Wondering how to get enough protein? You’re not alone. People are always recommending you get more protein, but how do you know when it’s enough? Or, on the other hand, what are the signs you’re not getting enough protein? And what are the foods you should eat more of?
Protein is a central nutrient for our bodies, and there is a recommended amount of protein to aim for in your diet. In this article, we will teach you some simple ways to get enough protein in your diet. But first, let’s explain what protein is – and why your body needs it.
What is protein and why is it important?
Proteins are molecules that are essential to human life. A protein is formed when a long chain of smaller molecules, called amino acids, bond together to form a chain. Chains of proteins are responsible for nearly every function of your body, and they work together to form tissues like muscles.
When it comes to protein in foods, it’s important to know the difference between complete and incomplete proteins. Foods that contain complete proteins have all nine essential amino acids that your body can’t make on its own (and has to get from foods).
So does that mean the body can make non-essential amino acids? If that’s the case, why are we so worried about how to get enough protein?
While your body can make non-essential amino acids, it’s best to still consume foods that are rich in both essential and non-essential amino acids. This is especially true when you’re ill or injured since your body will need more of these “materials” to heal.
Signs you’re not getting enough protein
In order to know how to get enough protein, you need to know how much protein you should be consuming. An average person needs about 35-56 grams of protein each day, though you should consult with your healthcare team to make sure that number accurately reflects your needs.
Most people don’t think to track their protein, so you’ll want to know some of the signs you’re not getting enough protein. These include:
- Swelling in your hands, feet, or abdomen
- Weakness or excessive fatigue
- Persistent hunger
- Skin, hair, or nail problems
- Slow-healing injuries or illnesses
- Loss of muscle mass
If you notice any of these, reach out to your healthcare provider immediately. They may refer you for medical nutrition therapy.
In medical nutrition therapy, your provider will work with you to help you heal through a personalized daily diet plan. This will include planning for how to get enough protein through changes in your meals or daily supplements to make sure all of your nutritional needs are met.
There are a number of reasons you might find yourself asking, “Am I getting enough protein?” One is struggling with appetite problems. And when you’re trying to decide what to eat when you have no appetite, protein isn’t necessarily top of mind.
On top of that, something to consider when learning how to get enough protein is that most foods have incomplete proteins in them. This means you’ll need to eat a variety of foods to ensure you’re getting all the essential amino acids you need to stay healthy.
Fortunately, there’s a wide range of protein-rich foods you can easily incorporate into your daily routine. Remember to incorporate these throughout the day, and you’ll easily meet your protein needs!
How to get enough protein: 10 foods to eat more often
Here are the foods we recommend first when you are learning how to get enough protein in your diet:
1. Lean meats
Lean meats like chicken, turkey, and lean cuts of beef and pork are all protein-rich. Meat is one of the first things many people picture when they think of “protein.” That’s why it’s at the top for our tips on how to get enough protein!
Surprisingly, though, 1 oz of meat has about the same protein content as many of the other foods on this list. Depending on what kind of meat you’re eating, you can expect to get about 7 grams of protein per oz.
Beef, especially beef jerky, will typically have a higher protein content at 10-15 grams per oz.
To include lean meats in your meal plan for how to get enough protein, try preparing them ahead of time. For example, it’s much easier to add sliced chicken breast to a salad, broth, or pasta if you already have it cooked.
Animal proteins are all complete proteins, so including lots of them in your meal plan is a simple way to make sure you’re getting all of your essential amino acids!
Much like lean meats, fish contains around 7 grams of protein per oz, but unlike meats, fish usually has fewer calories.
When you’re figuring out how to get enough protein, paying attention to calories is important. While not everyone wants or needs a low-calorie diet, eating too many calories will make you feel worse, not better.
Fish is great to incorporate in your plan to boost your protein intake for this very reason. Fish is also generally lighter, making it more appealing for people who don’t have much of an appetite or who dislike the overly full-feeling meat sometimes causes.
Like meat and fish, eggs are a complete protein. For people who struggle with how to get enough protein in their diet, eggs are a simple, versatile option. They’re vegetarian, and they can be prepared in dozens of textures and flavor combinations.
Egg whites, in particular, are a great way to add protein to your meal without adding calories or fats. Adding extra egg whites to scrambled eggs, omelets, or even oatmeal can boost the protein content without making you feel too full.
