Why do we care about protein, anyways?

This week in some of my No Nonsense Nutrition Coaching ladies are starting to focus on eating lean protein at every meal. This is a habit that’s super-important, and I spent years feeling confused about how to achieve it. What are the best sources of protein? How do I know if I’m getting enough? And truthfully, I didn’t even like eating protein all that much until I started going out of my way to find sources that are enjoyable to me. Let’s keep it simple.

Let’s start with the reason why we care about eating protein, anyways. Protein is really important in helping us maintain and build muscle mass. It’s key in helping us get leaner and stronger and as a result boost our metabolism. When we eat protein we stay full throughout the day, which is amazing because it helps us to avoid cravings and mindless eating.

What counts as lean protein? I like to think of this in terms of foods that are ‘full of protein’ vs. foods that have ‘some’ protein. The ‘full of protein’ foods should ideally be your main sources, and the ‘some’ protein foods just help you top up on your protein needs.  The best bang for your buck in terms of protein sources are animal sources like lean meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, protein powder like whey protein and then non-animal sources like pea protein, tempeh, tofu and lentils. Examples of foods that have ‘some’ protein are nuts, seeds, nut butters, quinoa, oatmeal and hummus. To illustrate this further, you could eat just a small amount of chicken breast to get a reasonable serving of protein (say 30 grams), whereas you’d need to eat a lot of hummus (like 15 servings of hummus) to get the same amount of protein!

How do I know if I’m eating enough protein? When you’re just starting to focus on eating more protein, I’d say the best plan is to make sure that you eat a serving of lean protein at every meal (for women). To ballpark a serving size, you can use the palm of your hand as a guide. Grab a serving of lean protein the size of your palm at each meal and that’s a perfect way to start. Once you master that you can also add in protein sources as part of your snacks.

Here’s a quick example of how you could fit protein into each meal and snack on a typical day. This is just one example, but the goal is always to make it work for your lifestyle.

Breakfast: Smoothie with whey protein plus fruits, veggies, ice and water.

AM Snack: Almonds or low fat cheese and an apple

Lunch: Eggs and a big salad

PM Snack: Greek yogurt and berries OR half a protein bar (they aren’t all created equal!) and some veggies

Dinner: Rotisserie chicken, roasted veggies, sweet potato and mixed greens salad

I hope this post has cleared up some confusion about protein for you, but definitely reach out to me anytime with questions! If you’d like to learn more about nutritional habits that make an impact in a supportive group setting, join me and 50 other women for my (free) 10-day Mission Nutrition Challenge right here. When you sign up, I’ll forward you my ‘Truth About Calorie Counting’ infographic right away.

xo Justine

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