This is a partnered conversation. All opinions are my own.
Protein, fat, and carbohydrate are the three macronutrients that make up our food. In the Paleo community, it seems that fat and carbs generate the most discussion, especially since high fat, low carb and ketogenic diets are growing rapidly in popularity.
I frequently get questions from readers about fat and carb intake and how to tweak ratios for best results, but I only rarely get questions about protein. Since protein typically receives less focus, many people may not realize that there are some distinct benefits to experimenting with increasing protein intake.
Athletes and people looking to really fine tune their body composition, on the other hand, do like to talk about and play with protein intake. If you consider yourself an athlete then keep reading, because I'm excited to share a new favorite way to increase protein that is also the perfect post-workout fuel.
But for the rest of us who don't qualify as athletes, how much protein do we need? I know I have many followers facing chronic illness and who struggle to get enough daily activity due to things like fatigue and chronic pain. So let's take a look at suggested protein intake based on health and lifestyle, and then I'll give you some tips to help you make sure you're reaching your goals.
Protein Needs For A Sedentary, Low-Stress Lifestyle
I know that word "sedentary" can feel shameful, and in this conversation about protein it doesn't have to mean you get zero physical activity. What it really means is that you are not attempting to build muscle mass. Right now in Feb of 2017, I am in this category (and I try not to beat myself over it). I have a current goal to get 6,000 to 12,000 steps in each day and occasionally practice very gentle yoga, but I am not doing anything to actively try to build muscle. And, unfortunately, some days the fatigue and pain from fibroids prevent me from doing much besides my work, cooking, and then staying glued to my infrared heating pad for the evening.
Sedentary individuals who are not attempting to build muscle, who are not chronically ill, and who are not under chronic stress need a minimum of 0.36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Using myself as an example: at 140 lbs currently, the minimum I should be consuming is 50.4 grams of protein daily.
Don't get confused about the terminology here: that's 50.4 grams of the macronutrient protein, not 50.4 grams of meat. In the US a "serving size" of meat (which in slang may be called a "protein") is 3 oz or 85 grams, which will get you about 24 grams of the macronutrient protein.
Achieving this bare minimum really isn't all that difficult if you are following a Paleo template and consuming meat daily. Plus, a lot of people probably laugh that the official serving size for meat is just 3 oz...
But, given the known benefits of increasing protein intake, you may want to start experimenting with increasing your protein intake to see how it makes you feel - especially if you are stressed or sick.
Protein Needs For Athletes
Different studies have found different "sweet spot" levels of protein intake for muscle building, but there is no disputing the fact that if you are an active person you need to significantly increase your protein intake. And, despite the myth that protein consumption is harmful to your kidneys (it isn't) there isn't any research that shows larger amounts of protein to be detrimental. In fact, protein consumption has a number of benefits I'll discuss in a moment.
Athletes and those wishing to build muscle mass need anywhere from 0.6 grams/lb bodyweight up to 1-2 g/lb bodyweight for those engaged in bodybuilding. Plus, it is important to consume between 20-40 grams protein within an hour of your workout so that your body has what it needs to build muscle.
That is a really huge range, however it is helpful to remember that you'll need to scale your protein intake as you scale up your exercise. If you're showing signs of protein deficiency like struggling to add muscle, feeling wiped out, having poor concentration, or slow wound healing after increasing your level of exercise, then you're probably not eating enough protein to match your activity level.
Using myself as an example again, if I start exercising more (which is a serious goal this spring) I could need anywhere from 84 to 280 grams of protein per day (ahhh, except, I'm pretty sure I won't ever be a bodybuilder, so I'd probably cap this at 140ish grams to be realistic with the kind of activity I would be doing).
And based on what I know about the benefits of protein intake I will err on the side of consuming a bit extra protein vs risk not enough. I already have enough fatigue and pain as it is.....don't want to make that worse by not eating enough protein!
Protein Needs for the Injured, Elderly, and Stressed
Since protein is critical for our bodies to repair damaged tissue, if you are nursing an injury or otherwise wounded then you need to increase your protein consumption to give your body the raw materials it needs to heal. This paper suggests about 0.7g/lb bodyweight for the injured or wounded. If you are under chronic stress (who isn't these days??!) or facing chronic illness, then you may need to meet this same level of intake as well.
