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Want to Increase Your Protein? @GirlsWhoEat Can Help

Want to Increase Your Protein? @GirlsWhoEat Can Help

A few months ago, I realized I had no clue how much protein I was actually consuming. After tracking for a few weeks, I found out I was only eating around 30-40 grams per day (a lot less than I expected). Suddenly, my chronic low energy and constant cravings made a lot of sense. Following Harvard Health’s recommendation, I knew I needed 50-75 grams a day (more like 100 grams on active days). But sure enough, the overwhelm took over and I didn’t know where to start. 

Enter: Jamie Koll, certified health coach, dietitian, and the woman behind the popular Instagram account @GirlsWhoEat. I asked for her best tips on how to make protein goals as easy as possible, whether you feel lost or have little time or energy to meal plan. Keep reading to get Jamie’s best protein hacks, and common myths about protein intake that she debunks. 

Jamie Koll, Founder of Girls Who Eat

A content creator based in Austin, Jamie’s mission is to make clean eating and non-toxic living accessible and inclusive for everyone everywhere, so you can make the best decisions for your health. 

Tips to Increase Your Protein Intake Throughout the Day

Have protein at every meal

Koll explained the simplest way to increase protein is to remember to have some with every single meal, rather than trying to hit your protein goal by the end of the day. In other words: start getting in protein as early as possible with your first meal. Many experts suggest aiming for 30-40 grams per meal to preserve muscle mass. I started making easy additions or swaps to some of my regular meals: I added protein powder to my usual morning smoothie, threw in chicken with my lunchtime salads, and I swapped out regular pasta for chickpea pasta which has a higher protein content. Here are some other quick and easy tips Koll shared to ensure you’re incorporating protein at each meal: 

  • In addition to smoothies, you can add protein powder to yogurt or oatmeal
  • Add nut butter on top of oatmeal, chia pudding, or smoothie bowls
  • Base salads and grain bowls around a protein like grilled chicken, fish, tofu, or beans
  • Swap out processed food with real protein sources like meat, eggs, or beans
  • Add nuts and seeds to any dish (such as salads, yogurt, or even pasta)

Keep high-protein snacks on hand

Mealtime is not the only chance to get in more protein. Stocking your kitchen (and your work or gym bag) with high-protein snacks will give you a boost of energy when that mid-afternoon slump hits. Aim for snacks with 10-15 grams of protein, which will help keep you satisfied until your next meal and get you that much closer to hitting your daily protein goal. If you have time to prepare, a protein smoothie can also pack in fruits and veggies on-the-go, but you can have easy high-protein snacks ready to grab as well. Koll’s favorites? Hummus with vegetables or crackers, egg muffins, lupini beans, single-serve cottage cheese or yogurt, and grass-fed jerky. 

Use a food diary (temporarily)

Most of us are not getting as much protein as we think. You may be like me and not even realize how little you’re getting throughout the day. By keeping track of your protein intake—whether it’s an app or an old-school journal—you can identify the gaps in your protein intake and note how you feel after eating. Forget the food journals of the past; we’re throwing out any stress and obsession over having to write down every single detail to use a food journal as a positive tool meant to give us insight into how we feel and what our body needs more of, rather than to feel guilt or obsession. I keep a simple pad of paper at my desk to quickly jot down what I eat to notice any patterns.

A food journal not only helped me identify how little protein I was getting but also my main protein gaps. I noticed that breakfast is the hardest meal for me to get protein in. I’m not a big breakfast person, so I’d typically eat something easy and small like a piece of toast. By incorporating protein into my breakfast (making a protein shake or a quick fried egg to add to my toast), it pays off: I feel more energized almost immediately and I feel more focused throughout the day. Remember that your food journal should be temporary as a means to understand your patterns better–not something to “hold you accountable” or track obsessively.

Read nutrition labels

Nutrition labels are meant to take out the guesswork, but they can be confusing AF. However, reading nutrition labels is essential to understanding how much protein you’re getting and help make decisions to increase protein intake. Say you’re looking for a snack to tide you over until dinnertime. A protein bar with 8 grams of protein versus one with 3 grams is the (obvious) better choice (assuming they are the same in terms of whole, nutrient-rich ingredients) as it will maintain consistent blood sugar levels and help you hit your protein goal. 

