14 Ways to increase your protein intake without protein powder
April 3, 2024

14 Ways to increase your protein intake without protein powder

Rachel Wadsley, PhD

Protein is essential for maintaining a healthy weight, promoting metabolism, improving strength and muscle mass, and overall health. The daily protein intake for healthy adults is 50-175 grams depending on age, body weight, and activity level. Eat 15-30 grams of protein in each meal to meet the gold standard daily protein intake. 

It's important to pair sources of protein with other nutrients to get the maximum benefits and ensure you're eating a well-rounded diet. Aside from meat, protein also comes from plant sources, eggs, dairy, and whole grains. 

This article will look at 14 easy ways to add more high-quality protein into your day without reaching for an extensive protein shake. You'll find protein sources for every type of diet. 

Make protein part of every meal and snack

Often we think of having protein with a main meal like lunch or dinner. But, following this one-meal approach leads to not getting enough protein into your diet,  mentally and physically dragging during the day, or feeling hungry between meals.

Instead, focus on including a protein source every time you eat. Spreading protein out over the day makes it easier to get your daily requirement. There's a huge variety of protein sources to choose from, no matter what diet you follow. 

How to plan a well-balanced meal around protein:
  1. Pick a protein source
  2. Add a complex carb
  3. Pop in some fiber from fruits and vegetables
  4. Top it off with a healthy fat 

Eat your protein first

Protein aids in digestion and helps you feel full longer. Start your meal by eating some of your protein sources and produce before diving into starchy foods. According to research, eating in this order keeps insulin levels lower and more stable.   

Combine animal and plant protein

Eating animal and plant protein together helps you knock out multiple servings on the food pyramid in one meal. You'll get more variety in your day to keep meals interesting, appetizing, and heart-healthy. Plant-based proteins are also high in fiber which aids digestion and keeps you fuller longer.

Plant-based proteins that have 3-8 grams of dietary protein per cup:
  • Broccoli
  • Corn
  • Asparagus
  • Artichokes
  • Spinach
  • Peas
  • Mushrooms
  • Baked potatoes
Plant-based proteins with 15-20 grams of dietary protein:
  • Black beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Soybeans
  • Lentils 
  • Lima beans

Swap in quinoa for rice or pasta

Quinoa is a whole grain and complete protein with amino acids and fiber. You can still enjoy pasta and rice, but with 8 grams of protein per cup, quinoa makes an excellent substitute to change things up. I love adding it to salads for the slightly nutty flavor and mild texture. 

Enjoy ancient grains

Ancient grains have 4-20 grams of protein per cup. Ancient grains are less processed and contain more nutrients than modern corn and wheat. Plus, a lot of them are gluten-free. 

These grains have health benefits including reducing inflammation, reducing the risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, keeping blood sugar stable, and improving cholesterol levels.  

Ancient grains:
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Einkorn
  • Kamut
  • Spelt
Gluten-free ancient grains:
  • Amaranth
  • Farro
  • Millet
  • Teff
  • Sorghum
  • Quinoa

Pack high protein snacks 

A lot of snacks high in protein can be stored at room temperature for weeks or months. Keep them on hand in your cupboard, desk drawer, or bag for pick-me-ups between meals. You can also toss them into meals when you need a protein boost. I love adding nuts to my yogurt or salad, which helps absorb fat-soluble fiber. 

Shelf-stable snacks:
  • Nuts 
  • Jerky
  • Canned fish/ meat
  • Granola bars
  • Roasted chickpeas

Enjoy nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are full of protein, healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants, essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. While they aren't complete proteins, you can quickly add them to other foods to create a perfectly balanced meal. 

Ways to enjoy nuts and seeds:
  • Eat on their own (put single serving sizes in baggies for convenience) 
  • Add to salads
  • Toss on top of desserts
  • Mix into yogurt
  • Sprinkle on oatmeal
  • Add chia or hemp seeds to smoothies

Grab greek yogurt

Greek yogurt is richer and creamier than traditional yogurt, with twice as much protein and less sugar. That's what I call a win-win-win. Depending on the brand, you can get 17-20 grams of protein per serving. You can eat Greek yogurt plain or with items like berries. You can also use it in place of sour cream. As with any yogurt, check the sugar content before choosing a brand or flavor. 

