I have a couple questions for you.
Do you struggle eating protein? Do you struggle getting in the appropriate amount of protein? Is it something that mentally you struggle adding to your diet, even knowing all the amazing benefits it brings?
You're definitely not alone. Hopefully I can help.
Protein is probably THE most important macro for you to get in your diet…but also for many the most difficult.
Probably the biggest struggle with majority of new clients is adding in more protein, for the same reasons in the questions I asked above. Physically, they struggle eating more protein and just putting the food in their mouths. They also struggle mentally, as well, adding protein to their diets, for a number of reason, most notably due to the fear created from popular culture. You've likely heard that protein damages your kidneys, gets you "bulky", and more recently that not following a plant-based diet exclusively is writing a death sentence.
I preach finding the diet you can adhere to...one that aligns with YOU and YOUR lifestyle...but my clients do learn fast that I have one simple non-negotiable: eating protein. In almost every intake coming from new clients [especially women], average protein intake is under 100g.
I mean what’s so great about it that we have to almost force ourselves, at first, to eat it?
A quick biology lesson.
Protein comprises almost everything in your body. You’ve probably heard about DNA. Your DNA is what makes you…well you. It’s your genetic code that essentially predicts everything about you and your life: hair color, eye color, height, skin color, overall size, and even diseases. You’ve probably heard about BRCA-1 gene that makes you more at risk for breast cancer. This is a mutation and gene that is present in your DNA. But DNA is just a clump of code and jumble essentially that exists in a little compartment in each of your cells. It’s like assembling a car and having all the needed parts that will determine what car it will be (Jeep, black, Wrangler, soft top, etc.) but right now it’s just a ton of parts that know what it’s going to be, but isn’t just yet. Your body then has to take that DNA and go through a series of steps and processes to turn into something functional. That “something functional” is protein.
Protein can be broken down into little building blocks, called amino acids. You've likely heard of BCAAs...those are a couple of the amino acids I'm talking about (specifically the branched versions which really isn't all that important to know unless your a chemist or biologist). There’s 20 essential amino acids that our bodies need for survival because almost everything in your body comes from or contains protein (and amino acids). Unfortunately, our bodies don’t make amino acids or protein…they have to come from an outside source via food. IF you don't ingest food that gives you these building blocks, then you're doing to be deficient, plain and simple. Amino acids basically become stores that our bodies take from when turning DNA into protein. You have all types of protein in your body that vary by function. The arrangement and order of amino acids determines the protein and in turn functionality. It’s what distinguishes hair from muscle.
Everything in your body is protein.
One common misconception behind protein is that protein is only needed for muscle. In reality, everything in your body is made of protein: your hair, skin, muscle, organs, teeth, ligaments, cartilage, etc. More than that, all processes that happen in your body are controlled by proteins: your immune system, your digestion, liver function, etc. You don’t need to eat protein simply to bulk up and become full of muscle. You need to eat protein because you need to survive.
Now there’s more than just basic biology for why you should be eating protein.
Protein is the building blocks for putting on muscle and achieving a lean and toned body. Low protein diets are what leads to “skinny fat” body types.
All that sounds great...but how does this help you short term? Protein is the secret and oftentimes magic solution to hunger and cravings.
There's a reason why you feel fuller [and often interpreted as bloated] after eating a higher protein meal.
More calories (20-30%) from protein are needed simply for digestion. This means that if you eat 100 calories of protein (25g), that 20-30 calories alone will be used simply to digest and break it down. This is compared to 0-5% for fats and carbs. Because it takes more energy, this brings up your metabolism and increases your daily expenditure. Protein is a lot more chemically complex compared to carbs and fats, which is why it takes more energy to digest it.
It also takes more time to digest protein, which helps fight off cravings and keeps you satiated longer. That's right. Eating protein helps keep you full LONGER helping you fight those nagging cravings. If I told you to go eat 12 chicken breasts or donuts, which would you feel hungrier sooner after eating? The donuts. If you ate 12 chicken breasts, you'd probably be full for the rest of day.
Protein has some of the most diverse and extensive micronutrient profile. This is usually a benefit solely attributed to fruits and veggies. Red meat, however, has one of the most micronutrient profiles and actually has the second highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids (anti-inflammatory fats!). Eating protein helps your overall health in many ways.
WHY IS PROTEIN SO HARD TO EAT?
There’s a number of reasons why protein is a lot more difficult to eat.
One of the biggest reasons stems from our society and Westernized diet. We simply haven’t glamorized protein like fats and carbs, so it doesn’t have the appeal that carbs and fats have. It doesn’t offer the same reward mentally and emotionally, which is the exact opposite with carbs and even fats. When we crave foods, we crave foods that will be rewarding…and protein isn’t that because we didn’t grow up with that reward process. As a kid, if you did something good, you got ice cream…not a bowl of chicken.
False studies in the past demonized protein and claimed it was toxic and damaging to your kidneys. This created a mindset that people can’t shake. Now, all of these studies have been debunked, but unfortunately remains in people’s minds. In fact, the one study that started this whole debate conducted its studies on patients with pre-existing kidney conditions. If you are a healthy individual without a pre-existing kidney condition, studies have shown that you can eat up to—if not more—double your bodyweight in protein.
Plant-based advocates have also demonized protein claiming its toxicity and damaging effects on humans and the human diet. If you look evolutionarily, our ancestors have survived on a protein-based diet. I used to follow an influencer who advocated against protein, claiming protein is what has caused autism, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and obesity in the US. Again, this has been debunked time and time again by scientifically validated and replicated studies. In fact, these issues are more likely related to the rise of processed foods and high-sugar diets and drop in whole foods (fruits, veggies, and high-quality protein). Also, you can be a plant-based advocate while still eating protein, so this isn’t the best reason to avoid protein. Protein doesn’t have to equal meat. Dairy, eggs, lentils, legumes, quinoa, tofu, etc. are all great protein sources that are meat-free.
Alright, so you've bought in to the need to eat more protein...question now remains is "how much?"
HOW MUCH PROTEIN?
Generally, body weight! The suggested range is 0.8-1.2g protein per lb lean body mass. If you meet in the middle at 1g/lb, you’re looking at roughly body weight.
This varies per person, though.
If you’re in a cut, trying to lose weight, you may want to consider taking protein up to 1.2x your bodyweight. This is going to help fight that hunger response and lower cravings.
If you have a decent bit of weight to lose, >25lbs, then you’ll actually want to set your protein intake to target body weight. If you’re 200lbs and trying to get to 150lbs, then set your protein to 150-160g protein/day.
You also do have to be a bit more realistic. If you're undereating on protein, you need to make slow additions within a workable range. If you're the classic 100g or less person I see in most starting intakes, you don't want to throw that protein prescription up to 165g. Start with 100g and make 10-15g increases incrementally as you get used to it.
This is why I strongly recommend working with an experienced coach who can find that middle ground between what you should be doing and what you want to be doing.