“How much protein should I be eating?” comes up often in discussions with my clients and students (and it seems to come up even more often since I became certified as a level 1 Precision Nutrition Coach). Many people feel a bit lost when it comes to how much and when they should be eating protein. If you are one of these people, please keep reading.
There is, of course, way more to protein than what I will get into in this post and I wanted to say that right at the beginning. Some of you may be really interested in the nitty gritty about the building blocks of life, but in this post I want to talk about food and some easy ways to ensure you are eating enough protein to fuel your training sessions and help you attain your training goals.
“Fueling” your body to perform might not be the most accurate way to describe the role of protein in your diet. “Fuel” for your body is more than just protein, of course, (the photo to the right is a great quick reference for picking ‘super foods’ to add to your meals in addition to protein) but this post is focusing on protein because we all want strong muscles and you can’t build strong muscles to do all the cool things you want to do with your body without protein.
Guidelines for consuming protein for your training endeavors
- Eat protein each time you eat. Our bodies can only store so much protein at one
time, therefore we need to pay attention and make sure we are eating moderate amounts of protein throughout our day. Our body uses protein after we eat it for all the important roles protein plays at a molecular level (making hormones and key enzymes and such) in addition to building muscle, but if we run out of protein before we get to the muscle-making…then we don’t build muscle.
- Eat a variety of foods with protein. Foods are rarely made up of just protein, so getting your protein from a wide variety of sources–from meats, veggies or grains–can help ensure you are getting many of the macronutrients that you need and that you are less likely to need to supplement. It also helps keep away boredom with your meals. This may mean you try a different type of fish or maybe you try bison or a vegetarian protein option like quinoa or tempeh.
- Timing also matters. Both the intensity and duration of your training session will influence whether you’ll want to have a protein-rich snack before training (usually 1-2 hours prior) or have a protein-dense food after training. It’s always a good idea to have protein when you are done training, whether that is a weight training workout, a circus-specific training session or class, climbing, a hard interval training or work on a cardio machine. Your body needs protein and is super-ready to use it following an intense workout. If you can’t be eating a meal with protein in it within the first 30 minutes after your training, then you should have a protein-heavy snack to help your body get the protein it needs. For more info workout nutrition I recommend this article and this article.
Protein, Protein, Protein
Well in case you don’t know what foods have protein in them, that’s foods like, chicken, steak, eggs, cheese, quinoa, beans, yogurt and more. I could write more, but that’s been done already so you can look at some of those here & here. There are even more foods that contain protein than those that appear on the lists in those articles, but those articles list some protein-dense foods. I am certainly not saying to eat only these foods, but that those articles can help you know what foods contain protein and which ones pack the most bang for their buck (in a sense) to help you choose for your meals and pre- and post-workout snacks.
Now that you have an idea of some good sources of protein, how do you apply this to your meals?
Don’t bother with calorie counting or reading the suggested “portion sizes” on the food label. All you need is your hands. That’s right, it’s that easy! And it’s always with you!
Your protein portion during meals should be the size and thickness of your palm. If your sex is male, eat two palm-sized portions at each meal and if your sex is female eat one palm-sized portion at each meal.
**Quick note: your protein doesn’t have to be steak, it could be an equivalent serving of lentils for example, or it could be 2 different protein sources.
There are of course other things to consider when eating as well: good portion sizes for your veggies, carbs and fats, choosing leaner protein sources, choosing more slowly-digested carbs instead of white starchy carbs and choosing more healthy fats.
Here’s a quick look at this with some infographics.
These portions above are recommended portions that work for most people. However each person is uniquely different, so you may need a little more of this and a little less of that. Also if you are vegan or vegetarian, food choice and amounts will be a little different. (See photo right.)
Keeping track of what you’re eating is helpful to know if you will have the energy to perform the work that is needed in your training session. If properly fueled, you should feel good with the work load ahead of you and also not feel like your battery died in the middle of the training session. Keeping track helps you know if the food choices you are making are working to your benefit or not. I am not saying you have to be writing it all down–just use your hand to help portion your meals correctly for you.
If you are not going to be able to have a meal 1-2 hours before a training session, have a snack that contains some protein, good energy-sustaining carbs and a little fat before your training session.
And if you won’t be eating a meal with protein within 30 minutes after your training session, than grab a snack that has some protein and carbs to fuel your body for its recovery.
If you are feeling lost with what would be appropriate for you or feel you need more guidance, please contact me. I do offer nutritional coaching and would love to help you attain your training or body composition goals.
As always if you have questions, you can email or leave them in the comments. If you know of someone who would find this helpful feel free to share it with them.
P.S. All infographics are from Precision Nutrition because not only am I a Certified Precision Nutrition level 1 Coach, but I also really believe that all the tools offered to me as a PN Coach are very valuable and want to (and I am highly encouraged by PN) to share them with people.