11 Dietitian-Approved Protein Hacks [Free Download]

Are you tired of the never-ending search for the perfect protein sources to fuel your body? As a Registered Dietitian, I’ve seen the confusion many individuals face when it comes to choosing the right types and amounts of protein for their lifestyle. In this post, I’m sharing my top dietitian-approved protein hacks to help you navigate the overwhelming options and find simple, practical ways to boost your protein intake for lasting energy and overall well-being.

Download my free High-Protein Foods Guide for a detailed list of high-protein foods to help you meet your unique protein needs.

What is protein?

Protein is one of three macronutrients, alongside carbohydrates and fats. Macronutrients (often referred to as “macros”) are nutrients the body uses and needs in large amounts. Macronutrients provide the body energy in the form of calories, while micronutrients like vitamins and minerals do not.

For example, one gram each of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, have four, four, and nine calories respectively. 

Why is protein important?

Proteins are made of small compounds called amino acids [1]. Amino acids have a number of important functions in the body that affect health and wellness, which explains why protein is important for:

  • Muscle maintenance and growth
  • Tissue repair and wound healing
  • Hormone and enzyme production 
  • Immune function
  • Satiety or the feeling of fullness
  • Appetite regulation
  • Weight management
  • Blood sugar regulation
  • The transport and storage of nutrients
  • Healthy hair, skin, and nails

Eating adequate protein on a daily basis and achieving enough protein at meals can help us feel fuller for longer, provide steady energy, reduce cravings and lead to fewer instances of overeating, which may have a net positive on health and—for some–their relationship with food.

Recent research shows that higher-protein diets may also be associated with improvements in cardiometabolic risk factors (a group of health conditions and lifestyle factors that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders like Type 2 Diabetes) such as obesity, insulin resistance, hypertension, and dyslipidemia [2].

How much protein do I need? 

Our protein needs will depend on a variety of factors like our age, sex, height, body weight, activity level, life stage, and goals. For example, protein becomes a priority nutrient during weight loss [3]. Consuming adequate protein during weight loss helps to prevent the loss of muscle mass, promote fullness, and minimize further slowing of the metabolism.

In short, meeting your protein needs during weight loss can make the entire process safer, more sustainable, and more enjoyable.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The RDA is the recommended amount to prevent deficiency for an average sedentary adult, and may not necessarily be representative of one’s optimal intake.

For example, a sedentary female who weighs 150 pounds may require 54 grams of protein per day to prevent deficiency, while a higher protein intake of 82 grams per day may be more optimal for satiety, energy levels, and blood sugar balance. (150 pounds / 2.2 kilogram per pound = ~68 kilograms. 68kg*0.8 grams protein/kilogram = ~54 grams of protein per day).

The following chart is meant to provide an overview of how protein needs vary among individuals and is not a substitute for medical or personalized nutrition advice [417].

Grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight(1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds)
Of healthy weight Overweight
GoalMaintenanceMuscle gainFat loss

11 Dietitian-Approved Protein Hacks

Consider these protein hacks to increase your protein intake and reap the benefits of this priority nutrient.

1. Start by understanding your unique protein needs.

While many websites, bloggers, and social media gurus may offer a one-size-fits all recommendation for protein, our protein needs are unique to us. By understanding how much protein we need per day, we’re able to craft a more personalized approach to our nutrition that considers our goals, lifestyles, and preferences. Consider using the table above as a starting point and adjusting as needed or working directly with a healthcare professional like a Registered Dietitian to determine your exact needs.

2. Consider auditing your current protein intake.

While tracking macronutrients and counting calories is not required for optimal health, logging meals and snacks for one day can provide a clearer picture of what your current protein intake looks like. Understanding how much protein you’re consuming and where it may or may not be coming from can provide a clear roadmap to help you better meet your protein needs and/or reveal that your needs are already being met.

