Protein is a key component of healthy weight management—it can even help you shed unwanted pounds. The best protein regimen is to consume protein at every meal and snack, or every few hours, to help control your appetite and reduce excess body fat. According to a study published in a 2008 issue of “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” protein helps increase satiety—or your feeling of fullness—more than fat and carbs, and thus can help maintain your lean body mass.
Total Protein Needs
Women should get approximately 46 grams of protein per day, according to the Institute of Medicine—this amount should be sufficient for most sedentary women. However, women who exercise regularly need 0.64 to 0.91 gram of protein per pound of body weight on a daily basis, according to a position paper published in a 2007 issue of the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.” For example, a 120-pound active woman should shoot for 77 to 109 grams of protein each day.
Don’t eat all your protein at just one meal; evenly space your intake over the course of the day. Include at least one high-protein food in each meal and snack. For example, if your goal is 80 grams of protein per day, you could eat 20 grams for breakfast, 10 grams for a morning snack, 20 grams for lunch, 10 grams for an afternoon snack and 20 grams for dinner.
Thankfully, you have an abundance of nutritious, high-protein foods to choose from. Even if you don’t like meat, you can still easily meet your protein needs. Healthy, high-protein foods include lean red meat, skinless chicken or turkey, seafood, egg whites, low-fat dairy foods, legumes, soy-based foods, seitan, nuts, seeds and peanut butter.
Sample Meal Plan
When you eat a variety of high-protein foods throughout the day, your protein grams can add up quickly. For example, eating two egg whites and 1 cup of low-fat yogurt for breakfast provides you with about 20 grams of protein, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Examples of snacks containing about 7 grams of protein each include 27 almonds or one slice of reduced-fat provolone cheese. Eating 3 ounces of grilled chicken breast for lunch gives you another 27 grams of protein and 3 ounces of grilled Atlantic salmon for dinner adds another 22 grams of protein, according to the USDA and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Eating all of these high-protein foods in a day equals 83 grams of protein.
Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in dietetics and has extensive experience working as a health writer and health educator. Her articles are published on various health, nutrition and fitness websites.