Protein is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in the growth and repair of our body's cells and tissues and is critical to maximizing strength and muscle growth during a strength training program.
Although most people hit the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of protein, which is 0.8g of protein/kg of bodyweight per day (1), it is well established in the literature that this quantity is inferior for maximizing results from strength training, and as a result, consuming upwards of x2 the RDA of protein has been demonstrated to maximize strength training results (1,2). The question then is, does eating beyond this amount produce superior results?
In the most recent meta-analysis examining healthy adults published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle, Nunes et al. (2022) reviewed the current body of literature of increasing protein consumption and the effects of muscle and strength development. It was the goal of this specific paper to determine if increasing daily protein ingestion contributes to gaining lean body mass. The authors reported data from 74 random control trials on the subject and found consuming additional protein at or greater than 1.6g/kg of bodyweight per day had a slight, but positive effect. It appears a dose-response relationship occurs up to x2 the RDA, where after a tapering effect occurs (1,2).
Given the importance of protein in providing maximal results in a strength training plan, in this blog we are going to focus on ways you can start to consistently reach your target. If you’re struggling to hit your protein goal on a regular basis, here are some tips to help you do so!
1) Include more animal-based protein sources
Animal-based protein sources, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products are high-quality proteins that contain all the essential amino acids our body needs. In addition to being a great source of protein, these foods also provide other essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, and B vitamins.
Try to include a source of animal-based protein at every meal, for example, adding a hard-boiled egg to your breakfast, having chicken breast or fish for lunch, and enjoying a steak or pork chop for dinner. Specifically, eating between 20-40g of protein per meal is usually recommended (3), which visually equates to about 1/4 of your plate or about the size of your fist.
2) Eat more plant-based protein sources
Plant-based protein sources, such as legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are also excellent options for increasing your protein intake. Legumes, such as beans, lentils, and peas are particularly high in protein and are also a good source of fibre, iron, and potassium.
Whole grains, such as quinoa and buckwheat, are also high in protein, as well as other essential nutrients. Nuts and seeds, such as almonds and pumpkin seeds, make great snacks and can be added to salads or yogurt for a protein boost.
3) Snack on high-protein foods
If you're looking for a snack that will keep you feeling full and satisfied, reach for high-protein options such as beef jerky, nonfat Greek yogurt, low-fat cheese, deli meats, or a handful of nuts. These snacks will provide a boost of protein while also satisfying your hunger.
4) Incorporate protein powder
Protein powder is a convenient way to increase your protein intake, especially if you're short on time or have a hard time getting enough protein from whole foods. There are many different types of protein powders available, such as whey, casein, and plant-based options, so you can choose the one that works best for you.
Of the three aforementioned options, whey protein has been shown to be superior in building muscle vs casein and soy alternatives (4). However, if you have digestive issues with whey protein I recommend choosing a whey isolate protein, where the additional refinement of the protein powder limits the amount of lactose present making it a viable option (5).
5) Try meatless alternatives
If you're looking to reduce your intake of animal products, there are plenty of meatless alternatives that are high in protein. For example, tofu, tempeh, and seitan are all excellent sources of protein for vegetarians and vegans. These options also provide a variety of different textures and can be used in a variety of dishes.
6) Consider the timing of protein consumption
Consuming a heavy protein morning meal helps to put the body in a positive protein balance for the day and increases satiety throughout the day. In addition, making sure to have adequate and high-quality sources of protein in the hours post-workout keep the body in a positive nitrogen balance, therefore leading to muscle protein synthesis, or muscle building (3). Additionally, spreading your protein intake throughout the day can help keep your body in a positive protein balance, which is essential for maintaining muscle mass and overall health (3).
Incorporating more protein into your diet can be beneficial for a variety of reasons. It can help with weight loss and management, improve muscle mass and strength, support bone health, and even improve your mood and energy levels. By following the tips I’ve outlined above, you can easily increase your protein intake and enjoy the many benefits that come along with it.
It's important to note that while protein is important, it's not the only nutrient that matters. A balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats along with moderate protein is the best way to ensure optimal health. Additionally, it's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian before making significant changes to your diet to ensure that it's appropriate for your individual needs.
In summary, increasing your protein intake can have many benefits for your overall health and well-being, but it's important to do it in a balanced way. Incorporating more high-quality protein sources, such as animal-based and plant-based foods, into your diet, and experimenting with new recipes, can help you to meet your daily protein requirements. Remember to pay attention to portion sizes, and consider the timing of your protein consumption for maximum benefit. With a little effort and creativity, you can easily boost your protein intake and enjoy all the benefits that come along with it.
You can also find all our blog posts at shifttostrength.com/blog, or by clicking the button below.
Begin Your Fitness Journey
Whether you're looking to begin your fitness journey again, or for the first time, our certified personal trainers can help! Discover how our fitness coaches can help by visiting shifttostrength.com/onlinetraining today.
Jäger, R., Kerksick, C. M., Campbell, B. I., Cribb, P. J., Wells, S. D., Skwiat, T. M., ... & Antonio, J. (2017). International society of sports nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1), 20.
Morton, R. W., Murphy, K. T., McKellar, S. R., Schoenfeld, B. J., Henselmans, M., Helms, E., ... & Phillips, S. M. (2018). A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. British journal of sports medicine, 52(6), 376-384.
Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A. A., & Krieger, J. W. (2013). The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), 53.
Tang, J. E., Moore, D. R., Kujbida, G. W., Tarnopolsky, M. A., & Phillips, S. M. (2009). Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. Journal of applied physiology.
Gangurde, H., Chordiya, M., Patil, P., & Baste, N. (2011). Whey protein. Scholars' Research Journal, 1(2).