How Much Protein Should You Be Eating?

I never eat cereal. I stopped buying those boxes of sweet carbs years ago.

So I was surprised when I found myself at Target after my gym workout on a Saturday walking down the cereal aisle looking at the colorful boxes with cereal kernels 3X the normal size and fine print that says cereal enlarged to show details.

The familiar cartoon characters on the boxes reminded me of my childhood as they drew my eyes to the colorful flakes.

This is my client’s fault I blamed. She was eating cereal every morning for breakfast with her 4 yo son when I checked her weekly food log. She triggered my craving for Honey Bunches of Oats.

And now here I am in front of a display of cereal boxes at my local Target scanning for a box of Honey Bunches of Oats when I laughed out loud. This is crazy I thought to myself as I took a closer look at the label on a box of Special K that said ‘Protein Plus’. It claimed it had 14 grams of protein per serving when you added milk.

I examined the Nutrition Label.

The serving size was ¾ cup and it only contained 10 grams of protein. Who eats only ¾ cup of cereal?! A kid eats at least 2 cups in a regular sized bowl!

Food companies are just taking it too far to get their products off the shelf by inserting protein in everything because right now the fad is more protein in everything. Not all protein is created equal especially processed forms of it.

Are you eating way too much protein for your needs?

Living in the first world country no one is dying from lack of protein.

As it stands the average person eats more than enough protein to maintain optimal health. But if you are not the average Jane and Joe couchpotato and you work out at the gym several times a week wanting to maintain a lean figure you will need to go above the RDA recommendations for optimal health.

There are numerous benefits from eating protein.

For one protein is a building block for your cells. You need it for your muscles, your hair, connective, tissue, formation of blood, and so much more!

It’s a macronutrient that cannot be created by your body except by breaking down its own tissue to repair other tissue. If you’re lifting in the gym protein is a vital macronutrient your body needs to repair muscle and not getting enough protein hurts your body’s ability to grow stronger.

An insufficient amount of protein in your diet makes you more likely to experience DOMS aka delayed onset muscle soreness where your body cannot recover as quick. It's that familiar achiness and soreness that comes from a hard workout the next day or two.

If you’re trying to lose weight eating about 30 grams of protein at each meal will help you feel fuller without feeling like you’re deprived of food.

The best part of this is that about 30% of the calories from protein gets burned off from the digestion process that’s why you feel fuller longer versus eating just carbs. It takes your body much more effort to digest and breakdown a piece of chicken breast so that it can use it versus eating a bowl of cereal with protein.

What happens if I overeat protein?

Can you eat too much protein?

Certainly! Just like you can eat too much fat and carbs from fast food and processed box foods you can go overboard with protein especially now with protein shakes trending and protein infused snack bites.

So what happens when you eat more protein than your body needs?

Like the other two macronutrients, fat and carbs, excess protein will cause you to gain weight. If you are trying to increase your protein intake without lowering your fat and carb intake such that you’re eating excess calories the number on the scale will go up.

If you think that eating more protein in one meal will cause your body to store the excess for later so you can skip protein in your next meal think again.

Protein is one nutrient that your body cannot store. Eaten in excess this macronutrient gets broken down and stored as fat. Yep you read that right!

Fat.

That’s why it’s important you fuel your body with sufficient amounts of protein at every meal so your body has a stash to access from when it’s repairing itself. Plus, you won’t go looking for snack afterwards because you’re hungry.

What's the right amount of protein for me? 

About 15% of the calories in a North American diet come from protein.

The Recommended Daily Allowance is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. For reference 1 pound is 2.2 kilograms.

It’s funny when people mention the RDA recommendation to justify that everyone is eating too much protein as if we’re going to die an early death if we exceed it.

But the RDA recommendation is the MINIMUM amount of protein you need to eat just to keep you alive and from getting sick. It is the bare MINIMUM you need to eat not the specific amount you’re suppose to eat everyday.

If you were a sedentary Jane Doe who spends majority of your day sitting down then okay the RDA recommendations are for you.

But if you’re hiking on the weekends, doing yoga after work, lifting hard at the gym several times a week, biking around the city then you’re going to need a lot more protein than what the RDA recommends.

A good ballpark to start off with is 40% of your calories coming from protein if you're strength training.

Remember that when you’re trying to increase your protein intake make sure you decrease your intake of your carbs and fat because otherwise you will start to gain weight. But if gaining weight is your goal then you're cool!

Can I drink my protein instead?

Protein shakes are great if you’re struggling to eat a sufficient amount of protein a day or if you’re always on the run and it’s hard for you to get a meal in then drinking a shake solves that problem.

But remember to check the label of your protein powder to ensure that it is indeed a protein shake and not a meal replacement.

The supplement industry is a ginormous industry that makes billions a year off of consumers who buy protein and supplements pushed by marketers, Instagram and Youtube celebrities. People make money off of endorsing products that may not even necessarily be used by them to get the bodies you see on IG.

So just beware when it comes to supplements. I’ll cover what to look for in a protein shake in a future email.

Otherwise stick to real food and eat at least 30 to 40 grams of protein at every meal. There is no substitution for real food.

Top 5 Sources of Protein

One of the most commonly asked questions in Facebook feeds in fitness groups are usually along the lines of,

‘What are good sources of protein besides chicken and eggs?’

