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I get this question a lot and while I don’t want to be overly prescriptive with my opinions around nutrition (because we all have different needs and requirements) I do have a few guidelines that you can use to determine how much protein you actually need for healthy weight control. I also provide a list of great plant-based proteins because it’s not always about meat!
A simple way to determine protein needs:
If you are looking to lose weight and/or build muscle, a good rule of thumb is to consume 1 gram of protein for every pound of body weight. So, if you’re 130lbs, 130 grams of protein is an ideal goal to aim for. The range is actually .8 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight, so 1gram is just a nice, round number to focus on.
Is more protein better?
No. The body can only use a limited amount of protein. Once that limit is reached, the remaining protein is converted to glycogen (a process called gluconeogenesis) which is the same energy as carbohydrates, so if you think eating nothing but chicken is going to make you lose weight, you might find that you end up puffing out because those extra protein calories are actually being treated as carbs in the body. Conversely, because protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle, you don’t want to drop too low in protein or you will suffer a loss of lean body mass (not fat) and potentially other health issues.
When is it okay to eat low protein?
If you’re on a ketogenic diet, you’ll want to keep your protein intake to 30% or less of your daily food intake in order to stay in ketosis. As I mentioned earlier, if you eat more protein than your body can absorb, the excess energy is treated like carbs in the body which will knock you right out of ketosis and into a serious dose of the carb flu. I should note, there may be other reasons for eating a low protein diet as instructed by your physician that goes beyond the scope of our discussion.
What are good sources of protein?
I love talking about protein because there is a wide spectrum of quality when it comes to meat and vegetarian options. Buying quality meats, dairy and eggs is so important. First, quality meats that are grass-fed, organic and free-range have a better balance of omega fatty acids. Cheap meats have a high level of omega 6 which if you consume too much of, it can lead to inflammation – something you don’t want. This is also the most humane way to consume meat. That might not mean much to you, but it means a lot to the animals you’re consuming. Butcher Box is a great source of reliable meat, poultry and even fish now and it’s delivered right to your door. If a delivery service isn’t appropriate for you, Wholefoods is a good source for meats as well.
Healthy Plant-based Protein Options
Vegetarian options can be tricky as proteins options generally have more carbohydrates as well. Also, too much soy in the diet is not a great thing. These are some of my favorites:
- Eggs & egg whites *free range & organic
- Greek yogurt
- Tofu *organic only
- Edamame *organic only
Protein powders are a great way to infuse your diet with protein! You can have a shake with a plant-based meal, or bake it into whatever you’re making. I love Trutiein and nPower whey protein, but if you’re looking for a good plant-based protein, Vega, Garden of Life and SunWarrior are great (flavor-wise, Chocolate Vega is definitely acut above the competition).
Meal replacements are intended to be just that – a replacement for a full meal. That means they’re generally more than just protein, so they’re higher in fat and carbohydrates but also more nutrient dense and include a blend of superfoods. Great options are Vega, and Shakeolgy (chocolate vegan is the best by far).
I personally think fake meats are great, but you have to be careful about what you’re buying. Most fake meats are made of GMO-based soy and that’s not great for so many reasons. I’m not suggesting you’re going to grow flippers if you eat a veggie burger, but limit these as much as you can for optimal health. You can read more about the risk of eating too much soy right here.
That said, there are also fake meats that are made with pea protein which is a great option!! Here are a few products I use and really enjoy.
That’s it! Hope this is helpful for you. Check this post out if you want to understand how to balance protein into a low carb macro plan.