Protein plays a vital role in growth and development, as well as helping your body function at its prime. It’s an important macronutrient that is necessary to consume in a healthy, balanced diet. Whether you're striving to increase protein intake to better balance your diet or to support your exercise efforts, you may find it challenging to meet your protein goal without proper planning. Check out our ten tips to help increase your daily protein intake one bite at a time.
What is protein?
Protein is one of three macronutrients that has many jobs in the body. Not only do proteins serve as a key component of your muscles, bones, hair, skin and other tissues, but they also are the building blocks of vitamins, hormones, and enzymes. Proteins help power many important chemical reactions throughout your body. In fact, every cell in your body contains some form of protein.
Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids; molecules that may be tiny but certainly play a big role in your body! While your body can actually make some amino acids on its own, others you must include in your diet from protein based foods in order to meet your needs. But don’t worry too much about amino acids, we just wanted to reassure you if you’ve heard amino acids and protein in the same sentence, it’s simply because amino acids are sort of like the backbone of a protein.
Meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy products are the most common animal sources of protein, but you can also obtain protein from plant-based sources like nuts, seeds, beans, peas, lentils and soy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends eating protein from a variety of sources, encouraging Americans to add more proteins from foods like seafood, seeds, nuts and soy into their regular diet to offer their body a variety of nutrients.
How much protein do you need per day?
Protein needs vary based on your age, gender, weight, level of activity, and life stage you are in. For instance, during periods of growth and development (like pregnancy and when breastfeeding) protein needs increase. With that said, there are a set of guidelines referred to as the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) you may have heard of that help give recommendations based on healthy people given their age and gender.
One set of values commonly used under the DRIs is known as the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) which includes the average daily intakes recommended to meet the needs of 97 to 98% of healthy individuals. According to the RDA for protein, most adult men over the age of 31 need about 56 grams of protein per day, and most adult women over the age of 31 need roughly 46 grams of protein per day.
Remember, the RDA is a great baseline to keep in mind, but it does not take into consideration your unique body composition and activity levels, meaning you may certainly need more protein than these amounts.
While the best way to determine your individual protein needs is to work with a trained healthcare professional like a registered dietitian nutritionist, the USDA does have this Dietary Reference Intake tool that will assess your individual needs taking.
Here are 10 ideas to increase your protein intake! Don’t worry, we’ll help you explore in more detail how to incorporate them in a simple, balanced routine below!
- Upgrade Your Juice to a Smoothie with Protein Packed Ingredients
- Swap Traditional Yogurt with a Higher Protein Choice
- Rethink Your Snacks
- Change Up Your Breakfast
- Add More Whole Grains
- Revamp Your Sweet Treats
- Elevate Your Morning Coffee
- Amp Up Your Food with Additional Protein
- Switch Up Your Protein Picks
- Include Protein In Every Meal
1. Upgrade Your Juice to a Smoothie with Higher Protein Ingredients
Fan of the juicing trend? Even if the green juice fits into your marco counting for the day, it still lacks three of the main nutrients that can help keep you feeling satisfied and full: fat, fiber, and protein.
Upgrade your juice to a smoothie to not only stretch your dollar and minimize food waste (you will be using all parts of fruits and vegetables), but also provide your body this trifecta of nutrients to keep your hunger at bay. Consider starting with your milk of choice (bonus points for cow, soy, or pea milk since they have than an almond, rice, or oat milk), then toss in frozen riced cauliflower, avocado, and ½ cup fruit of choice to increase your fiber intake. Avocado offers that creamy mouthfeel you crave while also providing healthy fats, too! Round it out with your favorite protein powder to increase the total protein content to really keep you feeling satiated and satisfied until your next meal.
2. Swap Traditional Yogurt with a Higher-Protein Choice
Yogurt can be a convenient food to have on hand when hunger strikes. However, keep in mind that macronutrients vary significantly in yogurt depending on the brand and its ingredients. To focus on getting more protein in your yogurt, consider adding Ratio Food’s Protein Yogurt Cultured Dairy Snack to your cart. Ratio Food Protein Yogurt Cultured Dairy Snack provides 25g of protein, 3 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of saturated fat per serving*.
