Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Making Room for Protein, Economically and Logistically

A lot of my active friends have talked to me about having trouble getting adequate amounts of protein in their diets. Boy, I can relate! Since I try and get around 130+ grams of protein in my daily diet to sustain my body's lean mass, I have often found myself realizing at the end of the day that I'm only about halfway to my target. Here are some ways that help to keep my protein intake easier to maintain.

Familiarity with Protein Quantity/Serving Sizes

Although tracking food by food logging is not for everyone, I find that the more I track (I use, the better I am at estimating my protein intake and pacing it well throughout the day. I'm less apt to get to 6 pm and realize I've under-eaten my protein for the day if my brain is "current" on how much protein is in the servings I eat regularly.

One of my favorite indulgent "zero prep" high protein meals: smoked salmon, sprinkled with dill. Kimchi on the side!

Pacing Protein Throughout the Day

One thing that I have found useful is to break up my protein requirements into chunks and to have a running list of options in my head. As an example, I usually try to shoot for at least 30 grams of protein per meal, though this often goes higher on high activity days or just after a hard workout. Overall, though, 30 is my "magic number" because it is a doable quantity of food that I can easily estimate.

What are some examples of about 30 grams of protein? Here are some of my top choices. As you can see, I still try to economize even while selecting higher quality proteins.
  • 4 large eggs (28g) - We get organic eggs for $3.99 at our warehouse club, BJ's
  • 3 small organic chicken drumsticks (30g) - We buy these at $1.99/lb. at Wegmans or Trader Joe's
  • 4 oz. Wild Planet tuna (32g) - We buy this at BJ's because of the unbeatable price there, less than $4 per double-sized can
  • 8 slices of Citterio prosciutto (28g) - Ingredients: pork, salt. That's it! We've also found our best price for this locally at BJ's, $8.99/lb.
  • 4 oz. of steak (28g) - We buy grassfed beef in bulk from our local farmers at around $3/lb.
Higher Protein Snacks

Higher protein snacks aren't just useful in terms of me reaching my target intake; they keep me fuller, for longer, and help to combat cravings. Since I get at least 30g of protein with most of my meals, my 1-2 snacks a day typically make up another 30-40g total. Here are some snack ideas I've relied on lately to round out my protein intake for the day:
  • Full fat greek yogurt, 1 cup mixed with a dash of stevia and frozen berries (20g)
  • Nut butters, protein content depends on nut (around 2-4 g/tablespoon), delicious mixed with leftover chicken and seasoning for a Thai-inspired chicken salad
  • Boiled eggs (7g per egg), I find them delicious straight up or with salt
  • Chia seeds (2g per tablespoon, good in combo with other high protein items)
  • Bacon (2g/slice of the type I buy), very portable once cooked
  • Smoked salmon, this is my "L'Oreal" protein that I buy maybe once a month for a very special treat. The best price I've found on no-iffy-additives Atlantic salmon is (you guessed it!) at BJ's, around $16-17/lb.
  • Beans (Yes, not classically paleo, at $0.99/can for organic certified gluten free ones at Wegmans, we do eat them on occasion, at 14-20g protein/cup. For more on the concept of "paleo + legumes" check out these legume blog posts by ancestral health leaders Stephan Guynet and Chris Kresser.) 
Creating Your Customized "No Excuses" Options

Nothing can kill good intentions faster than opening my fridge and having nothing there ready to go when I'm already "hangry". Having ready-to-go options that work for me personally means I can't rely on "there's nothing to eat" excuses. Here are my fallback strategies:
  • Ready-to-eat pantry protein. Jerkies, canned tuna, nut butters.
  • Boiled eggs. They aren't über-gourmet but they've bridged many a gap for me between mealtimes.
  • Cooking WODs. Cooking as much as possible in one go. It is not uncommon for me to dedicate the better part of my Sunday afternoon to cooking up a huge quantity of animal protein in the oven or crock pot so that I can start my week with a fridge full of leftover protein.
  • Protein powder. I began playing with protein powder a little bit throughout August. I was pleasantly surprised by how my body handled Plant Fusion, enough that for a few weeks became my pre-hot-yoga protein of choice in combination with a banana, because the protein/carbs combo kept me fueled and chugging along through my 90 minute hot yoga classes without the digestion-intensive heavy stomach feeling that having, say, a steak beforehand would produce instead. (Still, I generally prioritize whole food proteins over protein powders whenever it seems workable.)
My ultimate "no excuse" home protein fix when the above aren't options is to microwave broth (I can hear purists out there wailing in despair) until piping hot, then pour 3-4 raw scrambled eggs into the broth while stirring. The eggs cook on contact with the broth, making egg drop soup, and I can get in almost a whole meal's worth of protein on the go, even putting it in a travel mug if I need to.


What strategies do you use to make sure that you're getting enough protein to fuel your active lifestyle?


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  1. Thanks for all the great ideas. This is one area I really struggle with!

  2. I tend to have a list of foods printed out with the protein content and just stick it on the fridge along with the quantity I need to eat to achieve my goal, pretty much what you have done with the onljne tracker. It helps to keep me aware of what I am eating and to make sure I eat enough, it helps that I am lucky enough to work at home but there is no reasoon yo can't do the same at work or elsewhere


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