant pot kinda person?
- Add chicken, spices, and liquid to your pot
- Cook on high pressure for ~10 minutes (it takes ~10 minutes to come to pressure before your 10-min countdown begins)
- Turn Instant Pot off and let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes (read: don’t touch it your instant pot!)
Trader Joe’s Cabernet Pot Roast
If you follow me on the gram, you KNOW that this is a staple on my TJ’s grocery list! Brown this baby for ~3-5min on each side before popping in your crockpot for about 9 hours with ~1C water (or chicken broth) for some moisture then ENJOY.
Thinking to yourself “browning sounds super fancy”
a) its not
b) this isn’t 100% necessary and if you’re short on time or just don’t feel like it, the roast right can go right from the packaging to the crockpot but browning helps it stay more tender.
Egg White Muffins/Bake
Need a quick grab-and-go protein-packed breakfast? Grab a few cartons of egg whites (or crack some local, free-range chicken eggs!) and pour them into a bowl with spices and finely chopped veggies of choice. You could also add in a bit of cheese if you’re into that!
I usually add veggies like:
Pour into muffin tins and bake at ~350 for 20-25 min (until the tops are golden brown).
Pro tip: Need even MORE protein? Add chicken sausage, turkey bacon, Canadian bacon, or lean ham!
Buy Canned Tuna
Here is the thing, most people hear “prep” and absolutely FREAK but prep literally means anything you do now to make your life later, just a bit easier. It helps you keep the HEALTHY choice the EASY choice. So, simply keeping your pantry stocked with canned tuna is an awesome way to “prep”. Then, you can utilize it for:
- Tuna wraps
- Tuna melts
- Tuna salad
- ON TOP of regular salad
I honestly skip the mayo and just add spices but you could add low-fat mayo, 0% plain Greek yogurt or even buffalo if you want to.
Use Dinner As Protein Prep Time
Again, the whole idea here is to use the time you have wisely. So, you can also do “bulk prep” when you’re cooking dinner. If you’re cooking ground turkey or beef to eat on top spaghetti squash, cook at least 2x as much as you need so you can throw leftovers in the fridge. The same goes for things like…
- Grilling (or baking) chicken, steak, or burgers
- Sauteeing shrimp
2. What are some good, grab-n-go protein snacks?
I shared a TON of great grab-and-go snack ideas in this post but here are some protein-specific ideas:
- Single-serving yogurt/cottage cheese containers
- Low-sodium deli meat roll-ups
- Tuna pouches
- Cheese sticks
- Egg white muffins
- Protein shakes
- Protein bars
- Peanut butter powder
- Sipping bone broth
- Meal leftovers
As you can see, some of these will likely take a teeny bit of prep but that doesn’t mean it needs to be complicated or lengthy. Remember, a bit of time NOW will set FUTURE you up for protein success.
Here are a few things you can do if you need to get in the habit of eating more protein
- Plan your protein sources into your day first if you’re a macro tracker. Depending on your individual macro breakdown, it may be helpful to stick to lean protein sources.
Some good examples are chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef (93% or higher!), egg whites, protein powder and low/non-fat yogurt & cottage cheese. Because protein is usually linked to fat intake, it is really important to stick to leaner sources so the fat doesn’t sneak up on you.
- Get more protein at breakfast. If you can stack more of your protein in that first meal, it will feel less overwhelming throughout your days.
Ex: Do you love scrambled eggs in the morning? Try adding extra egg whites and some lean turkey bacon (trader joes has a SUPER yummy one) as well.
- Make your snacks protein-focused. Outside of the suggestions above, remember that snacks don’t have to be “typical” snack (aka junk) foods. Prepping “mini-meals” (leftover burger with some veggies) as snacks will go a long way.
- Add a shake if you’re in a pinch.
- Add collagen powder to your coffee or start drinking bone broth. Both of these things are AMAZING for joints/skin/hair/nails and they’re packed with protein!
Pro-tip: cooking grains (rice, pasta, quinoa) in bone broth instead of water bumps up their protein content.
- Focus on higher protein grains, legumes, and veggies (quinoa, amaranth, wild rice, beans, lentils, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and peas).
This does NOT mean to rely on these foods as protein sources. It just means that you can get more protein if you choose these options over lower-protein alternatives (ex: white rice).
- Make it YUMMY! Protein Pudding, egg whites on the stove with some stevia and cinnamon and adding protein powder to oatmeal are great options.
- Pay attention to portions. Make sure you’re getting at LEAST a palm-sized portion of protein at lunch and dinner.
Now that you know more about what protein does in your body, where to find it, how to prep it and some tips to get more through your day, you are definitely STEPS ahead of where you were.
Pick ONE bulk protein idea and ONE protein tip to add to your routine this week and get after it.
If you have any protein questions or go-to favorites, drop a comment below!