My usual Barilla pasta had very little protein compared to chickpea-based pasta; chickpea pasta has twice as much protein (and way more fiber). Instead of reaching for chips or popcorn at work, I started packing cashews. And my old typical last-minute on-the-go breakfast that consisted of a piece of gluten-free toast was replaced by a ONE protein bar (we’re talking 2-3 grams of protein compared to 20 grams). Bottom line: I never would have known the drastic difference in protein content had I not checked the nutrition labels. Reading the labels and making simple swaps for products that are more protein-dense has made my protein commitment way easier.

Plan out meals in advance 

Planning your meals means you’ll know you’re getting enough protein throughout the day. But rather than just prepping chicken or hard-boiling eggs, get creative with your meal prep. From enchilada-stuffed sweet potatoes to honey sriracha-glazed meatballs, there are countless high-protein meal prep recipes that are far more exciting than your basic chicken and veggies. The best part? You’re covered with protein-packed meals all week long. 

Planning my meals and buying ingredients ahead of time helps me ensure that each meal is centered around protein so I stay on track with my daily protein goal. Every Sunday, my boyfriend and I sit down and pick out our dinners for the week. We have our go-to recipes that check all the boxes: includes at least one source of protein, tastes delicious, and aren’t too complicated. We love pasta with sausage and peppers, ground turkey stir fry, protein pasta salad, and chicken or steak tacos. With dinner for the week planned, I then focus on stocking up on ingredients to make protein smoothies in the morning and my favorite protein bars and cashews for snacks. 

Common Myths About Protein

You know eating protein is crucial for optimal health, and now you know some tips on how to eat more. But there’s also a lot of confusion and differing opinions over protein, such as how much you need, whether or not supplementation counts, and more. Koll set the record straight on some of the most common protein myths. 

Myth #1: You need to supplement to reach protein goals

Between various protein powders, shakes, and bars, it seems like the only way we can get enough protein is through supplementation. But according to Koll, most people can meet the amount of protein their bodies need through diet, AKA whole foods (such as chicken, turkey, Greek yogurt, eggs, beans, nuts, tofu, etc.). However, a high-quality protein powder or bar can be beneficial if you’re still struggling to meet your needs. “Starting with real food sources of protein is ideal, and then if you are not meeting protein needs, that is where supplementation can be beneficial,” she suggested. If you’re working out or recovering from injury, protein supplements may be especially helpful to reach your goals; however, always consult your doctor or a registered dietitian to discuss what’s best for you.

Myth #2: You can’t get enough protein if you don’t eat animal products

While animal-based products can help to meet protein requirements more easily, Koll ensures you can get adequate protein from plant-based sources. Most plant foods are considered incomplete proteins (or missing any of the nine essential amino acids), but if you pair two incomplete proteins together (i.e. beans and rice, nut butter and whole wheat toast), you get all the amino acids that you would when you eat a complete protein like chicken. There are also many plant-based foods with a complete protein profile such as quinoa, tofu, spirulina, and edamame.  

Koll loves plant-based proteins as they are better for the environment since fewer resources are used to make them, they are rich in essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals our bodies need like vitamins C, A, and E, magnesium, and potassium, and provide a high fiber content. That said, because different protein sources provide varying amounts and types of essential nutrients, consuming a variety of animal and plant-based proteins ensures that you get a wide range of nutrients necessary for overall health and optimal gut function.

Myth #3: All proteins are equal

It’s not just about how much protein; the type of protein is also crucial. Koll suggested the source and process determine the quality. “Prioritizing high-quality protein like grass-fed meat is important because it has higher levels of beneficial nutrients your body requires, can provide all essential amino acids that the body needs, and can be better for the environment and animal welfare,” Jamie shared. “Grass-fed meat is a complete protein source, which is neccessary for immune health and cellular health. Additionally, high-quality protein tastes better!”

And when it comes to soy proteins (tempeh, tofu, and edamame), Jamie suggested choosing non-GMO or organic. “Non-GMO or organic is key when consuming soy because it does not allow for the use of genetically modified soy, where long-term health effects remain unknown,” she said. “Additionally, organic means that organic regulations must be followed so synthetic pesticides are not allowed. Organic farming can also be better for the environment and for soil quality.” Focusing on high-quality protein sources that are more ethically produced whenever possible is better for our bodies and the environment.

The post Want to Increase Your Protein? @GirlsWhoEat Can Help appeared first on The Everygirl.

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