You hear about the importance of protein all the time.  But knowing and doing are often two different things.  Why don’t you always do what you know you should? Well, it’s not always easy. It can help to know WHY you should be doing something in order to give you the incentive to actually do it.  Here I’ll uncover why you’ll want to get enough protein in your diet and some great protein sources in your diet.

What exactly is protein and why should you care?

Not to get too scientific on you, but I want to share the definition of protein – a large chain of amino acids (building blocks) that contain hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen molecules.  Proteins are required for many important functions in our body such as making enzymes to digest our foods, supporting our metabolism, and providing us with long-lasting energy.   

If you’ve ever felt hungry shortly after eating, chances are your meal may have been short on protein. Also, if you are often feeling sluggish or tired, it could be a sign you’re not getting enough.

When you’re trying to find a sustainable eating plan you can stick to and feel satisfied on, high protein foods should be on the top of your list.  To be clear, I’m not in any way promoting a ridiculously high protein, Atkin’s-type diet here.  I’m simply stressing the importance of getting a moderate amount spaced out between all your meals and snacks so you feel full, have long-lasting energy, and reduce cravings and blood sugar dips.

How much protein should you eat per day?

Everyone’s daily protein intake needs are different and so there is not one general recommendation out there.  It is based on a number of factors such as your gender, weight, genetics, medical status and activity level.  For example, if you are pregnant you need moreprotein (especially in the third trimester) but if you have kidney issues you need lessprotein because your kidneys are not able to filter out what’s needed like they should.  A general range is somewhere between 40-100 grams of protein/day for most of us, broken up into at least 3 meals. 

It’s important to know your daily protein needs and meet those requirements, but not all at one meal. Your body can only handle up to 30 grams of proteinat once.  Any more than that will just be excreted in your urine, putting stress on your kidneys to filter it out.

Here are my top 10 sources and how much protein is in each

  1. Eggs – 7 grams protein per egg.  Try make-ahead egg muffins or make a pot of hard-boiled eggs for the week for a grab-and-go breakfast or snack.
  2. Chicken – 7 grams per oz.  Marinade chicken in Italian dressing and throw on the grill for an easy summer dinner.
  3. Plain Greek Yogurt – ~12-15 grams per 6 oz.  Add into smoothies or enjoy on its own with ¼ cup of fruit and a handful of nuts
  4. Meat – 7 grams per oz – choose leaner cuts like tenderloin, sirloin, or flank.
  5. Fish – ~~8-9 grams/oz.  Try salmon, cod, or shrimp at least 2x/week.
  6. Legumes – 7-12 grams per cup cooked.  Legumes go great in soups, stews, chilis, or in tomato sauce.
  7. Nuts/Nut butters – ~8 grams per 2 tbsp.  Spread on apples or celery sticks or add to whole wheat toast for a quick breakfast.
  8. Beans – ~20 grams in ½ cup.  Try chick peas in salad, make hummus or add black beans to your taco/quesadilla.
  9. Plain Cottage cheese – ~13 grams in ½ cup. Have as a quick breakfast or snack with 1 tbsp honey and berries.
  10. Milk – 7-8 grams per cup. Add to your oatmeal, a smoothie, or have on its own as a post-workout snack. Milk has the perfect combination of carbohydrate and protein for post-exercise recovery.

Incorporate these proteins into each of your meals and snacks to be on your way to feeling fuller and preventing those annoying late afternoon energy crashes.  As a busy mama you need all the energy you can get and these foods are going to help you get there and STAY there.

Have you noticed a difference in how you feel when you eat enough protein?  Let me know!