Fitness enthusiasts and people wanting to make a lifestyle change have no doubt heard a lot about protein lately. And for good reason. Protein is a key component in any diet. There are three macronutrients — protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Are all used by our bodies in unique, beneficial ways, but to help you get to your goals of a stronger, trimmer body, protein by far reigns supreme.
Protein is the most filling and satisfying macronutrient for a few reasons. First, protein takes three to five hours to digest. So unlike quick-digesting carbohydrates that fill you up for a short time and then leave you hungry soon after, protein-packed items allow you to feel satisfied for longer. This slower digestion process also helps stabilize blood sugar to keep energy levels stable, provide mental focus, ward off sugar and carbohydrate cravings, and much more. The satisfaction of protein also partly comes from how it impacts hunger hormones. For example, protein reduces levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, and boosts levels of peptide YY, a hormone that makes you feel full.
Protein also serves as the building blocks to increase and maintain muscle mass. Consistent protein intake is vital to rebuild muscles, but more is not always better. Since muscles can only fully utilize 30 to 35 grams of protein at a time, it’s most beneficial to spread out intake consistently into every meal and snack. A great benefit of increased muscle mass is increased metabolisms. Therefore, to burn more calories and lose fat, we must fuel our bodies to build lean, strong bodies.
If weight maintenance is a goal, protein is crucial. It allows for a reduction in cravings and overall calories needed to feel full, boosts metabolisms, and helps build lean and strong bodies! But how much do we need? To know your specific protein requirements, talk with a dietitian who can calculate the grams needed per day based on your body composition, age, and lifestyle. Ensure you’re getting enough protein by focusing on consistency. Allow every meal and snack to have a good lean source of protein — 20 to 40 grams at meals and 5 to 30 grams at snacks depending on your individual factors. Below is an example meal plan for how to include this powerhouse macronutrient into your diet around the clock!
Yogurt Parfait(320 calories, 27 grams protein)
- 1 c. nonfat plain Greek yogurt
- Optional: drop of vanilla/almond extract and stevia to taste
- 1 c. berries, fresh or frozen and thawed
- 2 tbsp. slivered almonds
If using, stir extract and stevia into yogurt until well combined. Add in berries and top with slivered almonds.
Powerhouse Cobb Salad(530 calories, 40 grams protein)
- 2 large handfuls mixed greens
- ½ c. grape tomatoes, quartered
- ¼ c. cucumbers, diced
- ¼ c. matchstick carrots
- ½ c. garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 oz. chicken breast, cubed
- 2 oz. no-nitrate deli ham, diced
- 1 hard-boiled egg, diced
- ¼ avocado, diced
- 2 tbsp. Bolthouse Ranch Dressing, or yogurt dressing of choice
Add all ingredients into a bowl and toss with dressing until well combined.
Guacamole Deviled Eggs(110 calories, 8 grams protein)
- 2 hard-boiled egg whites, halved
- 2 tbsp. guacamole
- 1 c. red bell pepper, sliced
Remove yolks from hard-boiled eggs and fill with the prepared guacamole. Enjoy with sliced bell peppers or veggie of choice.
Shrimp Power Bowl(440 calories, 38 grams)
- 1 tsp. olive oil
- 5 oz. shrimp peeled, deveined
- Salt and pepper, to taste for seasoning
- ¼ tsp. each: dried basil, dried oregano, onion powder, garlic powder
- 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- ½ c. quinoa, cooked
- 1 tbsp. olive tapenade or ½ tbsp pesto
- 1 tbsp. parmesan
Place a skillet over medium heat and add olive oil. When oil is hot, add shrimp in one layer, season with salt and pepper, and cook undisturbed for 1 minute. Flip and cook the other side until the shrimp are pink and cooked through. Transfer to a plate. Add zucchini to the pan along with the spices and a bit more salt and pepper, stirring frequently until zucchini softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the shrimp back into the pan along with the lemon juice. In a bowl, mix together the cooked quinoa and olive tapenade or pesto, then top with shrimp and zucchini mixture. Top with parmesan cheese.