One egg has about 6 grams of protein, and more than half of that is in the egg white alone.
Egg whites are almost exclusively protein and water, which means they won’t have much flavor once cooked into your food. You can even increase the protein content of foods like oatmeal just by stirring an egg white into it!
Trying to figure out how to get enough protein without doing any cooking? Cheese is a great option. While you can include cheese in many of the meals you cook, Mozzarella string cheese is high in protein and easy to keep on hand.
And hard cheeses like Cheddar and Swiss are perfect for slicing to have with crackers or cubing on their own, giving you plenty of options. Cheese will have around 7 grams of protein per oz, but you can check the specific types of cheeses you like for the exact amount per serving.
5. Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt can have as much as 18 grams of protein in 5 oz. And when you’re considering how to get enough protein from your Greek yogurt, checking the nutrition labels is important. Knowing how to read nutrition labels will help you choose high-protein Greek yogurt without including extra sugars in your snacks or meals.
High-sugar foods will often make you feel worse, especially if you’re already experiencing signs you’re not getting enough protein. Protein plays a key role in how our body processes sugar, and if you aren’t getting enough protein, foods high in sugar can make you feel weak or shaky.
Whenever you can, opt for plain Greek yogurt and add mix-ins like fruit and honey at home, so you can adjust the amounts to your needs and preferences.
Nuts are packed with nutrients, easy to carry with you, and simple to include in a variety of recipes. When it comes to how to get enough protein, portability is a must. The last thing you want is to be away from home and need a snack… but have nothing on hand!
Depending on which nut you choose, nuts can have 4-6 grams of protein per oz, and include other nutrients like fiber and carbohydrates. Vegan protein options like nuts are incomplete proteins, however, so you’ll want to pay attention to which amino acids you’re missing and fill them in with other foods throughout the day.
Seeds are highly nutrient-dense snacks, and since they’re so small, they’re perfect for people who have no appetite or struggle to chew.
Chia seeds, for instance, can be blended into a smoothie or pudding to add about 4-5 grams of protein per oz, along with vital nutrients like fiber and calcium.
Like with nuts and cheeses, there are many different types of seeds you can add to your plan for how to get enough protein. You might try a few before you find one that you like, but don’t give up! Seeds are a great way to boost the protein content of other foods like salads and trail mixes.
8. Beans and legumes
Adding more beans and legumes into your diet is a great way to make sure you never have to wonder, “Am I getting enough protein?”
Beans have 6-9 grams of protein per oz, and they’re a great vegan option! Like most vegan proteins, though, beans are incomplete proteins. You’ll want to check for which essential amino acids you aren’t getting enough of so you can supplement your needs with other foods.
Legumes like lentils, soybeans (including edamame and tofu), and peas can have up to 13 grams of protein per oz. And soy is, surprisingly, a complete protein! Soy is often overlooked when it comes to how to get enough protein, although soy milk isn’t quite as high in protein as cow’s milk.
9. Whole grains
Whole grains aren’t quite as protein-rich as some of the foods on this list. If you’re already starting to show some signs you’re not getting enough protein, though, opt for whole grains instead of white bread or rice.
Whole grains will typically have about 3 grams of protein per serving, but some specially designed bread and cereal options will have much more. When you’re wondering, “Am I getting enough protein?” every little bit counts.
Whole grain is a great protein booster when combined with other protein options, or as a way to help people who struggle to eat higher-protein foods with how to get enough protein.
10. Protein shots and protein powder
Protein shots and protein powder make for great stand-bys in your plan for how to get enough protein. Liquid protein shots are highly portable and friendly to people with mouth and throat problems or dietary needs that make getting enough protein from other sources tough.
When choosing protein supplements, opt for collagen peptides over whey or soy when possible.
What are collagen peptides? Collagen is the most common protein in the human body, and collagen peptides are what we call the chain of collagen proteins once it’s been broken down. Breaking collagen molecules down makes them easier for your body to absorb, so you get the most out of your protein supplement.
Pumping up your daily protein intake
When you’re making a plan for how to get enough protein, it’s usually because getting it from your diet alone is too challenging. Age, injury, illness, and even emotional changes make choosing and tracking food a hassle.
By the time you’re experiencing signs you’re not getting enough protein, you don’t just have to include new foods, you also have to change a habit. That can be overwhelming, so keep hydrolyzed collagen peptides on hand to make sure you’re getting all the essential protein you need.