You know protein is essential for building muscle, but if you wait for your steak or fish dinner to hit quota, you’re leaving money on the table. Your body can only process about 25-35 grams of protein at a time for muscle growth and repair, depending on your activity level and weight, says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. “Anything more won't be used for that purpose.” But in order to eat more protein and really reap the benefits, you need to be smart about it.
So how many grams of protein should you aim for daily? Active folks need 1.2 to 2 grams per kg of body weight to prevent muscle breakdown and use for energy, explains Harris-Pincus. (Take your weight in pounds and divide by 2.2 to get your weight in kg).
But again, don’t down them in one shot. Not only will spacing out your intake help your body put it to use, but protein takes longer to digest than other macronutrients, so eating it at each meal and snack will promote the feeling of fullness, adds Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. Here’s how to eat more protein and get your fill sunup to sundown.
9 Ways to Eat More Protein (And Hit that Daily Quota)
1. Get a Handle on Your Grams
Count each ounce of cooked protein, like poultry, beef or fish, as 7 grams, says Harris-Pincus. A 3-ounce chicken breast (the size of a deck of cards) packs about 21 grams. An egg contains 6 grams, a cup of dairy milk has 8. A 5.3 ounce container of Greek yogurt has between 12-15 grams, a 1/2 cup of cottage cheese between 10-16 grams. Each 1/2 cup serving of cooked grain has about 3 grams. An ounce of nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butter has about 6-7 grams, says Harris-Pincus. Use these examples when throwing meals together and you can ditch the calculator.
2. Power Up Right Out of the Gate
“This is a key opportunity to prevent muscle loss as we age,” says Harris-Pincus. But you don’t need to wait till your later years to see the effects. Aim for 20 grams in the a.m. and you’ll have the mental and physical stamina to plow through the day ahead.
Make eggs, have a yogurt with nuts and seeds, or grab a protein shake. Have more time? Toss black beans, cheese, and scrambled eggs into a whole grain tortilla for a protein and fiber-filled breakfast. Now go conquer the day.
Related: How to Get Stronger All Day Long
3. Match Up Your Snacks
To make grazing more filling, remember this rule: to eat more protein you need to add more protein. Aim for 10-15 grams per snack, depending on your weight and activity level. Add a side of cheese to your fruit, a spoonful of chickpeas (7 grams per ounce) to your chips or a Greek yogurt (12-15 grams) to your berries and you’ll have given each an upgrade.
4. Add Buzz to Your Smoothies
Powders and nut butters aren’t the only way to make your liquid fuel reach it’s protein potential. “One of my favorite protein-boosting tricks is blending cottage cheese into smoothies. The texture disappears, leaving a creamy flavor that's much less tart than Greek yogurt so you need less added sweetener,” says Harris-Pincus.
5. Sprinkle Protein Powder on Cereal
Love your morning bowl, but your pick doesn’t contain much protein? Mix 2-3 tablespoons of protein powder into your milk of choice and then pour it over your whole grain cereal and fruit, says Harris-Pincus. A dramatically better bowlful.
6. Pick a Better Milk
Better to opt for dairy milk or soy milk, if you want to eat more protein as a priority, rather than almond and other nut milks. “If you’re avoiding dairy, be sure your alternative includes protein. Soy milk is the most adequate alternative, says Jones—7 grams per serving.
7. Make Eating Eggs Easier
Buy them hard-boiled and you’ll be way inclined to reach for these protein-packed orbs (6 grams a piece) throughout the day. Pair with toast and fruit in the morning, or with crackers and hummus for a snack, says Jones. No shame in not waiting for water to boil.
8. Choose A Couple New Nuts
You already stash them in your car, purse, or desk at work. But what kind? “While pecans and macadamia nuts are delicious, nutritious, and fine to eat with balanced snacks, peanuts and pistachios contain more protein per serving—6-8 grams—to satisfy you between meals,” says Jones.
9. Look For These in the Produce Section
Want to cut back on animal protein? “Buy pre-cooked lentils. When you don't feel like cooking, you can still throw together a balanced meal—and do it in minutes,” says Jones. A half-cup of lentils delivers 12 grams of protein. Sprinkle them on a salad and add whole-grain bread (up to 6 grams). Pow! You’ve just added muscle to Meatless Mondays.