Written by NCL Coach Allison Brewer.
As nutrition coaches, we are often encouraging our clients to increase their protein intake.
If you are working with a coach, they have likely explained to you that eating a good amount of protein will help with many things, from building muscle to healthy aging. When this is new to you, consuming the recommended .8+ grams per pound of body weight can seem daunting, especially if you are a vegetarian.
Rather than thinking about how much protein you need in a day, it can be helpful to break your goal down into targets for each meal and snack.
For example, if you are aiming for 135 grams of protein, it could look something like this:
If you prefer smaller meals, you may want to add a second snack- do what works best for you!
Next, take a few minutes to think through what you will eat for the day. Pre-logging your food in an app such as MyFitnessPal can be a great tool, especially when you’re new to estimating the protein content of foods.
Once you have logged the foods you plan to eat, check to see how close you are to your protein goal:
TIP: If you’re tracking all macros (protein, carbs, and fats), it can help to think of your snack as a “macro cap”- or a way to get as close to your daily macro goals as possible. Log your meals first, then built a snack that fills in the gaps.
Need more protein?
- Low or nonfat Greek yogurt
- Low fat cottage cheese
- Whey protein isolate
- Egg whites
- Tofu, tempeh, pea protein crumbles
Higher Fat Proteins
- Nuts & nut butter
- Whole eggs
- Meat substitutes
- Protein bars
Higher Carb Proteins
- Low fat dairy or fortified non-dairy milk
- Beans, lentils
- Quinoa, farro, & other whole grains
- Sprouted bread
- Plant-based protein powder
- Protein pasta or rice
- Protein bars
Ideas for increasing your protein:
- Increase serving sizes of protein foods
- Add protein powder and/or nonfat Greek yogurt to oatmeal
- Top soup, stew, chili, etc. w/a dollop of nonfat Greek yogurt
- Replace some of the flour in pancakes, waffles, or baked goods w/protein powder
- Whip egg whites and fold them into pancake or waffle batter
- Add protein powder to yogurt
- Add low fat cottage cheese to scrambled eggs
- Use nonfat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream or mayonnaise
- Stir low fat ricotta cheese or nonfat Greek yogurt into sauces
- Replace regular pasta and rice with high protein versions
- Add egg whites to whole eggs when you’re having an omelet or scramble
If you are completely plant-based, it can be a bit more challenging and you may need to rely on larger servings of protein powder and meat alternatives to meet your protein goal.
A sample day as a vegetarian:
Oats with Greek yogurt, low fat milk, whey protein powder, almonds, and fruit
Tofu, protein rice, pumpkin seeds, veggies
Tacos made with black beans, pea protein crumbles, cheese, and guacamole
Snack/Dessert (“macro cap”) 25g:
Low fat cottage cheese blended w/ whey protein and peanut butter and topped w/dark chocolate and graham crackers
DID YOU KNOW? If you’re using MyFitnessPal, you can turn your phone sideways to view the macros for individual meals:
Starting From Low Protein Intake?
If you are starting from very low protein intake (this is common!), it can take your body a little time to adjust, so gradually increase your protein over time. It is also important to drink plenty of water!
Your body uses water to metabolize protein, so eating more protein will increase the amount of water you need to stay hydrated.
A Note About Fiber
Whether you are vegetarian or vegan, it is important to be mindful of how much fiber you are consuming. Eating enough is fairly easy when you’re eating a lot of plant-based foods, so getting TOO MUCH can be an issue.
We all have our own fiber “sweet spot” where we feel our best. It may take a little trial and error to find that for yourself, but you can start with aiming for around 14g per 1000 calories or 21-25g per day for women and 30-38g per day for men.
Increasing your protein may seem challenging at first, but it will get easier over time!
Blog written by NCL Coach Allison Brewer who herself has been a vegetarian for about 20 years (and manages to hit her protein on a near daily basis :).