Protein is an essential part of your diet as it is considered the building block to the body and has an effect on everything from muscle repair and hair growth to your immune and nervous system. But are you getting enough, too much or the right kind?
The RDA for protein in take is .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight, however this can fluctuate depending on the individual. When dealing with recovery from surgery or training, auto-immune conditions or pregnancy, your need for protein may increase. Also, our need for protein in the fall and winter also increases, especially if you reside in a colder climate.
Signs of Protein Deficiency:
For most people, they don’t have an issue with the amount of protein they eat. In fact, most people probably eat too much but you can read below on the average goal for each meal. For most people, it can be more of an issue of poor digestion and absorption of protein but that is another topic.
However, I do see some clients, most of which are women and vegetarians/vegans, who show signs of protein deficiency.
- Constant craving for carbohydrates (this is a big one for many people)
- Muscle aches/soreness
- Poor recovery after workouts
- Dry hair
- Constant fatigue and lack of energy
- Anemia (in some cases)
What is a Complete Protein?
Many people don’t realize that not all protein is equal. A complete protein contains all 9 essential amino acids that the body can not manufacture itself and in the right quantities.
Sources: Fish, eggs, meat, poultry, dairy
There are vegetarian options besides dairy that have at least some of the 9 essential amino acids but aren’t considered a complete protein due to the amount.
Sources: Quinoa, avocado, black beans, cauliflower, spirulina, pistachios, cashews, pumpkin seeds
What is an Incomplete Protein?
A vegetarian source that does not have all 9 essentials or not enough of the right quantities.
Sources: Nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, vegetables, whole grains. These need to be combined with other plant forms of protein to make up a complete protein.
TIP: Combine a grain with a nut/seed to make a complete protein
How much protein should I eat at each meal?
I typically suggest for people to aim for anywhere between 15g and 25 grams of protein at each meal. Again, this isn’t a hard and fast rule for everyone as your amounts will change depending on certain health situations. However, I find that it gives people a general idea of the amount to aim for.
Here are some examples of protein combinations you could try at different meals to reach that 15-25 gram goal:
- 2-3 eggs (approx. 14-21g)
- 2 pieces of turkey bacon, 1/2 of an avocado, 1 piece sprouted bread (approx. 20 grams)
- 1/2 cup of oats with 1/2 cup kefir and 2 tbsp hemp hearts (approx. 19 grams)
- Palm size piece of chicken, fish or turkey (approx. 20-28 grams)
- 1 cup black beans with 1 cup cooked brown rice (approx. 19 grams)
- 1 cup cooked quinoa with 1/4 cup pistachios (approx. 15 grams)
- 1/4 cup goat cheese, spinach and tomato sandwich on sprouted bread (approx. 25 grams)
- 1 scoop grass-fed whey protein concentrate (approx. 25 grams)
- 1-2 scoops vegan protein powder (approximately 25-28 grams)
Are there any bad sources of protein?
Whenever you choose an animal source of protein (eggs, meat, fish, dairy), it is always best to choose ones that are high in quality in terms of manufacturing. Look for terms such as grass-fed, cage-free, organic, pasture-raised and local. This decreases the amount of antibiotics, growth hormone and toxins you consume when eating them.
Fried, broiled or charred meat can be carcinogenic to the body. I typically suggest people to limit the amount of bacon, conventional or farm factory meat and farm raised fish.
In terms of dairy, I always recommend buying organic to avoid the added hormones and antibiotics. I also find that most people tolerate and digest goat dairy products such as milk, yogurt, kefir and cheese better than cow’s dairy. Cultured, raw and unpasteurized dairy is also easier to digest. The enzymes aren’t killed in the heating process making them more digestible and less problematic.
Soy is one of the highest allergens and can cause issues hormonally. If eating soy, try to eat only fermented forms such as tempeh or miso. Edamame is ok in moderation.
Protein powders should be carefully picked out as many of them are too high in protein and contain a lot of additives, denatured forms of protein and sugar.
In general, I am not a fan of protein bars as they are usually loaded in sugar, additives and poor sources of protein (soy, isolated, etc.). It is always best to get your protein from a whole food source.
Only use a grass-fed whey protein concentrate or vegan protein made with brown rice, hemp, pea protein without additives/colors/sugar. READ YOUR LABELS.
When should we eat protein?
Protein should be part of every meal as it helps keep you satiated and is part of the FFP (Fat, Fiber, Protein rule). However, heavier proteins like red meat or some other meat is best eating midday versus at night, as it can be more difficult to digest and affect your sleep.
Many clients I work with find that eating a vegetarian source of protein (eggs, beans, nuts, grains, protein powder) at night is easier for them to digest and helps improve their sleep.
I do encourage people to get a variety of different source son protein in their diet and not to rely only on meat. Making at least one meal a day vegetarian can be very helpful for your heart health, blood pressure and waistline.