If there’s one thing I’ve learned over our many years of training people, Women specifically, it’s that they are notoriously low protein eaters.
Protein is an essential nutrient the body needs to grow, repair and maintain bodily functions. Protein makes up our muscles, connective tissues, hair, skin and internal organs. When you state your goals as wanting to be “toned”, “ripped”, “less jiggly”, “less soft” what you’re saying is that you want to have stronger muscles and less fat covering them and this is where protein comes in.
The building blocks of protein, amino acids, rebuild your muscle tissue, hair and skin cells that are lost each day. If you do not eat enough protein it makes it hard for your body to rebuild muscle, have healthy skin and hair. When you are performing high-intensity resistance training, and maintaining a caloric deficit (I.E. eating less calories than your body needs) the risk of losing muscle mass because you aren’t consuming enough protein is greater. And the less muscle you have, the harder it is to keep the weight off. So our goal should be to maintain as much muscle as we can as we exercise and diet.
How Much Protein is Enough?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is .8 grams per kilograms of body weight.1 So if you’re a 150lbs female, the minimum amount of protein you should be eating is 54 grams [(150/2.2)x.8=54)].
The RDA is acceptable for the average person who doesn’t exercise, sits at a desk all day, and watches tv all night. But this level of protein intake is not ideal for losing fat, building muscle, and changing your body composition. Research has shown that .8 grams per POUND (lbs) of body weight, rather than KILOGRAMS (kg), seems to be a better protein consumption level for maintaining muscle mass and losing fat.2 So that same 150lbs female would do best by increasing her daily protein intake to 120grams per day. [150x.8=120] If you are a bigger person, with over 25% body fat, and have a lot of fat weight to lose, then I would recommend using your “Lean Body Mass” instead of your total body weight.
Your GOAL: Consume .8 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
That’s a great goal. But what do you do to achieve it? As coaches, I would be negligent if I didn’t help you build the skills to reach this goal. So what skills do you need to consume XX grams of protein per day?
Skill #1: Discover the protein content of your favorite foods.
Skill # 2: Determine the amount of those foods you need each day.
Discovering the protein content of your favorite foods.
I used to do meal plans for each and every one of my clients. But I stopped. No, not because it was “illegal” for me to do so because I wasn’t a “Licensed Dietician” (It’s not illegal). But simply because the foods that I loved and ate every day weren’t the same as my clients. And when clients saw the meals, and saw foods they didn’t care for or just out right hated, they didn’t follow the meal plan, didn’t change their habits, and ultimately never succeeded.
So I discovered that empowering the client with the tools to discover what THEIR favorite foods were made of and fitting them into their daily meal plans to reach their protein target goals was a much better solution.
The tools you need for discovering the protein content of your favorite foods are:
1.) The Food’s Nutrition Label
2.) Various Nutrition Internet Sites
3.) Various Calorie Counting Smart Phone Apps
I know, I know, there’s a trend in the fitness industry of “Calorie Deniers” that say all these resources are flawed and inaccurate, but you know what, they are not *THAT* flawed and they still work if you build your skills in measuring/eyeing up serving sizes and practicing portion control.
The Food’s Nutrition Label:
Most of the food you eat will have a nutrition label somewhere on the packaging. “PROTEIN” is in bold type. The number next to the word “PROTEIN” is the amount of protein PER SERVING.
The above nutrition label is from Oikos Greek Yogurt, Strawberry.3 We see that one 6 oz cup of yogurt has 12 g (grams) of protein. Which is twice as much protein as Activia Strawberry in the same sized container.
If the food you are eating doesn’t have a label, then your next tool to use would be various internet nutrition sites, such as Calorie King:4
Simply type the food you’re eating in to the “Food Search” box and hit “Search”
“Oikos Greek Yogurt” results look like this:
Protein grams are close to the bottom below “Total Carbs” and above “Calcuim”
Lastly, you can find out how much protein are in the foods you are eating by using a smartphone app.
Enter the food you ate and the serving size and BOOM up comes the nutritional information. Most of these apps even allow you to enter foods that may not yet be in their user generated database.
Some even have a barcode scanner. Eating a food that isn’t in the database? Simply hit the “Barcode Scanner” option and allow the app to access your phone’s camera, then scan the barcode on the package of food you’re eating. All the nutritional information is instantly entered and added to the apps database!
So now that we have the skill of discovering how much protein is in the food we eat. Let’s move on to skill number two.
Determining the amount of food you need to eat each day to reach your protein target.
Earlier I showed you how to use the formula BW X .8 to come up with a protein target that is specific to you and your body. Remember, if you are a bigger person and have a lot of weight to lose, use your “Lean Body Mass” (Body Weight – Fat Mass), not your total scale weight. Continuing to use our 150lbs female example and her protein target of 120grams… just how much food is 120grams of protein anyway?
Well if we use our Oikos Greek Yogurt example from above that’s about 10 containers! LOL Obviously I don’t want you to eat 10 containers of Oikos Greek Yogurt each day or even at one sitting.
It’s best if we break this down into manageable chunks or separate “Meals”.
Most people aim to eat 3 meals a day; breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breaking out the 120 grams of protein over those meal gives us 40 grams of protein per meal.
But what does 40 grams of protein look like?
Here’s what 40 grams of protein at BREAKFAST could look like:
1 Scoop of Whey Protein (24grams), mixed in with 1 cup (8 oz) of Greek Yogurt (18 grams)
Or 4 whole eggs (24 grams), any style (Fried, over-easy, hard boiled, soft boiled) and 1 cup (8 oz) of Greek Yogurt (18 grams)
These are just suggestions, but now that you have the skill of finding how much protein is in your favorite foods you can build a better breakfast to fit your daily protein requirements.
Other ways to measure up serving sizes of protein.
Our friends over at Precision Nutrition have an awesome method they teach their fat loss clients on how to measure serving sizes of protein, carbs, and fat. The device they use you always have with you and is hard to forget. No it’s not your iphone, your wallet or your car keys. It’s simply your hand! For protein, specifically the palm of your hand.8
A serving size of beef, chicken, turkey, tuna is about the same size as the palm of your individual hand. This could be anywhere from 3 to 4 ounces. Women should eat 1 palm sized serving of lean meat at every meal, men should eat two palms. Since lean meats vary on the amount of protein they contain, anywhere from 6 to 10 grams per ounce, we will use the average here and say an ounce of beef, chicken, turkey or tuna has about 8 grams of protein. Sticking with our 40 grams of protein at each meal, that would require us to eat 5 ounces [5 x 8 = 40], so a little more than a palm sized slice of meat.
Skills don’t develop overnight, they take practice. So let’s practice our new found skills for the next few days. You can download the Skill Building Exercise:Protein here, fill it out and start tracking your protein grams over the next couple of days. See how close you can get.
Here’s a list of some everyday foods and their protein content.