If you’ve been hanging around here or my Facebook page for any length of time, you’re familiar with my “big rocks first, small rocks later” approach in terms of eating and exercise. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me catch you up to speed. It’s really quite simple: I don’t stress about the cals in this, or the macros in that; rather, I listen to my body & its biofeedback signals e.g. hunger, energy and cravings (HEC a la Metabolic Effect); also, mood, stress, sleep, skin, digestive health and performance in the gym. We tend to not like this approach because it’s not hardcore. But if it works, and is SUSTAINABLE, it works, no? Not to mention the mental energy that it frees up that we can then spend on arguably more productive things that we actually want to be doing.
While it is important to stay mindful of food labels, ingredient lists, etc., it is equally important to not *let* ourselves become consumed by them. *Example: protein powder, while it may have a few grams of carb, is mostly protein; nut butter, while it may have a few grams of protein, is primarily fat; beans, while they have some protein, mostly carb.
One of my “big rocks” in the realm of nutrition is prioritizing protein at every meal (and by “meal,” I mean any eating time – larger meal, or smaller snack). In fact, it’s one of my daily non-negotiables. Here’s why: comprised of amino acids, protein is the building block for muscle and spares lean muscle so that the body burns fat for energy. It, too, can be used by the body for energy. The least likely of the macronutrients, when consumed in excess, to go toward fat storage, protein can help speed the metabolism. Its slow digestion helps to control cravings and balance blood sugar, preventing insulin spikes that can lead to fat storage. Still, too much of a good thing is still, too much.
I don’t weigh, I don’t measure, but I do stay MINDFUL of my intake – if not, hangry ensues. I know it, the world around me knows and I’m not the most pleasant person to be around ha. So how much do you need? Well, it depends. I typically reco ~1g/lb of bodyweight for my training clients, adjusting higher/lower according to HEC and fat loss results, with regard to the individual’s physique goals (i.e. attain or maintain). So, if you weigh 150 lbs., for example, and eat 5x /day, divide your bodyweight by 5 that’s ~30g protein/meal. If you’re not used to reading food labels, or the protein content in various foods, this will take some detective work… practice on your part, but so worth it in the long run. #TeamNoStress #antidiet And the reclaimed mental energy? Yes, please!
Also something to keep in mind: if you weigh 150 lbs, for example, and are currently only getting 50 g of protein/day, to try to double your protein overnight is a big first step. Instead, maybe just try to aim for protein at every meal. Small wins ===> big wins. Action begets more action ===> progress ===> success.
With that, here are my Top Tips to Pack a Protein Punch:
- Sustainably-raised meats. Organic, local, pasture-raised. Do your best. A few of my faves: boneless, skinless chicken breasts; lean ground turkey; bison; grass-fed ground beef (good source of omega-3s); nitrate-free bacon, on occasion.
- Seafood. Pole-caught and/or wild are best; fresh or frozen. I love fresh tuna when I’m at the beach, but more typically, it’s Wildplanet tuna or sardines (canned), Bear & Wolf Wild Alaskan Salmon (canned, from Costco), Keta Candy Salmon or wild sockeye salmon (I love these- individually-portioned, also from Costco). If you’ve not tried Sizzlefish, check ’em out!
- Rotisserie chicken. Quick, easy, convenient. Usually, from Costco or Whole Foods.
- Eggs. Affordable, easy-to-find and easily prepped a number of ways. Fried, hard-boiled for on-the-go, scrambled, crustless quiche/casserole/frittata or egg “muffins.” This article may help you in making your selection.
- Protein bars. Not all are created equal. If you’re not familiar with the “Metabolic Effect Label Rule,” learn it. Use it. Can be used for anything with a label, protein bar or not: Total Carbohydrate – Fiber – Sugar Alcohols – Protein [should be] < 10, NEGATIVE numbers are best for fat loss! [NOTE: Calculation based on single serving if package contains multiple portions] A few of my favorite, cleaner (not perfect) options: Dale’s Raw Foods Bars, Perfect Bar, 22DaysNutrition, EPIC, Quest Nutrition, Nugo, Oh Yeah Victory, Vega and PowerCrunch. I just recently tried Exo and, after getting over the cricket factor, am really enjoying. Has anyone tried INBar? Another GF/DF option that I’ve been meaning to check out. #doyou.
- Protein powder. I like plant-based/vegan options. SunWarrior, PlantFusion and Vega. Jay Robb, BioTrust, AboutTime and Fit365 offer clean whey options. I wrote about how to choose a protein powder here.
- Jerky. Turkey, beef or salmon are my faves. Again, do your best with quality.
- Low-sodium deli meat. Eat plain, or roll around some ‘cado and veggies for a heartier snack. I love Applegate.
- Greek yogurt. Only if you can tolerate dairy. Opt for plain varieties as the flavored ones are loaded with sugar. Try adding a sprinkle of stevia and cinnamon for something sweet, or top with nuts or seeds for a little crunch. Need not be fat-free.
- Cottage cheese. Again, if you can tolerate dairy. If you choose to consume dairy, choose higher quality, less processed products, when you can (e.g. hormone-, antibiotic- and pesticide-free; grass-fed/pasture-raised; organic; raw).
- Quinoa (VF). Definitely an acquired taste, IMO, but an excellent rice substitute that is loaded with fiber, iron, magnesium and manganese. Pretty versatile. Recipe idea? Try it in a stir-fry, or as a substitute for meat in stuffed bell peppers from my friend Kate of Beyond Fit Mom.
- Buckwheat (VF and GF). Use in place of rice, wheat and corn in cooking, as it ranks lower on the glycemic scale. Foods that rank high on the glycemic scale stimulate a rapid spike in blood sugar levels, which may enhance systemic inflammation.
- Chia (VF). The highest plant source of omega-3s, these little seeds are a good source of fiber, and also iron, calcium, zinc and antioxidants. Try them in chia pudding, or as a replacement for eggs in #healthybaking. Chia may not be great on the GI tract, and may exacerbate, even trigger leaky gut in some individuals. If chia don’t work for you, try hemp seeds, or ground flax seeds if you can tolerate them.
- Ezekiel bread (VF). Made from a combination of 6 grains and legumes, this sprouted bread is a source of complete protein and contains all 9 essential amino acids. The sprouting process increases its digestibility, absorption of minerals and relative contents of both vitamins B and C. An excellent source of fiber, and especially compared with regular bread. Try with a TB of nut butter – NuttZo PowerFuel is my fave (use the code ‘MINER15’ for 15% off all online orders)!
Anything I missed? What are your go-tos for protein on-the-go? Let me know on my Facebook page!