3. Check your understanding of high-protein foods.

While many foods—like peanut butter for example—are touted as being a good source of protein, a truly high-protein food is one in which the majority of its calories come from protein, as opposed to fat or carbohydrates. Can higher-fat foods like peanut butter contribute to your protein intake? Absolutely! But other foods—like chicken breast and tuna—are a more efficient source of protein on a per-calorie and per-serving basis.

Download my free High-Protein Foods Guide for a detailed list of high-protein foods and information on the protein content of typical serving sizes.

4. Build meals around lean protein sources.

There’s a common misconception that we have to eat a ton of food to meet our protein needs. But, when we prioritize lean sources we may actually need to eat less to achieve the same amount of protein per serving.

Let’s compare these two options for ground beef, for example. By opting for 93/7 lean ground beef instead of 80/20 ground beef, we can consume an additional 4 grams of protein while keeping the serving size the same.

comparison of nutritional information of 93/7 lean ground beef versus 80/20 ground beef

Do you have to choose 93/7 lean ground beef if you prefer 80/20? Absolutely not! But you’ll notice that the 93/7 lean ground beef not only has more protein than the 80/20 version, it also has 110 fewer calories, making it a better option for those seeking to increase their protein intake without increasing their calories to achieve healthy, sustainable weight loss. 

5. Prioritize a minimum of 20-30 grams of protein per meal. 

Aiming for a palm-sized serving of protein (~3 to 5 oz or about the size of a deck of cards) will not only provide your meals ~20-30 grams of protein, but it will also ensure that your meal has staying power. That may look like feeling fuller for longer, having more energy, and experiencing fewer cravings.

6. Simply increase the portion sizes of protein-rich foods (even ever so slightly!).

Small changes like increasing the portion size of your protein-rich foods add up. For example, three ounces of chicken breast has 26 grams of protein while four ounces of chicken breast has 35 grams of protein. These small tweaks can be all you need to better meet your protein needs.

7. Eat your protein first.

While other nutrients like fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates are important to a balanced diet, simply eating the protein portion of our meal first can ensure that we prioritize protein by not filling up on other nutrients first.

8. Leverage snacks as an opportunity to sneak in additional protein.

Many snacks—like pretzels, crackers, fruit, and popcorn—may fail to keep us full since they fall short on protein. Combining carbohydrate-forward foods with protein can not only give our snacks more staying power, it can help us achieve our protein goals too.

Some great protein-rich foods to add to snacks include:

  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Edamame (~18 grams per cup)

9. Consider increasing your intake of specific high-protein plant-based foods.

Certain plant-based foods—like edamame, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, and nutritional yeast—are higher in protein than others.

A few simple swaps can boost the overall protein content of meals and snacks. For example:

  • Swap half of your rice with quinoa
  • Choose whole grain bread over white bread
  • Snack on edamame instead of celery
  • Add roasted chickpeas on top of salads or in wraps
  • Sprinkle nutritional yeast on popcorn or pasta

10. Leverage protein supplements to increase the protein content of otherwise low-protein foods.

While we should do our best to prioritize protein from whole foods as often as possible, supplements like protein powder can help to add protein into healthful foods that may fall short.

For example, protein powders can be used in:

  • Overnight oats
  • Smoothies with fresh or frozen greens, fruit, and healthy fats
  • Homemade energy balls
  • Chia seed pudding

11. Consider the totality of your meal.

While specific foods will certainly be higher in protein than others, it’s important to remember that lower-protein foods will contribute to your intake as well. For example, three hard boiled eggs will provide ~18 grams of protein. Adding a slice of whole grain toast can provide an additional four to five grams that helps to achieve and exceed the recommended 20 to 30 grams per meal.

Download my free High-Protein Foods Guide for a detailed list of high-protein foods and information on the protein content of typical serving sizes.

Sources in this article:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK555990/ 
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002916523274274?via%3Dihub
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566799/ 
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26891166/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28642676/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31794597/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28698222/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26500462/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26778925/
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26957922/
  11. https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijsnem/28/6/article-p580.xml
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29182451/
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30507259/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16469983/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23097268/
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26883880/
  17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22797374

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