Protein is one of the hottest topics in the nutrition world these days, and with good reason: it plays an important role in keeping hunger at bay, building lean muscle tissue, and helping blood sugar stay stable between meals and snacks. Add to that the growing interest around protein’s role in satiety and weight control, plus the current buzz surrounding popular low-carbohydrate diets (i.e. gluten free or Paleo), and protein is having a serious moment.
With that in mind, here are three must-have moves that will help you sift through the hype and be sure you are getting the most out of this essential nutrient to help meet your weight, health and energy goals.
1. Get Enough Protein Each Day.
Chances are you are getting plenty of protein, but it’s good to check in with the numbers; according to the USDA, women ages 19-50 need about 46 grams of protein per day, while men that age need around 56 grams per day. A more precise calculation for an average healthy person, according to the Institute of Medicine, is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (1.1 for pregnant or nursing women).
It’s amazing how much plant proteins can contribute significantly to your daily totals: while animal sources of proteins including meat, fish and poultry deliver 7 grams of protein per ounce, many people are surprised to discover that an ounce of almonds delivers an impressive 6 grams of power-packed protein per serving!
2. Spread out your protein during the day rather than eating it at one big meal.
Is timing really everything? It may be – new research suggests that spreading out your protein over the course of a day may improve muscle building potential (as measured by something called “net protein balance”), than simply sitting down to a single large protein packed meal at dinner time. In the study, 24 healthy men who were engaged in resistance training had a better, more positive net protein balance when they consumed 20 grams of protein every 3 hours versus participants who consumed large amounts of protein less frequently (40 grams every 6 hours). The study did not delineate between tissue-specific changes in protein metabolism, and though it suggested a benefit from spreading protein intake throughout the day, further research is recommended. Including protein at meals and snacks throughout the day (such as almonds, legumes, seeds, nut butters, lean poultry and meats) is often the difference between a snack or meal with staying power versus one that has you reaching for another snack in an hour.
3. Eat a protein packed breakfast.
We’ve long known that eating a healthy breakfast pays big dividends, but research suggests that a protein packed breakfast may also keep your appetite in check longer by helping you avoid those sneaky spikes in blood glucose and insulin. In the study, 35 healthy women (aged 18-55) who consumed at least 30 grams of protein at breakfast (from eggs and sausage) reported feeling more satisfied and ate 100 fewer calories at lunch compared with subjects who ate a pancake breakfast that was calorically identical but had just 3 grams of protein. Although this was a short term study and food and macronutrient preferences could not be assessed at breakfast or lunch, protein stimulates an important gut hormone called peptide YY, which helps to signal your brain “I’m full”. Since most Americans consume about 10-15 grams of protein at breakfast, pumping up the protein may pay real benefits.
Try these protein-packed breakfast ideas:
- 2 eggs scrambled with 1/4 cup cottage cheese, served on top of 1/2 cup black beans. Top with sliced avocado and fresh salsa.
- A 6 oz. yogurt parfait in a Mason jar using Greek yogurt (which has twice the protein of regular yogurt) topped with 1 ounce almonds, 1 ounce hemp seeds, 1/2 cup sliced fruit and a drizzle of honey.
- One whole grain waffle spread with almond butter, topped with sliced fresh fruit and a drizzle of maple syrup, served alongside 1-2 turkey sausage patties.
 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans
 Rains et al. Protein intake at breakfast is associated with reduced energy intake at lunch: An analysis of NHANES 2003–2006. FASEB J. April 2013; 27: 349.7