So using me as an example, 0.7g/lb bodyweight would mean 98 grams of protein per day, which I could get from about 12 oz of meat.
As we age, our protein needs increase significantly, with recommended targets for the elderly being between 0.5-0.6g/lb bodyweight to prevent muscle wasting.
Benefits of Consuming More Protein
Most people are aware that protein is essential for building muscle and for healing after injuries. But protein is also important if you are trying to lose weight (or prevent weight gain in the first place). Protein can:
- boost your metabolic rate (make you burn through calories more quickly - source)
- reduce appetite (since it is so satiating, more than fat or carbs!)
- reduce snacking and obsessive thinking about food (source)
- prevent regaining weight after losing weight (source)
- lower blood pressure (source)
- stabilize blood sugar (source)
Sounds pretty awesome to me! And the relationship between protein and weight loss is so important to be aware of, since I already mentioned that in the Paleo realm so many people focus only on carb/fat ratio and don't pay attention to how much protein they are consuming.
How To Increase Protein On A Paleo Diet
This is extremely individual and depends on a number of factors, including your appetite and goals. One simple way is to pay attention to the amount of meat you are consuming and ensure that your serving sizes are large enough. Now I am NOT a fan of weighing food to measure portion sizes as a long-term habit, but I do think that you can learn a lot if you do it a few times just so you can learn how to eyeball a 3 or 6 oz serving size of meat.
I am also NOT a fan of logging food intake, but I think that doing it for a week can be very educational. I love the free website Cron-O-Meter (it also has an app for your smartphone) since it includes the NCCDB which is much more accurate than the USDA database for micronutrients.
Try it for a few days or a week - weigh your proteins using a simple kitchen scale (I own this one) and log your food in Cron-O-Meter to see how much you are actually eating in a day.
If you're falling short on protein, there's also the age old strategy of "put an egg on it". 1 large egg will get you a little more than 6 grams of protein. Not a huge amount, but it can add up, especially if you're eating 3x/day and you add an egg to each meal.
In my case, I don't have a huge appetite, don't like to eat large meals, and typically only eat 2 meals per day since I practice intermittent fasting most days and eat in a roughly 8 hour window each day. The thought of packing in a lot of extra meat to my meals makes me feel a bit queasy, and I am not interested in snacking between my meals. But, again, what I am doing may not be right for you - you may need to eat more frequently and intermittent fasting is a terrible idea for some people (especially women - and I am super careful with my routine). You should always do your own self-experimentation to determine what works best for your body.
In my case, the easiest and most palatable way to boost my protein consumption is with a Paleo compliant protein powder. And what do you know, I was recently introduced to a new brand that I am ridiculously excited about using and sharing with you!
Rootz Nutrition Paleo Protein Superfood Powder
exclusive coupon + giveaway below!
I was so pleased to receive an email from Harrison from Rootz Nutrition asking if I'd like to try his products. Dude, the ingredients list on this protein powder is IMPRESSIVE. It is a blend of 100% Paleo ingredients and carefully selected plants, herbs, and superfoods like bee pollen, chlorella, kale, and goji berries. No fillers, no bulking agents, just nutrient-dense whole foods carefully selected to create one badass balanced formula.
This is in stark contrast to many of the protein powders that I see discussed & promoted in the Paleo community; most often these powders use whey protein, which is a dairy product and so technically not strict Paleo (I am still puzzled that I see folks promoting it as Paleo...) Whey can make a truly excellent protein source when it is derived from grass-fed milk and is processed at a low temp. But if you are in a strict Paleo elimination diet phase then the whey needs to go, and be mindfully reintroduced later to ensure it works for you. (Disclosure: I do use whey protein powders, too!)
Paleo Protein Sources for Rootz NutritioN Powder
Rootz Paleo Protein Superfood Powder has a unique blend of 3 strict Paleo protein sources for an impressive 15 grams of complete protein per scoop:
- egg white
- sacha inchi
- hemp protein
Wait...what is that funny one in the middle??! I have to admit I had not heard of sacha inchi before being introduced to Rootz. It's also known as the Inca Peanut although it is neither a nut nor a legume, but instead a seed, and has been used traditionally in Peru as both a natural medicine and delicious and nutritious snack for a very long time. It is rich on omega 3 essential fatty acids, vitamins E and A, and calcium. On its own it is considered a complete protein since it contains all 9 essential amino acids.
