What does 120-130 grams of protein a day look like? I’ll show you.
Below, you’ll find
You need protein to survive and thrive. Protein plays a role in building bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and virtually every body part and tissue. It has a critical part in carrying oxygen in the blood, metabolic reactions, immune function, and brain function.
While your body can store carbohydrates and fat, it doesn’t store protein the same way. Since your body is constantly breaking down and rebuilding new protein, you must eat adequate amounts to function well.
The RDA is actually the minimum amount of protein you need to prevent a protein deficiency. It’s not the ideal amount of protein you should have each day.
Protein needs change depending on your age, body composition, activity level, and health goals, but most active people will want to consume at least 100 grams of protein per day.
For optimal protein synthesis, muscle gain and maintenance, weight management, or glycemic control, protein should make up 20-30% of your daily calories. Shoot for at least 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein for every kilogram of your target body weight. For example, if you weigh 175 pounds and want to weigh 150 pounds, you should eat at least 80-110 grams of protein each day.
Protein should be eaten evenly throughout the day. Spreading out your protein intake will help keep your body properly stored and make menu planning much simpler.
If you aim for 3 meals a day and need 120 grams of protein, then each meal must contain 40 grams of protein. If you have 4 meals a day and need 120 grams of protein then each meal must contain 30 grams of protein.
There’s a golden window when your body is primed for protein. In the first 30 minutes after intense exercise, your body can best use carbs and protein for recovery and muscle repair. Blend up a protein smoothie as soon as you get home from the gym to help your body repair and rebuild.
If you skip your workout, don’t skip your protein. A high-protein breakfast will keep you full, help you lose excess weight, and balance your blood sugar.
Small meals and snacks don’t fill us up, keep us full, or provide adequate nutrition. They often add empty calories, spike our insulin, and leave us less interested in the nutritionally-dense foods of a full meal.
You will struggle to hit your protein goal if you are trying to reach it by having 10-15 grams here and there. Skip the snacks, and focus on getting back to 3-4 solid meals a day.
Eating enough protein can be super simple. If your plate looks like a pile of veggies with a portion of protein, a bit of fat, and a serving of complex carbs, you’re on the right track. For example, a salad (veggies) with avocado (fat) and a chicken breast (protein) served with a sweet potato (complex carb) tallies out to about 50 grams of protein.
Find the meals that work for you and eat them routinely. Check out my free meal planning guide if you’re new to this healthy habit.
Try out these menu ideas this week to hit your optimal protein goal.
Cottage cheese with fruit (1 cup of cottage cheese = 28 grams of protein)
Salad and carnitas (5 oz of carnitas = 35 grams of protein)
Chicken salad with celery (1 cup of chicken salad = 33 grams of protein)
Chickpea pasta with bolognese sauce (1.5 cups of bolognese + 1,5 oz dry chickpea pasta = 33 grams of protein)
Protein shake (many of these recipes have 35 grams of protein per serving)
¼ cup of hummus and 2 cups of snow peas (10 grams of protein)
5 oz of salmon, green beans, and a sweet potato (30 grams of protein)
1 cup of plain greek yogurt with fruit (20 grams of protein)
Greek quinoa bowl (50 grams of protein)
2 hard-boiled eggs (15 grams of protein)
Chickpea shrimp scampi (1.5 oz of dry chickpea pasta with 10 shrimp = 35 grams of protein)
How do you get that much protein per meal as a vegan?
Vegans can meet their protein needs too! Fill up on high-protein vegan foods, like:
Absolutely. In fact, reaching your protein goals will help you not exceed your calorie goals because it’s so filling. Protein slowly releases the hormone ghrelin, which triggers feelings of hunger. Consuming protein also increases the release of satiety hormones, helping you feel fuller for longer.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep our macronutrients in balance when we’re getting used to increasing our protein. If you’re looking for high-protein, low-calorie, low-fat foods until you get the hang of balancing your macros, try these:
Ideally, you give your body the optimal amount of micro and macronutrients through healthy whole foods. But it’s better to supplement than not when you need to. If you don’t have time to cook or get takeout, a high-quality protein powder will do the trick.
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