52 Healthy Habits: Eat More Protein

Welcome to the latest edition of 52 healthy habits when each week I work to establish a new healthy habit, because healthy habits are the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle.

You don't have to overhaul your whole life at once. Choose one small change and take the time to establish a new habit, building one small step at a time. Even if you already live a healthy lifestyle, there is always room for improvement and to take it to the next level. No matter where you are in your healthy living journey, establishing healthy habits can snowball into massive results. 

I saw this painted in the floor at the Rock 'n' Roll marathon health & fitness expo in Dallas on Saturday and I thought it summed up my healthy lifestyle philosophy perfectly.

(p.s. I am a rock 'n' blogger for the rock 'n' roll marathon races, so if you want to run a half or full marathon in 2017, you can use discount code RNB15 to save $15 off most of the races in the series.)

Last week I confessed that even though I am a personal trainer and huge proponent of strength training for runners, I have let my own strength training slide a bit. I have an injured shoulder and I am limited in what I am able to do. Instead of focusing on what I can't do, I decided to focus on what I can do (take my own advice, right?). I committed to just 15 minutes of strength training a day to get back on the wagon. Obviously, this will be largely lower body and core based as I can't put any pressure on my shoulder. 

I am happy to report that I did it three days last week, which is a great start! Sometimes we want to go from 0-6 days but it is not always realistic. I am happy with my start and I have plenty of room to grow and build on the three days from last week. This week I'll shoot for 4. 


I may have mentioned that I am studying sports and exercise nutrition with Precision Nutrition. I have been studying hard and you can expect a lot more nutrition-based content coming in the future, plus nutrition coaching services coming soon.

My habit goal for next week is to increase my protein intake. I wasn't tracking my intake and when I started to track in My Fitness Pal I realized that my protein intake was lower than I thought. I generally eat a healthy diet and I assumed that since I eat a protein-centric meal at every meal (eggs, chicken, fish, etc.) that I was getting enough. But what is enough? Why do I need protein? What types of proteins should I be consuming? How much is too much? Let's dive in. 


Protein or amino acids are the building blocks of our body. We use protein to break down and build up muscle and structure. Protein intake helps us preserve our lean muscle as we lose weight. (Remember our focus should always be on losing fat, not losing weight.) Protein helps us feel full longer and it has a higher thermodynamic effect, which means it take more energy for our bodies to process protein. We actually burn more calories just processing protein than we do processing carbohydrates or fats. 


The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends is 0.4 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (or .8 per kg) for the average sedentary person. But we're not sedentary (or average!), right? For athletes (yes, you are an athlete if you run or workout) protein requirements go up.

There are recommendations that are higher, but there is an upper limit of protein that our liver and kidneys can handle. If you are training hard or frequently increasing protein intake higher than these recommendations is probably safe for most healthy people, but consuming protein amounts double the recommendation on a regular basis is unnecessary (no added benefit) and possibly unsafe. As always, talk to your doctor or registered dietitian regarding any health concerns or when experimenting with a new diet or going outside general recommendations. 


OK, you know as an active person you need more protein than the average bear, but what foods are best? It is always ideal when making any nutritional choices to choose diverse, whole, less-processed foods. For protein this includes foods like lean meats including beef and pork, poultry like chicken and turkey, fish and seafood, dairy like cottage cheese and plain Greek yogurt, beans and tofu. 


Once you get most of your protein from whole food sources, you may find you need to supplement protein in order to meet your daily requirements. I always suggest whole foods first, then supplement to fill in the gaps as it fits into your lifestyle. No time for breakfast? Then a morning shake with fruit, spinach and protein powder can be a great way to get in your nutrition as your run out the door. I use whey protein powders to supplement, but a vegetarian eater may prefer a plant-based protein like pea or hemp. Make the best choice possible for your own lifestyle and preferences.


What's the plan? I always enter the foods I am going to eat for the day in the morning before I eat anything. Why? For one, it helps me plan ahead. What's that saying about failing to plan is planning to fail? Yeah, that one. In order to enter in my food for the day, I need to have a pretty good idea of what I am going to eat. I always end up editing as the day goes along, but it gives me an idea where I stand and if I need to make any adjustments to my day. You don't want to be looking at My Fitness Pal at 8PM and realizing you didn't get your protein for the day. (Actually, it's not the end of the world, you can just try again tomorrow.)

My protein intake plan looks a little like this (left out the non-protein items in my day, this is not everything I plan to eat):

Breakfast: 3 eggs

Snack: 1/2 cup of cottage cheese

Lunch: Grilled chicken

Afternoon snack: 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt mixed with a spoonful of chocolate protein powder

Dinner: Fish or Turkey

A word of warning on tracking if you're anything like me. I tend to have an all-or-nothing personality and I work really hard on balance. It's something I have to be aware of or else I can easily slip out of a healthy-balanced mindset. I track for a week or so to get an idea of where I stand, but I am careful not to let tracking take over my thoughts or actions. It's a good idea to see where you stand, it's a terrible idea to get obsessed with every morsel that goes into your mouth. Some people have no trouble with tracking, others can take it too far if they are not careful. Remember that our ultimate goal is a healthy life which includes a healthy body and mind. 

You can track by using an app like My Fitness Pal or you can just increase, if needed, by including more protein in your diet. It not so much about hitting the exact number of grams but finding the correct amount of protein to optimize your body. It just might take experimenting to find it. 

Let me know how it goes!

Playing catch up? Follow along with the 52 Healthy Habits series:


week 1: Early to Rise
week 2: Track calories
week 3: Macro cycling
week 4: Morning pages (journaling)
week 5: Stop the scrolling (reading instead of social media)
week 6: Be a good student (take time for learning) 
week 7: Strength Training 15 minutes per day   

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