You know that protein is important for all of the tissues in your body—from your skin to your quads. And if you’re looking to build strength, chisel your physique, or just perform like a beast, meeting your protein needs is nonnegotiable.
“Protein is the building block for muscle, and muscle is super-important for our metabolism, looking good, and feeling good,” says Tom Holland, C.I.S.S.N., exercise physiologist and author of Swim, Run, Bike, Eat: The Complete Guide to Fueling Your Triathlon.
To reap those muscle-related benefits, though, you may need to eat up to a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day (especially if you work out a lot). Yeah, that’s a lot of protein—but getting there can be easier than you think. Just follow these expert-approved tips and you’ll pack in all of the muscle-building macro you need, no problem.
1. Eat Protein At EVERY Meal
The best way to guarantee you’re hitting your daily protein intake goals: Make protein a part of every single meal.
Divide your total protein goal by how many meals and snacks you’ll eat throughout the day and plan from there. For example, if your goal is to eat 150 grams per day, that could be five 30-gram servings split amongst three meals and two snacks.
2. Shake It Up
Add protein powder to your morning smoothie or grab a shake as you head to work. Or, instead of hitting up the vending machine when your energy tanks mid-afternoon, swig a protein shake. “Adding protein in at that three o’clock time slot is crucial for so many people,” says Holland, who sips on a protein shake between breakfast and lunch, and again between lunch and dinner.
“You should try to get protein from real food as much as you can, but it’s often impossible for busy people trying to get in large amounts,” he says. Keeping protein supplements on-hand keeps you on-track in a pinch.
3. Go For Green Peas
If being forced to eat tons of peas as a kid still has you scarred, consider giving the little green guys a second chance. Not only do peas pack eight grams of protein per cup on their own, but pea protein is also making an appearance in all sorts of supplements and protein-packed food products, like Ripple Pea Milk, StarLite Cuisine Enchiladas, and, of course, the famous Beyond Meat Burger.
Pea protein is great for anyone that doesn’t eat animal products or has issues digesting dairy proteins. Plus, it’s typically easier on the stomach than other plant proteins.
4. Sprinkle Hemp Seeds
All things hemp are trendier than ever right now, and hemp seeds are no exception. Just three tablespoons of these nutty, chewy seeds contains 10 grams of protein—and they’re super-versatile. Sprinkle a few tablespoons on your yogurt or salads, blend them into smoothies, or even grind them and add to baked goods.
5. Stir In Spirulina
Spirulina, a blue-green algae found in the ocean, is about 60 percent protein and boasts tons of antioxidants, vitamins, and iron. One tablespoon of spirulina powder contains four grams of protein. Mix a spoonful with olive oil and vinegar for salad dressing or toss a scoop into the blender when making smoothies or protein shakes. You can also find the super supplement in tablet or flake form.
6. Eat More Beans
Beans rarely receive the credit they deserve for their impressive protein (and fiber!) content. One cup of garbanzo beans or black beans, for example, offers 14 grams of protein and about just as much fiber, a nutrient most of us need more of. Like supplements and seeds, beans are easy to incorporate into your daily grub. Add a handful to your salad at lunch, snack on hummus, or swap conventional pasta for noodles made of garbanzos or black beans.
7. Gain From Grains
Get picky about the grains you eat, and you can serve up a dose of protein, too. Half a cup of amaranth, for example, contains five grams of protein, while half a cup of quinoa contains eight. (Grains like rice and corn, on the other hand, offer little protein for the carbs.)
That goes for bread, too! “Certain breads can be a surprising source of protein,” says Holland. “It’s a simple way to get more protein in, especially for kids.” Ezekial’s Sprouted Whole-Grain bread, for example, offers four grams of protein per slice from sources like lentils, spelt, and soybeans.
8. Snack On Jerky
Jerky or meat stick snacks, like Epic Bar’s Turkey Almond Cranberry bars, are an often-overlooked way to enjoy protein on the go—and make a great alternative to shakes. “Shakes don’t satisfy the need to chew,” says Holland. “Beef, chicken, and turkey jerky give you something to chew while providing protein,” says Holland.
One serving or bar can pack more than 10 grams of protein! Just look for brands labeled ‘nitrate-free’ and keep the sodium as low as possible.
9. Sip On BCAAs
Powdered BCAA supplements are easy to add to your water throughout the day. Though a serving may only contain a few grams of each amino acid, it can support the muscle-building you’re trying to support by eating protein in the first place. In fact, “the leucine content of a protein is the strongest determinant of its capacity to affect muscle protein synthesis,” states a 2016 Nutrition & Metabolism review.