Try nutritional yeast

Do you love the flavor of cheese? Nutritional yeast is a complete plant-based protein with six grams per serving (more than parmesan cheese). Enjoy it tossed on a salad, over roasted broccoli, or on air-popped popcorn (a healthy Netflix binge treat). 

Dish up powdered peanut butter

Powdered peanut butter has 6 grams of protein per 2 tbsp with zero fat and one-third less calories than regular peanut butter. There are many brands on the market. My favorite brand is PB2 which has regular, cocoa, crunchy, almond, and cashew options. I love making a smoothie with 8 oz almond milk, 1 cup of ice, 1 frozen banana, and 2 tbsp of chocolate PB2. It's amazing!!!

Ways to use powdered peanut butter:
  • Mix with water at a 1:1 ratio and use it like regular peanut butter
  • Add 1 tbsp to regular peanut butter and get an extra protein boost
  • Add 1-2 TB to smoothies (add a frozen banana for more creaminess)
  • Add 2-4 TB to cookie dough, bread dough, or muffin batter

Choose low-fat cheese as a snack

Who doesn't love snack foods? Unfortunately, they're often high in sodium and calories while lacking beneficial nutrients. For example, tortilla chips have 2 grams of protein while the same serving size of cheese has 7 grams of protein

So, skip the salty goods and satisfy your hunger with rich and creamy cheese, an excellent protein source. You can eat it plain or pair the cheese with some whole-grain crackers or fruit for a complete snack.  

Thicken smoothies with tofu

If you're not a fan of the texture of tofu but want the 10 grams of protein it packs - it's time to think outside the box. Tofu is a flavorless source of protein making it the perfect thickener for smoothies! Choose silken tofu for its creamy texture and avoid options with magnesium sulfate, a coagulating agent. 

Choose eggs for breakfast

Aside from oatmeal, breakfast foods tend to be low in protein and don't contain as many nutrients per calorie as eggs. Plus, eggs are a complete protein (if you eat both the white and yolk)! If you need to limit your fat or calorie intake, egg whites have more protein than yolks (3.6 grams vs. 2.7 grams). 

As a proud chicken mom, I’ll say eggs are a great way to start your day, and they can be added to salads or stir fry recipes.

Want to change things up? You can eat eggs in so many ways:
  • Scrambled
  • Over easy
  • Omelet with veggies
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Soft boiled eggs
  • Pressure cooked
  • Omelet in a mug (quick and convenient)
  • Frittata (toss in veggies)
Nutrients in eggs:
  • Iron
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin B12
  • Folate
  • Protein
  • Selenium
  • Choline
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (healthy fat)

Eat baked potatoes

Baked potatoes are more than just starchy food. They’re packed with 4 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, niacin, and folate. The trick is making sure you keep the toppings to a minimum. 

Wrap up

You've discovered various sources protein comes from and tips for packing it into your day. Choose foods you like and enjoy. The more convenient and appealing healthy choices are, the more likely you will stick to your routine. 

Take it slow and easy. Choose one meal or snack to start with. Get consistent with that before tossing protein into other places. We love this technique of habit stacking. You can learn more about it here

Do you need some support getting your healthy routines up and running? Trainwell's fitness and nutrition trainers have your back! They will help you get a solid foundation in adding in healthy food choices and create a custom workout plan that fits your life. Best of all, you can try CoPilot for free!

If you're interested in supplementing healthy nutritional choices with a personalized training routine, trainwell (formerly CoPilot) trainers will help you find what works best for your lifestyle. Whether you prefer strength training, cardio workouts, resistance training, or bodyweight exercises, trainwell has you covered!

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Written by Rachel Wadsley, PhD

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