Welcome to the first post of my FAQ series where I will answer some of the questions that I am asked often in my role as a online nutrition coach and a personal trainer. Today we’re talking about protein. If you think that the smear of almond butter on your toast in the morning or the chickpeas in your salad has got you covered in the protein department, it’s likely time to re-evaluate!
So, let’s back up a little bit…
Protein is one of three macronutrients. The other two are fat and carbohydrates. All foods are composed of these three macronutrients. Protein and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, and fat contains 9 calories per gram. Some foods are composed of just one macronutrient (e.g., olive oil is just fat, white sugar is just carbs). Some foods are composed of two macronutrients (e.g., steak is composed of protein and fat, spinach is composed of protein and carbs). Some foods are composed of all three macronutrients (e.g., nuts, whole milk).
All of these macronutrients play an important role in our health, body composition, hormone regulation, energy levels and recovery from workouts. There is no need to restrict any of the macronutrients. Instead, we advocate learning how to incorporate fats, proteins and carbohydrates into your diet in a way that helps you reach your goals while eating great-tasting, nutritious food.
So, now that we’ve got the basics down let’s talk about which foods are going to help you if you’re looking to increase your protein intake.
Some of the most protein-rich foods are seafood, poultry, meats, egg whites, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and protein powders (read my post on how to choose a protein powder here). In all of these foods the grams of protein usually surpass the grams of carbohydrates or fats.
However, these are not the only foods that contain protein. Some foods contain quite good levels of protein but they actually have higher amounts of carbohydrates or fats than they do of protein!
Foods such as quinoa and legumes are often touted as a great protein source. While they do have some protein, they actually contain more carbohydrates than protein. This does not mean that these are ‘bad’ foods or that you shouldn’t eat them but is important to know that if you are using them as your main protein source you are actually getting more carbohydrates than protein. This may or may not suit your needs, goals or intentions.
Other foods such as nuts, nut butters and whole eggs contain more fats than they do protein. Again, these foods are not ‘bad!’ In fact, just like the carbohydrate examples listed above they are healthy and if you enjoy them they can absolutely be a part of your diet. However, if you tried to meet your protein goals via nuts you would be consuming and obscene amount of nuts and far too much fat.
So, my advice to you when you are aiming to eat adequate protein at each meal is to get most of your protein from the protein-rich sources listed in bold above. If you are unsure about which foods contain protein, I recommend using http://www.nutritiondata.com. You will be able to see the protein, fat and carbohydrates in any foods and that way you will know whether that food is protein-rich, fat-rich or carbohydrate-rich. After a little practice, you will learn which foods serve your needs and you can focus on eating those foods more often!