It’s pretty important.
Protein is a macronutrient, along with fats and carbohydrates. These three “macros” as we call them are the basic components to every diet. I’ll talk about fats and carbs in future blog posts. Today is all about the protein.
What, actually, is protein, aside from a macro? It’s the building block of muscles, organs, skin, hormones… it’s kind of a big deal. It basically gets itself involved in every part of the body. A diet high in protein can also help you lose or maintain weight, stabilize blood sugars, lower blood pressure, heal from injuries quicker, and so much more. It also keeps you feeling fuller, longer.
How much protein should you be eating daily? This ultimately depends on things like your goals, lifestyle, and overall health. The daily minimum recommended by the National Institutes of Health is 0.36 grams of protein per pound for a sedentary person. Someone who is more active, be it a physically demanding job or hours logged in the gym each week, will require more. Using myself as an example, I’m eating 150g of protein per day with the goal of fat loss (not weight loss – fat loss) and maintaining lean muscle. Some strength athletes I know, mostly male, eat as much as 2g of protein per pound of body weight. As with any macro, it requires some experimentation to find the right amount for you.
Now, when I say “protein” how many of you think of either a slab of steak or a chalky protein drink when it comes to the source of that all important macronutrient? A fair few of you, I bet. Personally, I don’t especially enjoy either of those options. I don’t care for steak, and I try to avoid drinking straight protein powder mixed in water if possible. I just don’t like it. I much prefer it blended with almond milk and peanut butter, but who doesn’t?
The good news is, meat and powder aren’t your only options for protein. Here are seven protein-packed foods to keep in the kitchen.
Plain, non-fat Greek yogurt is a macro counting soul’s dream. It’s packed with protein and low in fat and carbs. My favorite brands are Chobani and Trader Joe. If you go for a flavored or full-fat variety, be mindful of the label as they are typically full of sugar. Plain Greek yogurt topped with berries and slivered almonds is a great dessert option. You can also mix in protein powder to create a sort of pudding. If you happen to be in Iceland, just eat Skyr. Eat all the Skyr and think of me.
Cheese? Really? Isn’t cheese full of fat and calories? Yes to all of that. Cheese – in moderation – is a great protein source. Pay attention to serving sizes, weighing or measuring accordingly. I recommend keeping string cheese on hand. I buy the bags of 50 calorie ones at my local grocery store. They’re a great afternoon snack when paired with a piece of fruit or some nuts.
Nut Butters and Nuts
There are no less than five varieties of nut butter in my pantry right now. One of my go-to pre-workout snacks is a rice cake topped with peanut butter and maybe a banana. A handful of almonds is another favorite snack. Like cheese, use these in moderation, as the fat content (while good fat!) is on the higher side.
Once upon a time, I wouldn’t so much as open a tub of cottage cheese. I was convinced it was disgusting, even though I had never tried it. And then I tried it and I didn’t like it. I loved it. A bowl of cottage cheese with peaches? Best thing ever. My Papa Clark is smiling down from Heaven right now. It was one of his favorite snacks.
The protein content of oats took me by surprise. They are one of the healthiest grains out there, and they can be used in so many ways. I’m a big fan of overnight oats. The combinations are truly endless,
That whole marketing gimmick around athletes and milk? It’s not a gimmick. Milk – dairy milk, that is – is chocked full of protein, vitamin D, calcium, and a whole lot of other healthy people things. We tend to reach for almond or soy milk these days thanks to the calorie count, but unless you are dairy intolerant, you could be missing out on some serious benefits from cow’s milk. For a little more macro-friendly option, try the Fairlife line. I live for their chocolate milk.
When I’m traveling or on the go, I pack RXBars. They have 12 grams of protein, and are made from real ingredients like dates, egg whites, and nuts. There’s no question about what you’re eating. My favorites are the Peanut Butter, the Peanut Butter Chocolate, and the Coffee Chocolate (we’re all surprised…) They can be a bit chewy, but I like to think that just means the goodness last longer. RXBar also just came out with nut butter – the honey cinnamon peanut butter is heavenly on a piece of whole grain toast. (This isn’t sponsored – I’m just a fan).
Got a favorite protein snack? Leave it in the comments. I’m always looking for new protein ideas!