How To Increase Protein Intake – A Step By Step Guide

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By Meghan Stoops, RDN

Reviewed by Juliana Tamayo, MS, RDN - Last Updated

How To Increase Protein Intake

Trying to find balance in your diet can be hard, especially when the media tells you to “eat this” and “eat that” with conflicting opinions. One of the more common challenges for individuals is making sure they are getting enough protein in their diet. 

Whether you aren’t sure what protein is or you don’t like many protein sources, in this article we will discuss some helpful ways to increase your protein intake and make sure you are getting enough each day to support your lifestyle.

So, if you’re looking to learn how to increase protein intake, keep reading this guide to learn more!

Why is Protein Important?

Protein is one of the main building blocks for our muscles and other body tissue. It is composed of 20 different amino acids, molecules that combine to form a protein. Out of those 20, 9 are essential, meaning that our body relies on diet for us to get them. The other 11 can be made by our bodies as needed. 

protein main building blocks for muscles

Protein is essential for the growth and maintenance of our tissue. We are constantly trying to stay in balance with our protein intake and output in our body; however, sometimes protein needs are higher, and we require more, such as during strength training exercises, pregnancy, breastfeeding, injury, and illness.

If we don’t get enough protein during these times when our need is higher, it can result in negative health effects, such as muscle wasting, poor growth and development, difficult wound healing, long-lasting injury, and more.

How Much Protein Do You Need? 

The current Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for protein is about .8 grams per kilogram of body weight. This is about 56 grams a day for the average, sedentary man and 46 grams for the average, sedentary woman. Or about 0.4 grams per 1 pound of body weight. 

Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding are encouraged to consume higher protein in their diet to support fetal development and milk production. The DRI for protein during pregnancy is 1.1 grams per kilogram of body weight, and those who are breastfeeding require 25 grams of additional protein per day on top of the 0.8 grams per kilogram recommendation.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Sports Medicine, those who are athletes or working to build muscle mass are encouraged to get anywhere from 1.2-2 grams per kilogram of protein per day, depending on their level of activity.

Protein requirements also change with age. As we get older, it is encouraged that we consume a little bit more protein to maintain our muscle mass. Although the RDA for older adults is set at the same for younger adults, 0.8 grams per kilogram body weight, a general consensus recommends at least 1 gram per kilogram body weight in seniors to protect from muscle loss and maintain overall health.

As you can see, the recommended amount of protein you should consume in a day varies greatly depending on your weight, age, activity level, lifestyle, and life stage. If you fall within one of the categories above and don’t feel you are meeting your protein needs, this next section is for you. 

How to Get More Protein in Your Diet 

To get enough protein in your diet, you first want to make sure you are familiar with protein sources. Below is a list of protein-rich foods. The highest and most easily digested sources of protein come from animal products, such as meat, fish, dairy, poultry, and eggs. For those who are following a vegan or vegetarian diet, some of the best plant-based sources include soy, such as tofu, tempeh, or edamame (soybeans). 

  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Pork
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy 
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Soybeans 
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans and legumes

You will notice the bottom of the list of protein sources includes nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes. Although these are considered protein sources, most of these are not complete protein sources. This means they contain some of the 9 essential amino acids, but not all of them. 

protein foods

In this case, you want to consider pairing your protein sources with either a complete source, such as pairing beans with cheese, or a source that contains the missing amino acids from the other, such as pairing rice and beans. Rice is low in the amino acid lysine but rich in methionine. Beans tend to be low in methionine but rich in lysine. Combining the two allows for a complete protein source. 

How to Increase Protein Intake with Supplementation

For those who don’t like many protein sources, who are struggling with their appetite, or who require large amounts of protein and find it hard to get enough through diet alone, protein supplementation may help. Below we will look at some of the different protein supplements available and how you can choose which one is right for you.

Types of Protein Supplements 

If you are finding it hard to get enough protein in, you’re not alone. There is a myriad of protein supplements available, including protein powders, shakes, bars, and more. You can even find protein chips nowadays. Choosing the right protein supplement for you depends on your taste preferences, lifestyle, budget, schedule, and personal preferences. The best protein supplement for you will be one that you enjoy.

When comparing protein supplements, there are a few things to consider. Protein bars and shakes are great for those who are on the go, whereas protein powders are versatile and can be used in shakes, smoothies, baked goods, oatmeal, and other recipes. Some prefer protein shakes over powders because they are already mixed, and you don’t have to worry about a gritty texture. Some prefer bars over shakes because they can satisfy their sweet tooth or hanker for a mid-day snack. Some people prefer a mixture of bars, shakes, and powders. 

There’s no wrong way to choose a protein supplement. If you’ve never tried one before, pick out one that looks good to you and give it a go.  

Different Types of Protein

Another thing to consider when choosing a protein supplement is the type of protein. Once you start diving into different protein supplements, you will quickly learn there are many kinds of protein to choose from. Some of the more popular protein supplements include whey protein, soy protein, pea protein, and more. You will likely see mixtures of different kinds of proteins and other supplements included as well.

protein shake

So, what’s the difference? Whey protein is one of the most common protein supplement sources. Many studies conducted on whey protein and its effects on muscle mass show positive results, and it’s often considered the gold standard for those looking to tone up in the gym. 

For those who are vegan or vegetarian, a whey-based protein powder would not work for them as it is derived from cow’s milk. Soy protein supplements are available for this population. However, soy has had its ups and downs in various research topics, and many prefer to avoid soy. For those wanting a plant-based, non-soy-based protein powder, enter pea protein with options like Ghost Vegan Protein

The type of protein you choose will heavily depend on your dietary preferences. It may also depend on why you’re adding in a protein supplement. Those who are trying to gain muscle mass will likely lean towards whey or soy protein supplements, whereas those who are just looking to meet their basic protein needs may not concern themselves over the type of protein in the supplement at all.

Some Top Protein Supplement Options

Additional Tips for Increasing Protein

  • To ensure you are getting enough protein throughout the day, feeling full during your meals, and preserving your muscle mass, aim to get at least 20-30 grams of protein at each meal. 
  • For those who are challenged by getting enough protein due to poor appetite, consider eating your protein source first during your meal so you don’t fill up on your side items. 
  • Choose leaner cuts of meat. This will reduce the fat content and increase the protein content of your meats so you can get more out of your meal.
  • If you are trying to build muscle, aim to get in at least 20 grams of high-quality protein within 1-hour of completing your workout.

Conclusion: Increasing Protein Intake

An individual’s protein needs will vary depending on many different factors, and it’s not always easy to get adequate protein with diet alone. For those who struggle with their protein intake, there is a large variety of supplemental options available.

egg rich in protein

Be sure to consider your lifestyle, preferences, and type of protein before making a choice. A protein supplement is not required, and it is reasonable for most individuals to get adequate protein from foods.

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Meghan Stoops, RDN

Meghan Stoops is a Registered Dietitian and licensed Nutritionist with a bachelor’s in Dietetics from San Diego State University. Meghan developed an interest in dietetics early on through her own personal struggles with nutrition misinformation. She began doing her own research, which sparked her passion for nutrition and it’s impact on our physical and mental health. Today, she takes take a non-diet, all-foods-fit approach to nutrition, and is devoted to teaching others that eating healthy does not mean restriction or sacrifice.