Or

‘I’m tired of eating X,Y,Z for protein. What else do you eat for protein?’

Here I list my Top 5 Protein sources that I eat every day or mostly every day,

Icelandic Yogurt

At the end of the day when I check MyFitnessPal for my macro log I sometimes find myself falling short on protein or I want to eat something sweet after dinner.  My favorite go-to snack is a cup of the non-fat Smari Icelandic yogurt with 2 tsp of honey.

I’ve tried Greek yogurt which is also very protein dense but couldn’t stomach it because it tasted quite sour to me so instead switched to Smari which contained more protein and has a whipped light airy texture.

Non-fat yogurt is a great everyday snack with probiotics and protein.

Stay away from fruit at the bottom yogurt though because they always contain too much sugar from the fruit, maybe even added sugar, and you don’t know how long that fruit has been sitting around before they packaged it with the yogurt. Add your own fresh fruit instead for a healthier option.

 Cans of Wild Sardines or Tuna

Did I tell you how important Omega-3 fatty acids are for your skin, hair, and nail health in addition to its ability to ramp up your fat burning metabolism? And it’s all in a can. How easy and convenient is that?

I know some of you cannot stomach canned fish but if you’re looking for a quick dose of protein this is it. A serving of canned fish has more protein than the equivalent of protein from land animals.

Sometimes I’ll eat it straight out of the can when I’m in a hurry. Othertimes for sardines what I’ll do is sauté some onions and add the sardines in the pan to heat it up together. Delicious!

For tuna, instead of adding mayonnaise and calling it a day I’ll make it into a hearty tuna salad with a mix of nuts. The exact recipe that I love is here and I’ll pair it with some crackers or I’ll eat it with some rice. I know I’m weird like that but tuna and rice is awesome!

Make sure when you buy tuna to buy the yellowfin version as it has the least amount of mercury in it compared to albacore and other types.

Eggs

This is a pretty classic and cheap source of protein but you gotta eat the yolk with it that’s where all the nutrition and B vitamins are and half the protein.

I’ll scramble a pair with some oyster mushrooms for breakfast with some black pepper or make them overeasy saving the yolk because it’s the best part. I also hard-boil a handful for my husband’s breakfast during the week.

Love hard boiled eggs but not sure how to do it?

Join the club. I didn’t either till I got advice from Martha Stewart,

3- Steps To Cooking Hard Boiled Eggs
1. Get a pot and put enough cold water to cover the eggs
2. Heat the water until it boils then turn off the stove and put a lid on the pot
3.Let the eggs sit for 10 minute

Your eggs are done and ready to be eaten. It’s that simple!

Tofu

By default because I’m Asian I love tofu. It’s so versatile with different types of textures and picks up the flavor of any dish. Tofu rocks!

When looking to purchase tofu lean more towards the firmer choice because it will inherently have more grams of protein per serving versus the softer type.

My Costco only carries one brand of the firm tofu from Hodo which I then use to make Ma-Po tofu at home with ground bison instead of pork.

Not crazy about buying plain tofu? That’s okay.

I have been loving this pre-packaged ready-to-eat marinated tofu from WildFoods that I get at Rainbows. My favorite flavor is the Indian Curry. The last sale Rainbows had on WildFoods tofu was many months back but when they do go on sale I stockpile these in my fridge because they are a little pricey.

Beef Jerky

Now this is something I am extremely picky about because jerky can be dry and give you jaw pain if the ones you’re eating make you feel like you’re chewing through bark.

There are ones that are delicious then there are the ones that are full of nitrates that are harmful to your health in large quantities. I don’t recommend mass market brands like Jack Links or Slim Jim’s which are smoked and they add ‘natural flavors” which are likely nitrates with smoke flavoring. Totally unhealthy for you.

I’ve tried multiple brands without nitrates and by far my favorite one is by the brand Krave.
One thing to be careful with jerky is to make sure to check the carb quantity per serving because there could be lots of added sugar to make it taste sweet. My favorite flavor is the Black Cherry Pork BBQ from them. It contains a 1:1 ratio of carbs to protein so if you’re on following a high protein, low carb diet just be aware.

Ground Turkey
 My unworthy of Instagram lunch. Turkey, a side of snap peas, 1 egg, 1 serving of guacamole, and sweet potato for starch.

Okay okay I know this is kind of cheating right? It's like Candace how about you tell me a non obvious source of protein!

To be honest and fair I have been really loving ground turkey. It's not dry like chicken breast unless you form it into a patty and in that case good luck!

What I've been doing is dicing up bell peppers, zucchini, onions and mushrooms and sauteing them on the frying pan then adding the ground turkey to the mix. Then adding a random blend of garlic, onion, cumin, maybe some italian seasoning, and salt and pepper for some flavor.

It's quick and easy to make and loaded with protein. I add some guacamole and it's been a favorite dish in my house for the past month.

To Sum It Up

(1) Eat a handful of lean proteins at every meal. Your body cannot store protein.

(2) The RDA recommendations for protein is the MINIMUM amount to keep you alive and not get sick. If you're actively lifting I recommend 40% of your calories come from calories.

(3) Eating protein in excessive amounts will cause your body to store it as fat if you are exceeding your maintenance calories and not on a bodybuilding program.

 

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