Many people feel a bit lost when it comes to how much protein they should be eating and when they should be eating it. And what’s enough protein for fueling my health and wellness as well as my fitness goals. If you have any of these thoughts or are just unsure where your protein intake lies, please keep reading.
There is, of course, way more to protein than what I will get into in this post and I wanted to say that right at the beginning. Some of you may be really interested in the nitty gritty about the building blocks of life, but in this post I want to talk about food and some easy ways to ensure you are eating enough protein to fuel your training sessions to help you attain your training goals and just to fuel your body fabulous!!!
“Fueling” your body to perform might not be the most accurate way to describe the role of protein in your diet. “Fuel” for your body is more than just protein, of course, it’s carbs, fats and other nutrients, but this post is focusing on protein because we all want strong muscles and you can’t build strong muscles to do all the cool things you want to do with your body without protein.
Guidelines for consuming protein for your training endeavors
- Eat protein each time you eat. Our bodies can only store so much protein at one time, therefore we need to pay attention and make sure we are eating moderate amounts of protein throughout our day. Our body uses protein after we eat it for all the important roles protein plays at a molecular level (making hormones and key enzymes and other nitty gritty stuff) in addition to building muscle, but if we run out of protein before we get to the muscle-making…then we don’t build muscle.
- Eat a variety of foods with protein. Foods are rarely made up of just protein, so getting your protein from a wide variety of sources–from meats, veggies, dairy, legumes or grains–can help ensure you are getting many of the macronutrients that you need and that you are less likely to need to supplement. It also helps keep away boredom with your meals. This may mean you try a different type of fish or maybe you try bison or a vegetarian protein option like quinoa or tempeh.
- Timing also matters. Both the intensity and duration of your training session will influence whether you’ll want to have a protein-rich snack before training (usually 1-2 hours prior) or have a protein-dense food after training (30mins up to 2 hours). Your body needs protein and is super-ready to use it following a training session, especially if it was q pretty intense training session. If you can’t be eating a meal with protein in it within the first 30 minutes after your training, then you should have a protein-heavy snack to help your body get the protein it needs. (For more nitty gritty into nutrition pre/post training, I recommend this article and this article.)
Protein, Protein, Protein
Well in case you don’t know what foods have protein in them, that’s foods like, chicken, steak, eggs, cheese, quinoa, beans, yogurt and more. I could write more, but that’s been done already so you can look at some of those here & here. There are even more foods that contain protein than those that appear on the lists in those articles, but those articles list some protein-dense foods. I am certainly not saying to eat only these foods, but that those articles can help you know what foods contain protein and which ones pack the most bang for their buck (in a sense) to help you choose for your meals and pre- and post-workout snacks.
Individualized Protein Portion
Don’t bother with calorie counting or reading the suggested “portion sizes” on the food label. All you need is your hands. That’s right, it’s that easy! And it’s always with you!
Your protein portion during meals should be the size and thickness of your palm. If you have more mass or are very physically active you will probably need 2 palms of protein, maybe even more than 2. If you have less mass or your activity level is on the less demanding side, 1 or 1.5 palms of protein will probably be a good place to start.
These portions above are recommended portions that work for most people. However each person is uniquely different, so you may need a little more of this and a little less of that.
How you will be able to tell is to check in how you are feeling after your meal with the recommended amount of protein. If you are still feeling hungry try a little more protein. If you feel really full, then maybe a little less protein or double check the side of any less nutritious food on your plate to see if that serving can bee a little smaller.
There are of course other things to consider when eating as well: good portion sizes for your veggies (~2+ fist fulls), carbs (~1+ cupped hand fulls) and fats (~1+ thumbs worth), see photo above. Choosing leaner protein sources, choosing lots of veggies, choosing more slowly-digested carbs instead of white starchy carbs and choosing more healthy fats while creating your meals will provide you will balanced nutrition.
Fuel Your Training Fabulous
Keeping track of what you’re eating is helpful to know if you will have the energy to perform the work that is needed in your training session. If properly fueled, you should feel good with the work load during your training session, not feel your battery died in the middle.
Keeping track helps you know if the food choices you are making are working to your benefit or not. I am not saying you have to be writing it all down–just use your hand to help portion your meals correctly for you.
If you are not going to be able to have a meal 1-2 hours before a training session, have a snack that contains some protein, good energy-sustaining carbs and a little fat before your training session. Think yogurt, veggies and hummus or fruit and some nut butter to name a few.
And if you won’t be eating a meal with protein within 30 minutes after your training session, then grab a snack that has some protein and carbs to fuel your body for its recovery. This could be a protein shake, some yogurt, cheese and veggies or cottage cheese and fruit.
If you are feeling lost with what would be appropriate for you or feel you need more guidance, please contact us. We do offer nutritional coaching and would love to help you attain your training goals.
As always if you have questions, you can email or leave them in the comments. If you know of someone who would find this helpful feel free to share it with them.