3 Protein Intake Issues and How to Address Them
Protein, more protein, and more protein. This seems to be the most common issue that people run into when analyzing macronutrient (protein, carbs, and fat) intakes. We all know the importance of protein (check out my write up on it here), yet most of us still struggle to get those last 20-40 grams in each day. But if you want to take your performance, recovery, and physique to the next level, you have GOT to get it in. Let's take a look at a few simple strategies to get those grams in without a ton of work or overthinking. Issue #1 – I'm just not eating enough protein, period.
Before we can start, let's first find out how much protein you need using the equation below:
[Your body weight] x [factor of 11 - 15, depending on your goals (see below); calculate as a range] x 0.075
11 - Goal: Fat Loss
12 - Goal: Fat Loss/Maintenance
13 - Goal: Maintenance/Gain Strength
14 - Goal: Gain Strength
15 - Goal: Gain Mass
For example, if you're 200lb and want to maintain muscle and gain strength, use a factor of 12-14:
200 x 12-14 (200x12 = 2400, 200x14 = 2800) x.075 = 180-210g protein
Now, this isn’t rocket science and it's not built to be super accurate, but it gives you a ballpark range as to where your protein consumption should be. We'll take this range and build out a plan. First, think about the number of meals you typically eat in a day. Using the same range we calculated above, if you're eating three meals a day, you'd simply divide your protein range by three to calculate the amount of protein you should aim for in each meal:
180/3 = 60g protein/meal
210/3 = 70g protein/meal
Goal: 60-70g protein/meal
It can certainly be challenging to get all that in one meal, so consider adding a high-protein snack in between; that can add 20g-25g, bringing down your per meal protein to a more manageable intake. This is where you can really see the benefit of a multi-meal (up to 5-7 small meals/day) plan. At the end of the day, just find a meal frequency plan that works for you and aim to hit those numbers each and every day. The results will follow!
Issue #2: I struggle to get enough protein in each meal.
This is a common issue. Enter the “double up” method; just double up the protein of each and every meal while cutting back on everything else. When ordering your lunch at Chipotle, for example, just get double meat and you're well on your way. Ordering a sandwich at a sub shop? Order double meat. Getting a pizza? Add extra sausage. Having a shake? Use two scoops of protein. Packing for a road trip? Pick almonds or jerky and leave the twizzlers at home. Making breakfast? Throw in twice as many eggs or add some egg whites. I know, it's complicated. But it really can be so simple as looking at your meal and asking "Where is my protein coming from?”. Focus there and then build your plate.
I know what you're thinking; with that extra protein comes extra calories (1g protein = 4 calories), so just be sure to scale back on the additional starches and sugars to keep the overall calories in check. Ask for half the rice in your chipotle burrito or bowl. Have half a piece of toast instead of one or two slices.
Better yet, eat more veggies! Yes, veggies have protein. Here's a quick breakdown:
Broccoli – 3-4g per stalk
Asparagus – 2-4g/cup
Spinach – 2-4g/cup
Edamame – 18g per cup!!
Corn – 4-5g/cup
Your goal should be to get 8-10 servings of veggies per day. By hitting or getting close to this goal, you're adding an additional 15-40g of protein to your day, not to mention the myriad of benefits you're adding from a micro-nutrient perspective.
Issue # 3: There's not enough time in the day!
Last but not least, and ever so common, is the “I forgot to eat my protein earlier, and now I am ready for bed." The most simple solution to this is to front-load your protein intake. Make your first meal of the day a “protein blast”...like really up the ante. For that 200lb person example we calculated for before, here's an example of a normal breakfast (protein count only):
3 egg omelet w/cheese – about 25-30g protein
1 bowl oatmeal (1/2 cup) – 5g
Glass of milk – 6-10g protein
TOTAL: About 40-45g protein
It's not a bad start to the day, but here is a simple hack to really front load it without adding a ton of extra calories:
2 whole eggs + 3 egg whites scrambled – 25-30g
2 chicken sausage (or vegan sausage) links – 12-15g
1 bowl of oatmeal w/1ozchia seeds, ½ cup blueberries – 10g
Glass of Water
TOTAL: 47-55g protein
This bumps the protein 7-10 grams, while keeping the macros about the same. You can make the same adjustments at lunch which makes dinner a little easier. If you find you're still short, there are plenty of low-calorie, high-protein options to take in before bed:
Whey, Plant-based or Casein protein (1-2 scoops) mixed with water
Cottage cheese – 10-15g per ½ cup, add some low sodium peanuts for another 5-7g
String cheese – 5-7g/ serving
Cashew milk – 10-12 g/ serving
Hopefully this shares some insight and easy to implement tactics to help improve all fo your protein woes and keep your progress churning. Don't let all that hard work and sacrifice in the weight room go to waste, focus on the protein!