This protein powder tastes like a yummy banana milkshake and is packed with some seriously awesome stuff to complement the protein. Take a look!
Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, Maca Root, Bee Pollen, Acai, Goji Berries, Blueberries, Royal Jelly
Green Detox Blend
Spirulina, Chlorella, Kale, Spinach, Broccoli
Natural Chocolate Extract, Natural Vanilla Extract, Stevia Leaf, Cinnamon, Natural Sea Salt
My only complaint about the ingredients is the stevia. I used to rock stevia all of the time early on in my Paleo journey, but I've since lost the taste for it. However, I still enjoy these products despite the stevia.
I love how easy Rootz makes it for me to boost my protein intake, since I confessed before that I don't like to eat huge meals and can sometimes find it hard to pile enough meat on my plate. The Rootz protein powder is a welcome addition to my home right now, especially as I explore increasing the amount I exercise.
Now, unfortunately, if you are on the AIP protocol then Rootz is not for you due to the egg white, seeds, and nightshades.
Rootz Nutrition Pre- and Post-Workout Complete Stack
Rootz was created to fill a specific void in the Paleo workout supplement options. You can read more about Harrison's story here. I know I just gushed all about the protein powder, but there is another complimentary product you need to know about: Rootz Paleo Energizing Superfood.
These two products are the perfect combo for your pre-workout and post-workout nutritional needs. Remember, it is critical to consume protein soon after ending your workouts (within 1 hour at the most), and there is no easier way to do that than to drink a yummy dose or two of Rootz protein powder.
The pre-workout Rootz Paleo Energizing Superfood combines superfoods, plants, and herbs to provide a boost before your workout (or anytime of day, actually). It contains 120mg of naturally occurring caffeine (from yerba mate and guarana) which has been shown to increase the amount of fat you burn when working out AND help control cravings after your workout (source). For reference, an 8 oz cup of coffee has about 95mg of caffeine. Here is the full ingredient list (impressive, right?!):
Energy and Strength Blend
Yerba Mate Extract, Guarana, Tongkat Ali Root, Rhodiola, Schizandra Berry, Asian Ginseng, Ginko Biloba
Metabolism Stimulation Blend
Raspberry, Lemon, Matcha Green Tea, Yohimbe Bark
Vascularity and Anti-Inflammation Blend
Beetroot, Turmeric, Ginger, Devils Claw, Cinnamon
Goji Berry, Blueberry, Acai, Maca Root, Bee Pollen, Royal Jelly
Stevia Leaf, Natural Vanilla Extract
Just look at how gorgeous it is mixed up as a drink.....that color is thanks to the beets and raspberries!
If you are serious about burning fat and building muscle with your workouts, you want these two products in your pantry. And hey - if you need workout inspiration, just check out their Workout of the Day page.
If you're just looking for a nutrient-dense, superfood-packed pick-me-up, you should give the Energizing Superfood a try! You may even enjoy replacing your morning coffee (or that second cup) with it.
And if you need a super easy way to boost your daily protein intake for whatever reason - due to exercise, injury, for weight loss, etc. - then the Protein Superfood powder is a delicious and ultra convenient addition to your diet.
How I Use Rootz Nutrition Products
Look at all that whole-food Paleo goodness in a powder!
The Protein Superfood powder is best mixed with your favorite non-dairy milk for a thick, rich beverage. You'll need 12-16oz of liquid to go with one scoop, so it works out perfectly to use one 13.5oz can of coconut milk. I use my wide mouth pint freezer jars with a reusable lid so I can shake shake shake to help the powder dissolve (I add the powder, add half the can, shake, then add the rest of the can and shake some more).
The Energizing Superfood powder tastes like a refreshing raspberry lemonade and is best mixed with 8-12oz of plain water. I just add it to a glass and stir. Note that if you let it sit then the ingredients will settle to the bottom of the glass, so drink it quickly or be ready to stir it up again. It makes a great pick-me-up any time of the day and is an enjoyable option when I just don't want to drink hot tea.
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Rootz Nutrition Complete Stack Giveaway!
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