Hip, hip hooray! It’s time for Habit #2, where we start to delve into the what of eating. Now, just because we are starting to talk about actual food does not mean habit #1 gets left in the dust to be forgotten about forever. As mentioned last week–slowing down your pace and listening to your hunger and fullness cues is perhaps the most important habit of them all. Please continue with your baby steps even as we begin to introduce a second habit.
What is it?
Habit #2 is to eat protein dense foods with each meal. What in the world qualifies as a protein dense food? I’ve got a handy dandy list for you down at the bottom. How much protein at each meal? Aim for about 1 serving if you are female, and 2 servings if you are male. To keep it simple, a serving is about the size of the palm of your hand.
Why is it important?
Getting enough protein in your diet is very important. Proteins are made up of amino acids. Amino acids play many vital roles in our body. If we were to make a list of everything amino acids contribute to, this post may never end. To name just a few of them:
Amino acids are responsible for…
- most of our non-steroid hormones (a hormone is a compound created by one cell that travels to and stimulates another cell. Our bodies are regulated in large part by hormones)
- our enzymes (enzymes help stimulate the chemical reactions that take place in our body. Without certain enzymes, many of these processes would be impossible)
- our immune chemicals
- cell structure (and not just our muscle cells–amino acids are important for all of our cell structures)
- transport proteins (these are proteins that allow substances to move from one side of a cell membrane to another, and allow only the substances that should be crossing the membrane to do so. Without transport proteins, many cells would either die or become damaged)
Are you starting to get the picture? And there’s one key factor we haven’t even talked about yet: our bodies cannot make every amino acid we need in order to function. Of the 20 types of amino acids, only 12 can be made by the body. So getting adequate protein from your diet becomes very important!
Dividing protein intake between each meal makes it more manageable to get an appropriate amount of protein in your diet than trying to eat larger portions during only certain meals of the day.
In addition, eating protein dense foods at each meal will improve muscle strength and recovery (important, especially for those of you who have started these fitness classes), stimulate your metabolism, and ultimately reduce body fat. I don’t know about you, but those all sound like great things to me!
How do I get started?
Below are some examples of protein-based foods. Eating a variety of these foods will ensure you are getting a good balance between the different amino acids.
- Lean meats – ground beef, chicken, turkey, bison, venison
- Dairy – cottage cheese, greek yogurt, cheese, etc.
- Beans, peas, legumes, tofu
- Protein supplements
- Milk-based – whey, casein, milk protein blends
- Plant-based – pea, hemp, rice, soy, etc.
- Nuts and seeds – we will talk more about these later when we get to fats but they’re a great way to add in some extra protein as well
I will soon share some recipes that I often make at the beginning of a week and use as my “go-to” protein-based snacks. I will also share some of my favorite protein powders and bars!
Practice adding something from this list to each meal or snack. Buy some turkey at the store and roll up a slice or two to eat with an afternoon snack. Add some berries or granola to your favorite brand of Greek Yogurt. Mix some protein powder in your smoothies or oatmeal. If you usually eat toast or cereal for breakfast, mix it up and add a side of eggs. Eat a string cheese with the apple you bring to work. Add some shredded chicken or leftover taco meat to a salad for lunch. There’s a million ways to mix it up!
In particular, make sure you do not skip the protein after a workout. If you want your hard work to go towards toning and strengthening those muscles, don’t skimp out on protein dense foods during your post-workout meal.
If you’ve got questions about this habit, or want someone to help you stay accountable, you can ask me here. In the meantime, happy eating and I can’t wait to hear about your progress!