8 Dietitian-Approved Habits to Increase Your Protein Intake
We have all heard that protein is important, but it’s not always easy to increase protein every day. It takes time to prepare protein and effort to find protein sources that are convenient. That’s why we spoke to dietitians and nutrition experts to find out exactly how they recommend you increase your protein.
Protein is a macronutrient, in addition to carbs and fat, that has a wide range of functions in the body.
- Muscle growth and cell repair: Our muscles require protein to recover from exercise and repair damaged cells. Depending on the type of exercise you do, you might have greater protein needs than others.
- Appetite regulation: Research consistently shows that folks who eat a high protein diet, particularly early in their day, have less hunger and cravings as the day goes on, according to a 2021 study in Frontiers in Nutrition.
- Weight loss: Protein requires energy for the body to break down and thus has a slightly higher effect on our metabolism, also known as the thermic effect of food.
- Blood sugar management: Protein works to keep blood sugar stable between meals — and can prevent both high blood sugar and low blood sugar.
Let’s find out exactly what dietitians say you should do to increase protein in your diet.
1. Use convenient sources.
“To make increasing protein easier, take advantage of quick, low-prep protein sources like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, canned tuna or canned chicken, frozen edamame, store-bought rotisserie chicken, and eggs,” says Jamie Nadeau, RD of The Balanced Nutritionist. “When you’re in a pinch it can also be helpful to keep pre-made protein shakes on hand.”
For example, Pound of Ground is making increasing your protein even easier by packaging ground beef into pre-frozen crumbles. Their beef products cook up in eight minutes or less and don’t have to be defrosted!
2. Batch prep your protein.
Batch prep your protein so that it’s on hand and ready to go for meal or snack time. This means buying slightly more than you would typically need for the week’s grocery store run, but it also means in the end you’re saving time and mental energy in the kitchen, adds Amanda Liptak, RDN, CLT, CA.
Consider preparing batches of chicken, fish, or beef using various methods like burgers, ground meat, and salmon patties. Arrange the portions you’ll need for more than one serving, and appropriately label, date, and freeze the remainder. When you have a ready supply, you are so much more likely to increase protein in your diet.
3. Pair your proteins.
“I like to increase my protein by thinking of foods I enjoy and pairing a protein with it that makes sense. For a snack, this might look like hummus or nut butter — think dipping your pretzel sticks in hummus instead of having them alone,” says Tori Vasko, MS, RD. “For a meal, this might look like blending beans, tofu, or nuts into a pasta sauce.”
She continues, “As someone who loves meatless meals, I also like replacing a more standard carbohydrate source with a higher protein version, such as swapping out traditional pasta for a lentil or chickpea-based version, replacing rice with lentils, or substituting some white flour with chickpea flour or protein powder while baking.”
4. Increase what you’re already having.
“One of the most simple and effective ways to boost your protein intake is by gradually increasing portion sizes during meals! For instance, rather than having 4 ounces of chicken, aim for a more substantial 6 ounces. That extra 2 ounces provides over 15 grams of additional protein,” recommends Julie Balsamo, MS, RDN.
5. Eat a variety.
If you often get bored of the same protein sources each week, it might be time to shake up your routine. Focus on a variety of protein sources, cuts of meat, and plant-forward options to keep things interesting.
“A great way to increase your protein intake is to diversify your sources so you don’t get bored or unmotivated to consider all of the different protein sources — including plant-based proteins like chia seeds, peanut butter, lentils, and walnuts,” shares Caroline Young, MS, RD, LD, RYT, Owner of Whole Self Nutrition.
6. Choose seafood.
“Stock your freezer with high-protein seafood, like salmon filets, for easy and nutritious meals,” says Bianca Tamburello, RDN on behalf of the Chilean Salmon Marketing Council. “Most Americans don’t meet the recommended two servings of seafood per week and are missing out on health benefits. Salmon filets thaw and cook quickly and are packed with hard-to-find nutrients and protein; just 3 ounces of salmon has 17 grams of protein.”
“I recommend choosing salmon from Chile because it’s particularly high in brain-boosting omega-3 fats, high in quality protein, and low-mercury,” she adds. “Pre-frozen individually wrapped salmon filets are especially convenient and available all year round. Why protein? Research shows that protein foods keep us full to help balance weight and are important to build and maintain muscle.”
7. Start your day strong.
Sarah Pflugradt, MS, RDN, CSCS chimes in with her advice: “My best advice to increase protein intake is to get protein in at breakfast. All too often, breakfast is filled with higher carbohydrate options. Eating more protein in the morning helps increase total protein for the day and also helps increase satiety. Increase your protein at breakfast by enjoying both traditional protein-rich foods, such as eggs, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese, but also other choices as well, such as smoked fish on toast, chickpea scramble, or quinoa instead of oats.”
8. Make high-protein swaps.
Many food companies add protein to their ingredient list now that consumers are seeking high-protein options. Look for high-protein pasta, milk, baked goods, and snack bars to swap your staples for an increased protein boost.
“Swapping regular pasta for bean or lentil-based pasta like Barilla Chickpea, Barilla Red Lentil, and Banza pasta is a great alternative,” says Malina Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN. “Increasing protein can be helpful not only for managing blood sugar levels and providing a greater sense of satiety after meals, but also for helping to maintain strong bones and reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis as we age.”
Similarly, Mandy Tyler, M.Ed., RD, CSSD, LD points out another high-protein swap you can make at the store: “Consider switching to a high-protein, ultra-filtered milk at breakfast. High-protein milk is filtered to remove the lactose and has a concentrated protein and calcium content. One cup of ultra-filtered milk has 13 grams of protein compared to 8 grams in regular milk.”