There’s no doubt about it…
Getting enough protein in your diet should be near the top of your priority list when it comes to getting the kinds of results you’re looking for in the gym.
Not only does protein have a crucial role in helping you build and maintain muscle, it also keeps your hunger in check when you’re on a diet by keeping you full and satisfied.
But getting enough protein is the #1 challenge – by far – that most of our new clients face when starting up our training program.
That’s because we recommend a relatively high protein intake compared to what most people are used to eating.
When new training clients come on board, the first thing we ask them to do is to log their food intake for a week without changing anything about the way they’re currently eating. Most of the time, it turns out that they’re only consuming an average of 60-80 grams of protein per day.
Now take into account the fact that we typically recommend approximately 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day (more or less depending on the individual), and you’ll quickly see that we’re asking clients to make significant changes to their existing diets. The vast majority of our clients are asked to consume at least 160 grams of protein per day and potentially much more depending on their weight, body fat percentage, goals, training intensity, etc.
Jumping from 60-80 grams of protein per day to 160 or more isn’t easy… at first.
People tend to struggle a lot in the beginning when trying to add more protein to their diets because they’re just not used to eating with a protein goal in mind.
But with a little strategy, it actually becomes really easy to hit these higher levels of protein every single day.
I regularly consume at least 180 grams of protein per day myself and always easily hit my protein targets – even when I’m eating out frequently for social or work events.
In this article, I’m going to show you a few simple strategies that will help you get enough protein in your diet day in and day out.
Know Which Foods Are High In Protein
First things first…
It’s going to be tough to get more protein in your diet if you’re not even sure about what foods are high in protein!
Let’s do a super quick review of what types of foods are high in protein. In general, the easiest way to maximize protein intake with whole foods is to stick with lean meats such as:
- Chicken breast
- Turkey breast
- Lean ground turkey
- Top round steak
- Top sirloin steak
- Lean ground beef
You can also get a good amount of protein from foods such as eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and more.
To make this easier for you, we’ve created a handy tool called “The High Protein Cheat Sheet” which is simply a list of high protein foods and how much protein each contains per serving.
Every Meal Should Be “Protein-Centric”
Next, we’re going to talk about a strategy that I recommend to ALL of my clients, a strategy that starts with a big mental adjustment that requires you to change the way you see your meals.
From now on, you should be following this rule:
Every single meal you eat should revolve around a primary protein source.
No longer will you be eating meals consisting of just a bowl of pasta, or an avocado salad, or a grilled cheese sandwich, or any other meal that doesn’t have protein as a main component.
In other words, every one of your meals should be “protein-centric”.
Here are a few examples:
- 3 scrambled eggs with a side of whole wheat toast and sliced tomato
- Protein shake with a side of oatmeal and fresh fruit
- Western omelette with a side of roasted potatoes
- Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and a side of cereal
- Chicken tacos
- Turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato on whole grain bread
- Steak salad with vinaigrette dressing
- 1/4 rotisserie chicken (white meat) with mixed vegetables and rice
- Low-carb chicken parmesan with a side of whole wheat pasta
- Roasted pork chops with a side of sweet potatoes
- Broiled salmon with a side of couscous
- Chicken stir-fry with rice
Note that every single one of these meals has protein as a main ingredient – and the protein is usually a type of lean meat. Except on very rare occasions, you generally want all of your meals to contain a significant amount of protein.
Another way to look at it is that you want to have at least 25% of the space on your plate taken up by protein. Note that this doesn’t really work for foods like sandwiches, salads, etc., but it’s still a good rule of thumb to understand the kind of ratio to shoot for.
Here’s a visual representation of what a well-balanced meal might look like:
And an example of actual well-balanced, high-protein meal consisting of chicken, sweet potatoes, and string beans:
Don’t get too hung up on nailing the right percentage of protein on every plate. The important thing to remember is just to keep protein as a primary ingredient in your meal along with a good source of carbohydrates and vegetables.
What To Do About Your Guilty Pleasure Foods
If I’m recommending that you should be getting a substantial serving of protein with every single meal, then does that mean you have to give up foods like pizza, french toast, macaroni and cheese, etc.?
If you’ve been following Lean Muscle Project, you know that we’re big fans of flexible dieting, and how important we believe it is to include some of your favorite foods in your diet so you don’t feel like you’re being deprived of anything.
The solution here is simply to figure out how to pack some protein into a meal that has both protein AND the food that you’re craving.
In other words, if you want french toast, make sure to have it with a side of eggs or a protein shake. Pizza? Get it with a topping of grilled chicken and broccoli to make it a more balanced, nutritious meal. You can do the same with macaroni and cheese by adding shredded chicken to it.
Sure, now and then you’re going to find yourself in situations where you can’t control what you’re eating, such as if you’re at a friend’s house for dinner and the host is serving pasta with vegetables or something equally low in protein.
In that case, just go ahead and enjoy a moderately sized meal and set the intention to boost your protein intake with a protein supplement later on.
Which leads me to the next section…
I don’t know a single guy who regularly works out and doesn’t take any sort of protein supplementation. Taking protein supplements has become almost a necessity for someone looking to routinely hit high numbers of protein every day.
Not to say that it isn’t possible to get all of your protein from whole food sources alone…
It’s just going to be very, very difficult.
Luckily for you, protein supplements have come a LONG way over the past decade or so, meaning that you no longer have to choke down thick, goopy pastes that taste like chalk in order to add protein to your diet.
