What do Greek yogurt, tofu, and eggs have in common? Besides being three of my favorite foods, they are all excellent sources of protein - a vital nutrient that I recommend my weight loss clients incorporate into every meal and snack. But exactly how much protein do you need? Is getting protein as important as your personal trainer says it is? And which other foods contain protein? In this guide, I’ll address the questions about protein I hear most frequently, but I’d be happy to chat with you further about YOUR individual needs!
What is protein and why do you need it?
Protein is an important nutrient in our diet, and one of three macronutrients (or “macros” as they’re more popularly referred to as). When we eat protein, our bodies break it down into individual units called amino acids. I like to think of these as individual beads on a long, colorful Mardi Gras beaded necklace - it takes me back to my days living in New Orleans 😜
These amino acids are what are used to build muscle mass and connective tissue; help our hair, skin, and nails; make hormones and enzymes; and perform other metabolic functions.
As you can see, protein helps with a lot more than leaning out!
Worried you're not getting enough?
Don't be! The good news is, you’re likely meeting protein needs through your diet. However, timing is just as important as quantity, and most women tend to fall short on protein at breakfast more than any other time of day. I like to explain to my clients that your body is essentially coming out of an overnight fast, so if your goal is to support lean muscle, you need to prioritize eating breakfast (protein included!) within 90 minutes of waking up.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: you’re too busy in the morning because you’re trying to get everyone in the house out the door, you’re rushed because you pressed snooze too many times, or you’re just not hungry before 10AM…
Consider this a friendly reminder to put a stop to those self-sabotaging beliefs and make the time, sister! Because, as with all nutrients, consistency is key. I went ahead and made it easy for you by coming up with a few stellar high-protein breakfast ideas.
Now I imagine you're wondering, "But Olivia, is more better?"
Not necessarily! You can only digest about 20-30 grams of protein at one time. That’s the magic number! Anything more than we can digest will be broken down into amino acids and stored to be used for other functions, orrrr flushed down the toilet next time you pee (these are just the facts).
I take a “food first” approach when helping my clients reach their protein goals. That means I teach them how to hit their daily protein goals using REAL FOOD instead of shakes, bars, and powders. I’m not against those options, but choosing whole food sources means you’ll also get the benefits of several other nutrients!
To sum up, get protein at every meal. Here are my top 10 protein food options (in no particular order - I love them all!)
Poultry – chicken or turkey