3. Rethink Your Snacks
If you're looking for an easy solution for how to add more protein to your diet, making protein-focused snack choices can be a good start. Consider stocking up on these smart staples to help satisfy your hunger. You can find many of these in portion controlled containers online or in your local market to help prevent mindless munching too!
- Boiled Eggs
- Peanut Butter (or nut butters)
- Turkey or Ham Roll Ups
- Fruit or Veggies with a Higher-Protein Yogurt Dip
Bars also make a convenient and satisfying option to keep on hand (and are usually shelf-stable, a big bonus for on-the-go snacking!) Ratio Food’s KETO Friendly Crunchy Bars are great to stock up on for convenient snacking and provide 12 grams of protein per serving.
4. Change Up Your Breakfast
To eat more protein consistently, start by increasing your protein at breakfast. You don’t have to overhaul your diet to get more protein in your morning meal, you simply just have to keep protein top of mind. For instance, consider changing up some of these classic breakfast staples to increase your protein without sacrificing the foods and flavors you love!
- Breakfast Cereal:
- Try out a higher-protein cereal like Ratio Food’s Maple Almond Crunch that packs 10 grams of protein, 4 grams of quality protein, 3 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of saturated fat per serving*. When eaten with a ½ cup of cow’s milk that provides 4 grams of protein this pairing of cereal with milk increases the protein to 14 grams!
- If you’re loyal to a staple like Cheerios, then rest assured, they can fit in here too. Consider serving with cow’s milk to increase protein, then add in a tablespoon of nut butter to boost protein and provide more fat as well.
- Test out making your own protein pancake batter with your favorite protein powder, or simply pick up one of the many brands on the market. These pack on average 14 or more grams of protein per serving, and when prepared with cow, soy, or pea milk, increases further. You can also swap traditional maple syrup that’s higher in added sugars for an alternative like a melted nut or seed butter. This will increase your protein and fat intake as well.
- Avocado Toast
- Fan of the green goddess toast trend? Then this hack is for you. Avocado toast is delicious and nutritious, but it lacks sufficient protein to help keep you full. Amp up the protein of this breakfast by topping with a large egg prepared as desired, cooked beans or lentils, scrambled tofu, or hemp seeds.
5. Add More Whole Grains
Whole grains are made up of the entire grain kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined grains have been processed (or milled) to remove the bran and germ, resulting in a finer texture. Refined grains often are enriched to add back in the B vitamins and iron lost during the milling, however fiber is traditionally not added back in.
Products may have a blend of both whole and enriched grains on the market, but in order for a product to be considered 100% whole grain it must only contain whole grains. This doesn’t mean don’t eat products with a blend of whole and enriched grains! Rather, just something to be aware of when you’re looking at products and how their being marketed.
When the opportunity strikes, adding more whole grains to your shopping cart may just have benefits when it comes to the way protein works in your body too! An evaluated consumption of whole grains in middle aged adults suggests that those participants who consumed more whole grains saw more protein turnover in their body as well as more efficient muscle function. Don’t worry, this is a good thing! Greater protein turnover just means your body is doing what it should do and weeding out the older proteins within your cells to make room for the new ones to keep it running at its prime.
There are many types of whole grains – whole grain wheat, whole grain corn, whole grain oats, as examples. Find whole grains by looking for the word “whole” before the grain in the ingredient list. When choosing grain foods, aim for whole grain as first ingredient. Here are some swaps to consider to boost your whole grain intake:
- Replace white rice with a whole grain rice alternative, such as buckwheat, couscous, teff, millet or wild rice
- Replace white bread with 100% whole wheat bread
- Replace all-purpose white flour with 100% whole wheat, or oat flour
- Replace standard pasta with 100% whole wheat pasta
Keep in mind that you don’t have to overhaul your diet to be 100% whole grain overnight. Stay true to your cultural favorites and if traditional pasta, white rice, or flour tortillas are preferred, then keep them in. Consider other ways to boost your intakes of whole grains without giving up the staples you’ve grown up on.
6. Revamp Your Sweet Treats
Cutting down on sweets is an important move for a healthy diet, but it's unrealistic to think that you can give them up forever. And, truthfully, you don’t have to! Learning how to enjoy foods that bring you joy and satisfaction in moderation will help make your diet a sustainable lifestyle for the long haul.
