Proteins are made up of carbon and hydrogen molecules arranged in specific ways. Proteins also contain nitrogen as part of their amino group.
When amino acids are joined together, they form what are called peptides or peptide chains. These peptide chains, or groupings of amino acids, make up the primary protein structure.
But most proteins aren’t just long chains of amino acids. Rather, these chains form secondary, tertiary, and quaternary structures. While each protein is considered a separate sub-unit, the entire protein structure (whether secondary, tertiary, or quaternary), is necessary for optimal function within the body.
Most proteins come in complex secondary, tertiary, and quaternary formation. However, because these proteins are digested into small peptides and amino acids, we evaluate protein quality based on amino acid content, not structural formations. In other words, in the diet, the primary structure, or the unique grouping of amino acids, is the most important.
The body has the ability to make 12 amino acids, known as non-essential amino acids. However, 8 amino acids can only be supplied by the diet. That’s why we call them essential amino acids.
Why protein is powerful
- Protein helps synthesize important hormones, including hormones that make us happy and relaxed.
- Protein supports our immune system.
- Protein boosts our metabolism; it helps us lose fat and stay lean for life.
- Protein helps us feel more satisfied with our meals.
- And most importantly: Protein helps build and repair almost every tissue in our bodies— including our muscles, connective tissues (such as tendons and ligaments), and bones.
More protein means better recovery, more muscle, less fat, and a stronger, healthier body.
Step 1: Know your protein sources
Here’s what we recommend:
- Lean meatsuch as beef, pork, or wild game
- Poultrysuch as chicken, turkey, or duck
- Fish & seafoodsuch as shrimp or scallops
- Eggs & egg whites
- Cottage cheeseor strained plain Greek yogurt
- Protein powdersuch as whey, egg, vegetarian blends, etc.
- Cooked lentils or beans
- Tempeh or tofu
Of course, other foods have some protein . . . it’s just that the foods above are the high-protein superstars.
Step 2: Try and include protein with each meal
Next, all you have to do is pick one protein from the above list and add it to every meal (at least your 3 main meals) you eat.
In other words, every meal must contain at least one of the above selections.
Mix and match however you want. Just stick to this list.
Have fun with the possibilities!
(Eggs for dinner? Beans at breakfast? Smoked salmon topped with cottage cheese? Why the heck not?! It’s protein party time!)
When to eat protein: Early and regularly
Wouldn’t it be easy if we could simply eat a giant steak (or a ton of tofu) in one sitting and just be done with it?
Alas, our bodies don’t work that way.
That’s why we need to spread our protein intake throughout the day and eat a little with every meal.
Handy tip! Having a solid serving of protein with breakfast will help control your appetite all day long. (Imagine… no more afternoon or night time munchies. That’s the power of protein.)
How to incorporate protein into your meals
Here are some ideas for adding lean protein to your daily routine.
Eggs are a convenient, versatile, high-quality source of protein and valuable nutrients. And they go with darn near everything.
Whether scrambled or made into something fancier, such as a frittata or an omelette, eggs offer a great way to use up leftover veggies or other protein in your fridge.
Got veggies? Got meat, poultry, fish, seafood, or tofu/tempeh? (Heck, you can use eggs too. Why not?) Got 10 minutes? Got a utensil to stir with? Then you’ve got a stir-fry!
Swap some seasonings, throw in some salsa, and maybe some black beans, and you’ve got Mexican.
On the grill
Fire up that outdoor grill or oven grill and slap some protein down.
We recommend seasoning it first with things like salt, pepper, fresh herbs, citrus, or any other low-sugar sauce.
Get creative! Try grilling it straight up, or getting fancy with skewers, satay, and kebabs.
Wrap it up
Here’s a quick 4-step plan for protein:
- Grab some protein (see the list above).
- Grab some veggies.
- Grab a little sauce, such as hummus, hot sauce, salsa, guacamole, or whatever else you like.
- Wrap it all up.
For an extra hit of vegetables, try lettuce or collard green wraps instead of a flat bread or tortilla wrap.
Top a salad
Got a salad? Great! Dump some protein on top!
Soups and stews
Whether it’s curry in a hurry or a slow-simmering winter stew, plop a bunch of toasty stuff in a bowl and enjoy.
There are so many ways to include protein into your meals, it really isn’t hard. Above are just a few examples of how to incorporate protein into your daily lives. Doing this on a regular basis will be one the biggest contributors to your goal, whether it is to lose weight, increasing muscle mass, enhance your performance or just overall health.
Believe in the process and enjoy the journey.
Team 4D Fit