Nowadays, protein supplements come in all different forms…
From delicious, decadent protein powders that come in flavors such as Double Rich Chocolate and Peanut Butter Marshmallow, to Blueberry Muffin protein bars that actually taste like a blueberry muffin!
There are 3 primary categories of protein supplements:
Protein powder is typically the most efficient way to add protein to your diet, meaning that you’ll get the highest amount of protein per serving with a powder when compared to an equivalent amount of calories in the form of a protein bar or snack.
You will generally get 20-30 grams of protein per scoop of protein powder. Make sure you stick with protein powders that derive the vast majority of their calories from protein. That means that 1 scoop of powder should have 20-30 grams of protein and around 120 calories.
One of our favorite brands of protein is Optimum Nutrition. I’ve been using Optimum Nutrition for years now and it’s still my go-to when it comes to an easy-to-drink, enjoyable protein shake.
You can mix the protein powder with water or milk for a quick and easy protein infusion, or you can take it up a notch with some more involved protein shake recipes such as a triply berry shake or chocolate, peanut butter, and banana shake.
Either option is fine as long as it fits into your nutrition targets.
This is another category of food that has seen a tremendous improvement in taste over the last several years thanks to some newer companies that have been knocking it out of the park when it comes to marrying high-quality protein sources with great flavor.
Old-school protein bars were often considered to be garbage… They used cheap, low-quality protein sources and added a ton of empty sugar calories in an effort to mask the bland, chalky taste of the protein.
But now, companies like Quest Nutrition produce protein bars with milk protein isolate and whey protein isolate, no soy and no gluten, no added sugar, and they taste GREAT.
Seriously, they taste so good that I know people who eat these bars as a snack who aren’t even into lifting.
If you haven’t already seen it, check out my review of Quest protein bars here.
There are other protein bars out there which are OK, but Quest is hands down my favorite at the moment for both taste and nutritional profile.
The last category is protein snacks, which contains a wide variety of different types of snacks boosted with protein. Think stuff like protein cookies, protein brownies, protein chips, protein muffins, etc.
Now, some of these are better than others…
At the top of my list of protein snack are Quest Protein Chips. Yes, if you couldn’t tell already, we’re kind of in love with Quest products here, and it’s important for me to reiterate that we don’t get paid any money to recommend Quest.
Their products really are just THAT good.
Quest chips have a fantastic nutritional profile that rivals protein powders – and I find them to be a lot more satisfying as a snack than just chugging down a quick protein shake. 120 calories with 21 grams of protein per serving.
Then you have something like Lenny and Larry’s The Complete Cookie. This cookie has 16 grams of protein in the entire cookie, which isn’t bad, but then you have to consider that each cookie is 360-380 calories with a whopping 28 grams of sugar.
When you compare the two, you’ll see that Quest Protein Chips are 70% protein, while The Complete Cookie is less than 20% protein.
Clearly, you want to choose protein snacks that are more protein dense, especially if you’re cutting with a substantial calorie deficit and trying to maximize the amount of protein you’re getting for the calories.
Setting Up A “Protein Plan”
The easiest way to make sure you get enough protein every day is to set up a “protein plan” where you consume a set amount of protein via supplements every day, and then use high-protein meals to make up the difference.
Let me give you an example…
When I’m cutting, I’m generally eating somewhere between 2100-2200 calories per day and aiming to get around 180 grams of protein per day.
So what I typically do on my cutting diet is consume the following supplements every day:
- 2 Quest protein bars
- 1 bag of Quest Protein Chips OR 1 scoop of Optimum Nutrition protein powder
(I alternate between Quest Protein Chips and the ON protein powder because the nutritional profile is pretty much interchangeable, and protein powder is cheaper per serving than Quest chips.)
Between 2 protein bars and a scoop of protein powder (or bag of chips), I get around 60 grams of protein. That leaves 120 grams of protein remaining in order for me to hit 180 grams per day.
120 grams of protein divided up between several meals isn’t very daunting, and it’s actually quite an easy number to hit if you’re eating “protein-centric” meals as described above.
Here’s an example of one of my food log entries from earlier this year when I was cutting for summer:
(The breakfast section of this log is empty because I follow an intermittent fasting plan and don’t eat breakfast on a regular basis.)
In this example, by using supplements, I immediately satisfied 1/3 of my day’s protein requirement.
You can do the same by figuring out which protein supplements you like and figuring out a way to work them into your diet every day. By regularly consuming the same set of protein supplements every day, I’m always confident that I’ll be able to hit my protein number without difficulty.
Getting enough protein every day is the #1 challenge faced by most new trainees, but with a little bit of thought and planning, it won’t be long before you’re easily hitting your protein targets every day.
Here are the basic strategies laid out in this article:
- Know which foods are high in protein. If you’re unsure, download The High Protein Cheat Sheet.
- Keep your meals “protein-centric”. Protein should be a primary ingredient in every single meal.
- Use protein supplements to quickly boost your protein intake.
- Come up with a “protein plan” that has you consuming the same protein supplements every day to take care of a large percentage of the day’s protein requirements.
- Even when using supplements, get the vast majority (at least 50%) of your protein from whole foods.
Remember – making these adjustments is going to be difficult at first if you’re not used to consuming a lot of protein. Just do your best to make small improvements every day and soon enough you’ll be hitting your protein targets with ease.