Maximizing Protein: 12 Ways to Eat More Protein and Why We Need Protein As We Age
Protein is vital to consume at every age—but adults in their 40s and beyond may need to pay particular attention to the protein on their plates. With benefits including supporting muscle maintenance, promoting bone growth, and increasing satiety, adequate protein consumption can combat many common age-related ailments.
But how can we maximize our protein intake without simply gorging on grilled chicken day after day? We’ve got you covered with 12 easy ways to fill your plate with protein—some might surprise you!
Protein 101: Why We Need Protein As We Age
Every gym-goer knows that protein is necessary for building muscle mass. But this becomes especially important as we age, as we lose about 4% of our muscle mass per decade after age 40. How much skeletal muscle we have impacts our metabolism—so if we lose muscle year after year, our metabolic rate lowers, and fat accumulation can occur. That is unless we make up for this decline by boosting protein intake and prioritizing strength and resistance training.
Age-related loss of muscle mass, strength, and function is linked to increased morbidity, mortality, falls, fractures, and loss of independence. Therefore, it’s crucial to maintain muscle mass as we age—which can be supported with healthy protein intake.
Protein also boosts satiety (fullness), leading to healthier body weights over time. Studies have shown how powerful the effects of eating protein are on satiety. In one study, overweight women who increased their protein intake from 15% of daily calories to 30% consumed 440 fewer calories each day. The satiety effects of protein become even more beneficial as we age because it can fight back against the commonly seen age-related fat accumulation.
We must also focus on protein intake with age to support bone health. Older adults—especially older women—are prone to bone loss, which can lead to fractures, falls, and loss of mobility. An often-touted myth is that excess protein is bad for bones because it leaches calcium from them, but research has found that protein is actually highly beneficial for strengthening bones.
How Much Protein Should I Eat?
The answer to this question is more complex. Although the RDA is set at 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (g/kg), these recommendations may not be entirely accurate. More recent research suggests that aiming for a protein intake of at least 1.2 to 1.6 g/kg/day would be ideal for achieving optimal health outcomes in adults—essentially doubling the current RDA. For example, if you weigh 145 pounds, this would come out to 79 to 105 grams of protein per day.
You likely need the higher end of that range or more if you are very active and strength train regularly. A comprehensive meta-analysis concluded that the average amount of protein required to maximize lean body mass was 1.6 g/kg, with some people (like male bodybuilders or endurance athletes) requiring up to 2.2 g/kg.
12 Easy Ways to Increase Protein Intake
1. Fill Up on Protein Foods First
If you have a traditional meal of protein, carbs, and fat, try to consume the protein first. Whether it’s meat, fish, eggs, or tofu, filling up on the protein-rich portion of your meal at the start ensures you won’t get too full before you finish the protein.
Eating protein first can increase satiety from your meal, potentially leading to fewer calories consumed. This is because protein consumption increases peptide YY production—a hormone that controls appetite and helps you feel full. Protein also lowers ghrelin levels—our so-called “hunger hormone.”
Filling up on protein first—especially before any starches like rice, pasta, or bread—can help stabilize blood sugar levels. Research has shown that people with metabolic disorders who ate grilled chicken breast, broccoli, and salad before high-carb foods (ciabatta bread and orange juice) had 29% lower post-meal blood sugar levels than when the food order was reversed.
2. Frontload Your Day With Protein
A protein-rich breakfast is an excellent way to frontload your day with protein, manage blood sugar, and ensure you’re not diving into the breakroom donuts by 10 a.m.
Swapping out high-carb breakfast foods—think bagels, waffles, cereal, pancakes, or plain toast—for eggs, meat, Greek yogurt, or a protein smoothie can prevent blood sugar spikes (and subsequent crashes), setting yourself up for a healthier and more productive day.
Eating eggs for breakfast reduces appetite and keeps you full for several hours, leading to lower calorie consumption later in the day. A study with overweight or obese Australian adults found that those who ate eggs and toast for breakfast instead of cereal and orange juice consumed an average of 183 fewer calories later in the day, which can certainly add up over time. The egg-eaters were also significantly less hungry in the four hours following breakfast.
3. Add Cottage Cheese
Popularized in the 1980s and recently trending in the TikTok world, cottage cheese is a high-protein and low-carb food with loads of versatility. As the lumpiness factor can be offputting, many people have been blending or “whipping” their cottage cheese to make it into a smooth and creamy spread.