When you satisfy your sweet tooth, look for ways to add a little protein at the same time. Some sweets to try include:
- Chocolate milkshakes made with chocolate whey protein blended with frozen milk cubes
- Frozen ”, or pureed frozen fruit like bananas or berries, blended with powdered peanut butter, a nut or seed butter, and topped with unsweetened coconut
- Crushed and chopped nuts as a topping for avocado mousse or pudding
- Portion controlled brownies and cookies like ours that deliver 3 grams of protein, 1 gram of sugar, 5 grams of fiber, and 2.5 grams of saturated fat per serving*
- Beans mixed into banana bread, muffins and cookie batter
- Silken tofu pulsed to thicken smoothies and pies
7. Elevate Your Morning Coffee
Even your morning cup of joe can be a source of protein when you make upgrades. Mixing in a scoop of collagen can be an easy way to add protein to your morning while also keeping a very neutral flavor for your coffee. You may also consider switching to a coffee-flavored protein powder or make lattes with steamed cow or soy milk to increase your protein intake. An 8-ounce cup of milk provides 8 grams of quality protein and the same serving of soy milk provides 8 grams as well.
8. Amp Up Your Food with Additional Protein
When you're worried your protein intake may fall short, add some into recipes. Stir your favorite seasonal flavor of protein powder into your oatmeal or baked foods for a fun flavor twist, or mix a non-fat dry milk powder into your mashed potatoes or salad dressing. You may also consider having a well-stocked pantry with high protein “sprinkles” that make excellent additions to your meals. Consider keeping these foods on hand to toss on your food!
- Nutritional yeast (this is a great vegan, cheese-like powder that works great in savory recipes)
- Chia seeds (perfect for yogurt and smoothies)
- Flaxseeds (works great on toast and peanut butter sandwiches)
- Hemp seeds (works great on toast, smoothies, salads, and peanut butter sandwiches)
9. Switch Up Your Protein Picks
Remember, eating proteins from a variety of animal and plant sources will offer your body an array of nutrients! If you find yourself typically relying on animal proteins like red meats and poultry products, consider venturing out and adding seafood and plant-based proteins like tofu, beans, and lentils into your cart. The USDA recommends eating seafood at least twice a week to reap the cardiovascular benefits of EPA and DHA, two omega-3 fatty acids found in the ocean protein fare.
10. Include Proteins in Every Meal
Eating protein at every meal breaks down your protein goal and makes it simpler to achieve. There’s no need to download an app or invest in anything fancy if that’s not your style. Instead, simply think about the MyPlate visual and see how you’re hitting that protein group when you plan out your meals.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to have a cookie cutter plate divided into sections with your macros in each corner. Instead, consider implementing these MyPlate tricks to build protein into every meal while thinking outside the “plate”!
- Breakfast: Take a whole wheat tortilla and top with scrambled eggs (or tofu), sautéed kale and mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, and top with feta cheese. You can add in sliced turkey or chicken to boost the protein even further too.
- Lunch: Pop open a can of tuna and mix it with plain Greek yogurt, dill, garlic, salt, and pepper. Top your salad with this, or serve it open face on a 100% whole grain English muffin with a side salad.
- Dinner: Cozy up with your family and serve a hearty meal in a bowl. Chili makes a great addition to the dinner table when prepared with either lentils or a lean animal protein like beef. Toss in some canned beans, frozen bell peppers, riced cauliflower, and canned tomatoes to increase the fiber and provide your body with more produce picks as well (remember, increasing your vegetable intake can come in many forms, fresh, canned, and frozen!)
If you found yourself low on protein for a meal, make up for it with one of the higher protein snacks we mentioned above. Remember, it’s about starting small and working up to your daily goal, not overhauling your diet overnight.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, with the right strategy, adding protein to your diet may be more achievable than you think. Protein options are readily available in all corners of the market (not just the butcher counter). Plus, there are protein solutions for everyone regardless of dietary needs, budget, lifestyle choices, and hectic schedules. Keep the above tips in mind as you plan your meals and snacks to meet your protein needs!
* Always consult your physician before starting an eating plan that involves regular consumption of high fat foods
* See nutrition information for calories, total fat and sat. fat content.
* Ratio Food Protein Dairy Snack: 2g Saturated Fat