When, what type and how much protein should you eat per day? How do you build and maintain healthy bones and muscles, repair your body, regulate hormones, improve metabolism and manage your weight?
Forget about fad diets limiting the intake of other nutrients (protein, carbohydrates or fats) which can lead to health deficiencies, hormonal imbalance and weight problems. Prioritize balancing your food intake with your goals and activity level to improve your health and energy and achieve long-term weight control.
Spread your protein intake throughout the day
Make sure I eat a balanced diet, including protein with every meal and snack to stave off hunger pangs, to recover enough after every workout, and to keep my energy levels up until the evening.
Try eating fruit or a piece of toast just for easy grabbing snacks in the past, but a lack of protein would always make me crave more food during the day which might even reach late at night. I realized the importance of eating the right amount and type of protein for every snack or meal I consume.
Protein is the key to weight management. Studies show that it promotes satiety better than other macronutrients. You also burn more calories digesting and metabolizing food – this is called the thermic food effect (TEF). Protein has a lot of TEF (20-30%) compared to carbohydrates (5-10%) and fats (0-3%).
Instead of including all of your protein sources in one to two meals a day, spread your protein intake strategically throughout the day to effectively regulate your appetite, cravings, and energy levels. A 2015 study from the University of Missouri-Columbia shows that eating a high-protein breakfast can shed body mass and reduce daily food intake by 400 calories.
To gain muscle effectively (or avoid muscle loss) while losing body fat, consume 20-30 grams (the equivalent of a serving or palm size of lean meat, boneless, skinless chicken and seafood) of protein for each main meal and 10 to 15 grams for snacks.
Always aim for healthy carbs, good fats, and enough protein for your main meals and snacks. Eat your post-workout meal/snack 15-60 minutes after your workout for your muscles to recover effectively and re-energize.
Here’s how you can still incorporate protein with your healthy carbs and good fats.
- Instead of eating a high-carb breakfast of a croissant or bagel with jam or cream cheese, choose whole-grain bread with eggs, avocado, and low-fat milk in bold.
- Add chia seeds and nuts to your oats and milk
- Make a Salmon and Spinach Omelet with Sweet Potato and Cheese
- Eat a full meal of sardines, brown rice, eggs, and fresh fruit on the side
LUNCH AND DINNER
- Consume 1/2 to 1 cup of healthy grains (brown rice, millet, couscous, quinoa, whole wheat pasta or adlai) and cooked vegetables with a serving of 90% lean beef, pork, salmon, chicken, prawns or white fish
- Have a baked or boiled sweet potato and a vegetable omelet with chicken or shrimp
- Create your favorite salad and sandwich using whole wheat bread, cottage cheese, lettuce, onion, tomato and chicken breast
- Make your healthy wrap – lettuce, whole wheat tortilla, 1/4 cup beans, 1/2 cup lean ground beef, 1 tbsp cheese, and yogurt dressing
- Have a slice of whole wheat bread with a tablespoon of peanut butter
- Mix chopped fresh fruit with 1/2 cup Greek yogurt and 1 tbsp almonds or cashews
- Prepare a protein smoothie consisting of 1/2 cup fresh or frozen fruit, 1 cup milk (skim or nut milk), 1 cup vegetables (kale, cucumber, celery), 1 tablespoon chia seeds, and /or 1 tbsp Almond Butter.
- Mix 1 tbsp nuts with, 1 tbsp seeds, 2-4 tbsp oats or granola, and 1/2 cup milk or yogurt
Your Protein Intake Should Match Your Unique Profile
Match your needs with the right amount of nutrients to achieve your desired goals. As with carbohydrate and fat intake, you should consume the recommended amount of protein based on your body weight, fitness goals, age, gender, and current health status.
Eating more than the required amount of protein can lead to fat gain, especially if you are sedentary. You need to use the extra protein by moving and building muscle and getting enough rest. In fact, your body has a limit when it comes to absorbing protein daily and at every meal.
On the other hand, exercising more and eating less protein can also affect your body composition – you may lose muscle, you will feel weaker, your metabolism will slow down and you will gain body fat.
For optimal health and weight management, you need to exercise to lose body fat and build or maintain muscle mass. Prolonged and intense workouts require eating the right amount of nutrients at the right time to avoid muscle wasting.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) based on various nutritional organizations around the world differs for each individual. 10-35% of daily intake should come from protein to avoid deficiencies, function well efficiently, and achieve your fitness goals.
Sedentary to average adults – should consume 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight to achieve satiety and effective weight control.
Active and athletic people should consume at least 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. You need more if you’re trying to build more muscle mass and are currently doing prolonged, high-intensity endurance activities.
Older people should consume at least 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight to prevent loss of lean body mass from occurring naturally with age.
Always choose quality foods rich in protein, fiber and good fats to avoid weight gain while improving your physical performance and muscle recovery. Avoid protein foods high in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates:
- A bacon cheeseburger
- Savory pastry and pie
- Fried chicken sandwich
- Fried chicken with skin
- Meat with visible fat
- Processed meats like bacon, salami, hot dog, sausage, and ham
- Fried seafood such as tempura, fish and chips, breaded calamari or calamari