PROTEIN. You’ve heard competitive weightlifters talk about it more often than you ever wanted, and you know it’s important for everyone, but are you getting enough of it? How much should you have every day and can you have too much?
There’s a lot of debate concerning how much protein should be consumed each day, which is why there’s no daily value percentage for it on Nutrition Facts labels. As a general rule, it’s a good idea for your daily protein intake (in grams) to match your target weight. For example, if you’re at 135 and want to slim down 15 pounds, shoot for around 120 grams of protein every day. On the flip side, let’s say you’re at 180 and want to put on 10 pounds of muscle, start aiming for closer to 200 grams a day, including days when you don’t work out. Of course, there’s more to dieting than simple protein numbers. The important rule to remember for weight gain, weight loss, muscle building, and fat burning is that what you eat is more important than how much you eat. Don’t starve yourself if you want to trim down that waistline. Conversely, if you’re trying to bulk up, don’t stuff your face with everything in sight. Meal and dietary supplements such as powders and juices can be great, but they shouldn’t replace actual food when considering nutritional goals.
Whether you’re trying to work more protein into your diet or just find new ways to mix up your current intake, we’ve got a dozen great sources you can mix in throughout the day.
Greek Yogurt: Shoot for fat free, unless you’re trying to bulk up. Throw in some fresh fruit or granola for extra flavor and vitamins.
Eggs: With 5 grams of protein each, eggs are a great, filling way to start your day. They’re high in cholesterol and fat though, so don’t consume in excess.
Bagels: Try not to get carried away with fatty cream cheese options, but most bagels have around 10 grams of protein. Slap a slice of your favorite cheese on there as a nice protein rich alternative.
Nuts: Almonds are the best option, with up to 20 grams per cup, but cashews, pistachios and walnuts are also excellent sources of both protein and good fats.
Avocados: These can be included in lots of tasty homemade snacks. Avocados have more protein than any other fruit (yes they are fruits), in addition to being high in fiber, potassium, Vitamin C, and good fats.
Seeds: Pumpkin seeds take the gold medal in this category at a whopping 5 grams of protein per ounce. Sesame, chia, and sunflower seeds are also good options.
Meats…Don’t look so surprised
Steak: Treatyoself! Enjoy a nice steak once or twice a week, they typically have at least 20 grams but can have up to 40 depending on the cut and how much you eat!
Chicken: Depending on the size, a chicken breast alone can have 30-40 grams of protein. Sliced cheese will add protein and flavor without all the sugar or trans fat that comes from grill base or fried breading.
Fish: Salmon and Tilapia both pack more than 20 grams of protein. Fish oil also contains omega 3s, which helps lower cholesterol.
Cottage Cheese: Aim for fat-free varieties and eat with Triscuits if you don’t love the taste. The casein protein found in cottage cheese takes longer for the body to digest, allowing a slow release overnight. Make sure your muscles have what they need to keep building while you’re catching some Z’s.
Tuna: This is another love/hate food for most people. So if you can’t stand it, stick to the cottage cheese. Eating both is ideal for muscle growth.
Spinach: There’s a reason it made Popeye strong. Each leaf has .3 grams of protein. Spinach plays well with other flavors. So if you don’t feel up to eating it straight up, throw it in a salad, on a sandwich, or in a pasta dish.
Chances are high you won’t be excited about eating everything on this list. Pick out the things you like the most and make sure you include them in your diet. It’s possible to train yourself into enjoying certain foods, but be realistic about what’s sustainable.
About Zac Howard
Zac Howard is a writer on The Path Editorial Team. He is a graduate of Florida State University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in magazine journalism at NYU. With his passion for lifting and dieting, Zac enjoys writing about all different kinds of exercise as well as keeping up with the latest news in the world of fitness. In addition to his contributions on The Path, he is a fitness beat writer for NYU Magazine. For more of his work, visit NYUMag.com.