Protein has long held a place in the hearts of body builders, athletes and fitness enthusiasts for its crucial role in muscle recovery, growth and strength. It's not just those groups who need protein, though: The average adult should get about 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight (PDF) -- if you weigh 150 pounds (68 kg), you should aim for about 55 to 68 grams of protein per day.
People who lift weights, compete in sports or work laborious jobs may benefit from eating more protein than the current 0.8 gram per kilogram of bodyweight recommendation. Older adults, especially those at risk for sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) may also benefit from more protein. Try this DRI (dietary reference intake) calculator from the USDA to find out approximately how much protein you need.
Adding protein to your diet can feel tough at first, but like anything, it can eventually turn into a habit and a nonnegotiable. If you're looking to eat more protein, try these seven easy ways to up your intake every day.
1. Make protein a ritual
The "consistency is key" adage has become universal advice because it's true and applicable for just about anyyou want to start and keep -- or any habit you want to quit.
Ritualizing things -- or attaching one action to another action -- can help with, which eventually leads to habits. For example, if you're trying to get more steps in every day, you could say, "I'll walk for 10 minutes after breakfast, lunch and dinner each day." Boom -- that's 30 extra minutes of walking every day.
Try ritualizing protein in that sense. Maybe you drink milk with breakfast every morning, or perhaps drink a protein shake instead and then protein becomes part of your breakfast ritual. With 20 to 40 grams of protein, a daily protein shake can quickly up your overall protein intake.
You can also ritualize protein by drinking a post-workout shake. This may seem like common sense, but trust me, it's easy to forget your post-workout drink if you say, "Eh, I'll drink it after dinner or after I shower." Go ahead and make it as soon as your workout is over; drink it during your post-workout stretches or cool down and it'll become a ritual.
2. Eat your protein first
When you eat meals with protein sources, try eating the bulk of the protein before moving onto the other food sources on your plate, especially grains, which can fill you up fast. Eating your protein source first ensures you'll eat it all before you get too full.
An added bonus: Protein can make you feel fuller, so if you're trying to lose weight, eating adequate protein can help you reach your health goals.
3. Top foods with chopped nuts
Nuts aren't necessarily the best source of protein by volume, but adding them atop your meals throughout the day can give you a nice protein boost.
Try adding chopped walnuts (4.3 grams of protein per serving) to salads, chopped peanuts (6.7 grams per serving or almonds (six grams per serving) to oatmeal and chopped cashews (5.2 grams per serving) to stir-fries.
In addition to their protein content, nuts also contain lots of healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals, so you'll be doing your health a service in all aspects by adding nuts to meals.
4. Choose leaner meats
Leaner meats have less fat per portion, which means they have more lean meat, thus more protein, per portion. This is one super easy way to add more protein to your daily intake if you eat animal proteins every day.
Leaner meats have fewer calories than fattier meats and protein induces satiety, so this is a good tactic for anyone who's trying to lose weight. According to the Mayo Clinic, the leanest cuts of beef are:
- Top sirloin steak
- Top round roast and steak
- Bottom round roast and steak
- Eye of round roast and steak
- Sirloin tip side steak
If you're going for poultry, a good rule of thumb is to choose white meat over dark meat. And for pork, Mayo Clinic says the leanest cuts of pork are tenderloin, loin chop and leg.
5. Choose brown rice or quinoa over white rice
This is one easy swap you can use often to get more protein in your diet. Both quinoa and brown rice have more protein per serving than white rice and can replace white rice in most meals.
The texture is similar, although quinoa does have a more earthy taste than rice. Each serving of cooked quinoa packs 8 grams of protein per cup, while brown rice contains 5.3 grams per cup -- white rice, on the other hand, contains just 4.4 grams of protein per cup.
Quinoa surpasses both white and brown rice in terms of protein, but brown rice still offers more protein than white rice and is a good choice if you don't enjoy quinoa.
6. Add beans to anything
Beans are an often overlooked and underappreciated protein source. They're so easy to add to salads, pastas, tacos and many other dishes and, depending on the type of bean, can add up to 10 grams of protein per half-cup.
This isn't much compared to animal sources of protein such as poultry and eggs, but adding beans to meals can definitely fill some gaps in your daily protein intake. Plus, beans are a great source of fiber and other nutrients.
7. Swap white bread for whole-grain
Bread is an unassuming place to up your protein intake, but some breads actually pack quite the protein punch: Just like brown rice has more protein than white rice, whole-grain bread has more protein than white bread.
This is because whole-grain foods keep all parts of the grain -- the germ, the bran and the endosperm -- whereas the refining process strips grains down to just the endosperm, which doesn't contain many nutrients.
Dave's Killer Bread 21 Whole Seeds and Grains, for instance, contains five grams of protein per slice. If you eat two slices for breakfast, that's an automatic 10 grams of protein that you wouldn't get with refined white bread.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.