With 23 grams of protein and 175 calories per one-cup serving, cottage cheese is an excellent high-protein breakfast, snack, or even dessert. Add berries and nuts to cottage cheese in the morning or mix with olive oil, chopped tomatoes, and cucumbers for a savory snack. Full-fat cottage cheese will increase satiety even further—try swapping ricotta cheese for cottage cheese in pasta dishes like lasagna to boost your protein intake.
4. Choose Greek Yogurt
Like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt is a high-protein dairy product with plenty of sweet and savory uses. While regular yogurt has about 7 grams of protein, a standard container (about 5 ounces) of Greek yogurt contains 17 grams and just 100 calories.
Use Greek yogurt anywhere you’d use regular yogurt or sour cream to maximize protein consumption.
5. Utilize Protein Powder
High-quality protein powders are an excellent way to boost your protein intake, typically containing 20 grams per serving. You can mix protein powder into shakes or smoothies in the usual way, but they can also be stirred or blended into sauces, soups, pancakes, or baked goods.
While most protein powders are flavored (and would taste great in baked goods), look for unflavored protein powders for savory dishes. You can also add unflavored collagen powder to just about anything, typically adding 10 grams of protein per scoop.
All protein powders can be beneficial to sneak in more protein, but whey protein is the most bioavailable and, therefore, might be the most filling.
6. Add Beans and Legumes
While beans and legumes are carb-dominant, their high fiber and protein content makes them very satiating.
Edamame (soybeans) are particularly high in protein—one cup of cooked and shelled edamame provides a whopping 30 grams of protein. Other high-protein legumes to add include lentils (18 grams per cup), large white beans (17 grams per cup), chickpeas or garbanzo beans (14 grams per cup), and pinto, kidney, or black beans (15 grams per cup).
Keep in mind that these one-cup servings of legumes will also add significant amounts of carbohydrates (typically 35-50 grams per cup).
7. Extra-Egg-Whites Scramble
While egg yolks are undoubtedly nutritious (thankfully, the days of egg-white-only omelets are behind us), the whites are where almost all of the protein is.
As each egg only has 6 grams of protein, you can make your morning scramble more protein-dense if you add additional egg whites. To do this, whisk up 2–3 eggs (yolks included) and add liquid egg whites from a carton (so we don’t waste any yolks). One-quarter cup of egg whites will add 7 grams of protein.
8. Utilize Pre-Cooked Proteins
We’re all about making life easier—and precooked proteins are one way to do so. Some options include picking up a rotisserie chicken or pre-grilled chicken to add to salads all week, snacking on organic and nitrite-free deli turkey, or having canned tuna or salmon for lunch.
9. Choose Leaner Cuts of Meat
Leaner cuts of meat will have less fat, allowing you to consume more protein for fewer calories. Examples of leaner cuts of meat include chicken breast (instead of thighs), sirloin steak, flank steak, tenderloin, pork loin chops, or 90-95% lean ground meat.
For example, three ounces of sirloin steak contains 26 grams of protein for 150 calories, while the same amount of T-bone steak has just 21 grams of protein for 250 calories.
10. Snack on Jerky
High-quality jerky and meat sticks are great snacks that are rich in protein. Choosing jerky from grass-fed or pasture-raised animals provides healthier fat ratios and higher-quality meat. The brands EPIC, CHOMPS, and Paleovalley are excellent options that utilize grass-fed beef and bison or pasture-raised chickens.
A serving of jerky (one ounce) or one meat stick typically provide 9-10 grams of protein.
11. Choose Whole Grains
Instead of refined grains like white rice or pasta, choose whole grains higher in fiber and protein. For example, one cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein, while white rice has half that amount.
The “ancient grain” family is typically high in protein, which includes quinoa, amaranth, teff, buckwheat, kamut, sorghum, and farro, providing up to 10 grams of protein per cup.
12. Protein At Every Meal and Snack
Last but not least, try to have protein at every meal and snack you eat. If you don’t prioritize protein, ensuring you are eating enough is difficult. Each meal should have a minimum of 20 to 30 grams of protein, while snacks can aim for a range of 10 to 15 grams.
Research shows that consuming 25 grams of protein per meal improves appetite, body weight management, cardiometabolic risk factors, and muscle synthesis compared to eating smaller amounts throughout the day.
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