Most nutritional protocols involve some sort of strict elimination process: remove this food or that, stop eating so much of other favorite foods, skip meals altogether. Does this sound familiar? Restriction is one of the biggest reasons why “diets'' are difficult to stick to and near impossible to create a balanced lifestyle around. What if I told you there was another way to move toward becoming a healthier version of yourself without feeling like you have to be restrictive? Instead of focusing on what you can’t eat or drink, it’s time to start focusing on what you can!
Depending upon the individual, protein consumption is one of the first steps that we recommend to our clients while moving them toward a healthier lifestyle and relationship with food. It supports almost every goal: decreases body fat, increases lean muscle mass, supports health, increases performance, etc. There are many benefits that increased protein consumption can deliver without focusing on anything else related to nutrition. That is why we love to use this as a starting point. It can deliver the most marked physiological change with the least amount of psychological resistance, when done correctly.
Instead of changing everything at once—which is far too common, and a recipe for failure—it’s time to focus on one thing that will grant people the freedom and results they hope to achieve! Below I discuss three nutritional hacks involving protein consumption alone.
Eat More Protein
One of the first things we focus on with our clients is increasing their protein consumption. Often, this is the ONLY thing we ask of them initially because adding more than one thing to a given protocol can feel overwhelming and lead to less compliance. So, instead of focusing on what you shouldn’t eat, focus on what you can—more protein!
This works because increasing protein consumption alone generally leads to a decrease in a person’s carbohydrate and processed food intake. Why? Because protein is more satiating and leaves you feeling fuller for longer.
It can be easy to over-consume chips and other processed carbohydrates like candied trail mix, pretzels, cookies, etc. because these foods are designed to be irresistible. Processing enhances palatability by adding sugar, unhealthy fats and salt. Because our gastrointestinal tracts rapidly absorb fast carbs, our bodies don’t feel full…thus encouraging overeating.
Focusing on complete protein sources such as chicken, beef, steak, shrimp, eggs, salmon, etc., and even protein-based snacks such as minimally processed beef jerky, hard boiled eggs, and epic bars, to name a few examples, reduces total calories consumed and keeps blood glucose levels more balanced throughout the day.
The next two hacks not only help increase protein consumption overall, but also support nutritional balance without compromising personal health and fitness goals.
Eat Protein BEFORE desserts & treats
If you have a sweet tooth like myself, this next hack is for you!
Often we think the journey to weight loss or improved health involves removing everything we love to eat from our lives. This leads to a feeling of deprivation and can trigger a cycle of binge eating and restriction. This type of lifestyle can be detrimental to both long-term health, consistency, and overall results!
It is possible to eat the things you love, in moderation of course, and still see the results you want.
When you want a chocolate chip cookie, my personal weakness, consume at least 15g of protein beforehand. This works beautifully for two reasons. The first reason is that it creates a more balanced meal versus one high in sugar and processed carbohydrates. This ultimately leads to eating fewer cookies as well as maintaining more balanced blood glucose levels.
The second reason this trick can be helpful is that eating protein decreases craving and hunger cues altogether. After you consume protein, you may realize you are no longer hungry for the cookie anymore and the craving dissipates completely. Instead of feeling deprived, you are able to make the decision by listening to what your body wants and needs. There is no deprivation in this method and it minimizes mindless eating and snacking.
So, when you want a treat, all you have to do is consume a little protein beforehand. Easy examples include; two hard boiled eggs, a protein shake, 2oz of chicken or beef jerky or 3oz cocktail shrimp.
Eat Protein at Every Meal
Whatever your health, body composition, or fitness goals may be, protein consumption is a crucial aspect. Therefore, it is always important to ask yourself where the protein is within each meal or snack you plan to eat. It can be easy to run out the door with a bagel and cream cheese or even order a salad void of protein. When this happens, it can be a lot more challenging to meet the necessary daily protein requirements. This leads to either consuming massive quantities of protein later in the day, which I wouldn’t recommend, or a higher carbohydrate-to- protein ratio. To create a balanced meal, focus on including at least one fist-sized portion of protein per meal. Ideally we like to see 1g of protein per pound of body weight, so for an individual weighing 175 pounds it would make sense to split that accordingly. To break that up, this individual would focus on 40g of protein for each meal and a little over 25g protein over two snacks.
In summary, protein is a vital part of every health and fitness-related goal. By focusing on adding versus subtracting you eliminate the restrictive mindset and find more balance and freedom within nutrition. Focus on increasing your protein consumption by adding it to every meal and snack and using it to reduce overeating when cravings arise. That’s it!
There are too many people attempting to reach specific goals with strict diets that don’t last. It’s time to stop trying the same thing over and over again with little to no long-term success! I feel confident that if you ditch the strict diets and meal plans that lack balance and instead, adopt a personalized approach focusing on one thing at a time—in this case, protein—you’ll be successful. Add a coach whose focus is to create a plan specific to your needs, lifestyle, and personal goals while also providing support in other areas of your life, and the possibilities are endless. Reaching any goal related to health, body composition and fitness is like a puzzle consisting of many different pieces. Having an expert coach navigate all the pieces with you in a way that promotes long-term adherence while promoting autonomy and personal accountability is the only path that creates long-lasting results.
If you are ready to stop spinning your wheels, reach out to a Central Athlete professional coach today!