Protein is one of the three macronutrients essential to our diet, in addition to carbohydrates and fats. Although general guidelines for protein intake recommend about 50-60 grams per day, there are several groups who need more than this. Those who exercise regularly, are recovering from injury, are very active, or trying to build muscle all need more protein than the basic recommended level. This article has 12 simple ways to increase your protein intake.
Easy ways to increase protein intake
1. Start your day with protein
Starting your day with protein can help you achieve your daily protein intake goals. Focus on high-protein breakfast options like eggs, protein shakes, or Greek yogurt.
2. Make protein part of each meal and snack
Whether you eat three large meals with snacks or snack throughout the day, focus on a source of protein every time you eat. This doesn’t have to mean having chicken breast all day — but focus on sources like nuts, seeds, hummus, cheese, protein bars, or other protein sources to balance out any other snack or small meal you choose. Protein makes snacks more satisfying than a quick-digesting carb-based snack alone.
3. Incorporate dairy foods
While milk alternatives like rice and almond milk can save calories, they often don’t contain as much protein as cow’s milk. If you can’t drink cow’s milk, try to find a soy alternative to still get a protein boost. Add milk to smoothies, cheese as a snack with crackers, or cottage cheese with fruit.
4. Replace rice or pasta with quinoa
While pasta and rice have some protein content, quinoa is a whole grain that is higher in protein, fiber, and overall nutrition.
5. Have a protein shake for a snack
Ready-to-drink protein shakes are great on the go, but you can also mix protein powder with water or milk for an easy high-protein snack. Post-workout, a protein shake can speed your recovery and help your muscles rebuild.
6. Carry high-protein snacks on the go
Whether you like protein bars, jerky, hard-boiled eggs, canned tuna or salmon — all of these high-protein foods can be prepped ahead of time for on-the-go protein boosts! Eggs have a shorter shelf life, but protein bars, jerky and canned fish can be stored room temperature for months.
7. Include larger portions of protein with meals
If you’re used to an 85-115g portion of protein with your meals, bump it up to 170-225g and see how quickly your daily protein intake increases. This works best with lower fat protein sources to keep heart health in mind.
8. Add protein to carb-heavy meals
Carbs aren’t the bad guy, but carb-heavy meals like pasta can benefit from added some protein. Whether shrimp, steak, tofu or grilled chicken, prep some extra protein during the week to add to pasta dishes or stir fries to increase the protein content.
9. Choose lean, protein-dense foods
Sure, burgers are delicious, but you can get high-protein foods that don’t contain as much saturated fat — which are the best to focus on when trying to increase your protein intake. Choose lean poultry, lean pork, fish, and lean beef options. And choose to have your proteins grilled, sautéed, or baked to avoid too much added fat.
10. Choose fats that contain protein
Not all sources of fat are created equal – and some heart healthy fats, like nuts, seeds, and avocado, actually include a good amount of protein as well! A serving of peanut butter (two tablespoons) contains 8g of protein, while avocados contain around 4g of protein.
11. Choose veggies that are high in protein
Just like healthy fats can contain protein, so can veggies and other plant-based foods. While broccoli, corn, asparagus, and artichokes contain between 3-5g of protein per cup, beans like black beans, chickpeas, soy beans and lentils can contain an average of 15-20g of protein per cup.
12. Add seeds for extra protein
Chia seeds and hemp seeds are additional sources of plant-based protein that are also rich in fiber and healthy fats. Add hemp or chia seeds to smoothies, or as toppings on salads or soups for extra crunch and increased protein. Chia seeds contain almost 5g of protein per tablespoon and hemp seeds contain about 3g per tablespoon.
Take home message
There are several reasons why you might want to increase your protein intake — doing lots of activity, trying to build muscle, or recovering from exercise. Increasing your protein intake will be easy once you try some of the suggestions in this article.