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How to Increase Protein Intake: 7 Tips from Dietitians – Runner’s World

4 minutes, 54 seconds Read

One main macronutrient that should have a prominent place in every person’s diet is protein. Protein plays a crucial role in processes like tissue repair, exercise recovery, muscle building, and injury prevention—all super important to runners.

In fact, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) recommends that endurance athletes, like runners, consume between 1.3 to 2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, or 0.6 to 1.1 grams per pound. For example, a 140-pound runner would need anywhere from 84 to 154 grams of protein daily. That can feel like a large number for many. And if you’re struggling to hit your protein needs on the regular, you’re not alone. Even supplementing food with protein powders doesn’t always do the trick.

To help you fill up on this muscle-building macronutrient, we spoke with three registered sports dietitians to lay out some simple tips on how to increase your protein intake.

1. Keep Your Daily Numbers in Mind

Rather than obsess over a single number of grams of protein that you’re trying to have at each meal, consider a range. “I advise clients to identify their personal range for daily protein needs rather than a single number,” says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, board certified sports dietician, owner of Kelly Jones Performance Nutrition, based in Newton, Pennsylvania.

The first step is to identify the total amount you need based on your lifestyle (use that IAAF guideline of 0.6 to 1.1 grams per pound bodyweight). “From there, it can be helpful to determine ranges to eat at each meal and snack time, depending on how many meals and snacks per day you eat,” explains Jones.

For example, if you’re aiming for 100 grams of protein per day, you might have about 30 grams at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus a snack with 10 grams of protein.

2. Eat Protein Throughout the Day

Try not to just consider your protein during certain meals, like lunch and dinner. Instead, a helpful way to get in more protein is by continuously having it in all meals and snacks throughout the whole day.

“Instead of just having a bagel or cereal and milk for breakfast, add an egg to your bagel with ham, turkey, or salmon, and cottage or ricotta cheese, or swap the milk for Greek yogurt with cereal,” suggests Leslie Bonci, M.P.H., R.D.N., certified sport dietitian and owner of Active Eating Advice, and sports dietician for the Kansas City Chiefs, based in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. “After a run, don’t just have a piece of fruit or a cereal bar, but instead add nut butter to your banana or apple, and pick a bar with a high protein count.”

3. Make Sure to Consume Enough Calories

Just because you’re focusing on getting protein doesn’t mean you should ignore your overall total calorie count, let alone skimp on it. “Be sure to consume enough total calories to prevent the protein you eat from being burned for fuel, which can pull protein away from muscle maintenance, healing, and recovery,” says Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., R.D., board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, based between New York City and Los Angeles. “If you’re confused about how many calories you should consume, talk to a registered dietitian who can personalize this info based on your training schedule and goals.”

4. Prepare High-Protein Snacks

Quite often when we think of snacks, we think of simple foods like a bag of chips, a piece of fruit, or a muffin. Rethink the way you look at these smaller meals by making it a point to always include protein in your snack.

“Add a hummus or bean dip with your crackers or chips, put almond or peanut butter on your apple, and consider adding yogurt and peanut powder onto your muffin,” suggests Bonci. You’d be surprised how much fuller you feel, too!

5. Consider a Go-To Protein Powder

Traditionally, protein powders are bought and used to create shakes or smoothies—but think beyond beverages. “Use plain, unflavored, unsweetened plant protein powders to add protein to savory dishes, like blended soups, mashed cauliflower, hummus, homemade veggie burgers, and pizza crust,” suggests Sass. You’ll increase your protein intake without changing the flavor of the dish.

6. Reach for Plant-Based Proteins

While we’re not suggesting you go completely plant-based, there may be some justification for choosing some plant-based protein foods over other protein sources. “One-third of a 16-ounce package of organic, extra-firm tofu provides 23 grams of protein, about the same amount as 4 ounces of chicken breast, and it’s even more versatile,” explains Sass. “You can blend tofu into a smoothie, add it to overnight oats, scramble it in place of eggs, add it to salads, stir fries, tacos, and veggie chili, or incorporate it into desserts, like vegan pudding.”

Allergic to soy? Sass suggests looking for tofu made from pumpkin seeds, “which provides 17 grams of protein per 4-ounce serving.” And tofu is just one of many plant-based protein options; you can also opt for beans, lentils, or tempeh.

7. Have Protein Toppers on Hand

Keep small but protein-packed foods in your kitchen. “I like pistachios, peanut butter, peanut powder, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, cheese, roasted chickpeas, and edamame,” says Jones. “Add a few tablespoons of these toppers to dishes such as oatmeal, pancakes or waffles, toast, salads, grain bowls, and even soups or stews for an additional 3 or more grams of protein, plus anti-inflammatory fats and gut-supportive fiber.”

Amy Schlinger is a health and fitness writer and editor based in New York City whose work has appeared in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, The New York Post, Self, Shape, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and more; The National Academy for Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-CPT) is extremely passionate about healthy living and can often be found strength training at the gym when she isn’t interviewing trainers, doctors, medical professionals, nutritionists, or pro athletes for stories. 

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