Updated: Jan 5
Why your body needs protein
Protein is found in every single cell in your body – in your muscles, skin, hair, bones, tissues – and plays numerous essential roles. As a key ‘building block’ of the body, it contributes to the growth and repair of tissues, bones, muscles, cartilage, hair and skin.
Protein also helps to make hormones and enzymes, carries oxygen and nutrients through the body and provides the body with approximately 10 to 15% of its dietary energy. Protein is especially important for healthy growth and development during pregnancy and childhood.
Protein is one of the three macronutrients, alongside carbohydrates and fats. These are the three major nutrient groups that your body needs to survive and perform its basic functions. Your body needs fairly large quantities of these three macronutrients in order to perform its basic functions; hence the name ‘macro’, which means large.
Here are five compelling reasons why you should make sure you are getting enough protein every day:
1. Build. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage and skin. In fact, your hair and nails are comprised mostly of protein.
2. Repair. Your body uses it to build and repair tissue.
3. Oxygenate. Red blood cells contain a protein compound that carries oxygen throughout the body. This helps supply your entire body with the nutrients it needs.
4. Digest. About half the dietary protein that you consume each day goes into making enzymes, which aids in digesting food, and making new cells and body chemicals.
5. Regulate. Protein plays an important role in hormone regulation, especially during the transformation and development of cells during puberty.
How protein can help you stay in shape
Eating high-protein foods has many fitness benefits, including:
Speeding recovery after exercise and/or injury
Reducing muscle loss
Building lean muscle
Helping maintain a healthy weight
Did you know that protein
Reduces your appetite: In studies, a high-protein diet has been shown to increase the levels of three appetite-reducing hormones and reduce ghrelin levels (a hormone that makes you feel hungry). Protein also takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, so it can keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Helps you to burn more calories: When you eat protein, 20–30% of the calories you consume are burned during digestion. This is significantly higher than carbs (5–10%) and fat (0–3%).
Increase muscle and strength: In a 2012 study, two groups followed a low-calorie diet. One group ate larger amounts of protein than the other. Both groups lost around the same amount of weight, but the higher protein group preserved significantly more lean muscle mass.
Improves your sleep: Studies show that eating a serving of protein before you go to sleep is linked to higher sleep quality.
How to increase your protein intake
1. Prioritise protein at every meal
One of the easiest ways to get more protein into your diet is to simply make it a priority at every single meal you eat.
If you’re tracking your nutrition, this could be as simple as splitting your daily protein target into 3 (or 4, if you’ll be including high-protein snacks), then making sure to reach that figure with every meal.
If tracking isn’t for you, that’s okay. Just try to include at least a palm-sized serving (but ideally two) of a high-protein food at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
2. Know your protein sources
You can’t increase your protein intake without knowing your high-protein foods! Switch it up between animal and plant-based proteins if you can – a varied diet is a healthy diet!
3. Increase your protein portion size
The easiest way to increase your protein intake? Power up your portion sizes.
If you eat 1 egg at breakfast, eat 2. Tend to cook 2 chicken breasts for 2 of you? Cook 3 and have 1.5 each instead. Normally split a block of tofu between 4? Split it between 2 next time.
By increasing your portion size slightly at each meal, you can significantly boost your protein intake without any extra effort.
4. Choose a high-protein breakfast
Traditional British breakfasts like toast, cereal or breakfast bars might be convenient, but don’t typically pack in much protein. Switching up your breakfast to include high-protein foods could instantly help you to increase your protein intake by 15g+ every day.
Greek yoghurt bowl with nuts, seeds & berries
2–3 scrambled eggs with veggies
Frittata or omelette with cheese
Protein pancakes made with eggs
Soy yoghurt bowl with nuts, seeds & berries
Scrambled tofu on multi-seed toast
Protein porridge (aka proats)
Chia seed pudding
5. Factor protein into your meal prep
If you've got no protein sources in the fridge after a busy day, your protein quota is bound to slip. As with any diet goal, the best way to increase your protein intake is to be prepared. Why not have a protein meal prep session once a week? You can prepare and cook extra portions of protein, like lean chicken, fish, egg and spinach pots, boiled edamame beans or baked tofu, and keep them stored in your fridge for the week ahead. That way, if you've got a busy day, you've always got an effortless source of protein to add to your lunches or dinners.
6. Add high-protein toppings to meals
No matter what you’re having for lunch or dinner, scattering a couple of tablespoons of seeds, nuts or nutritional yeast over your plate is an easy way to pack in more protein. It adds flavour and crunch, takes minimal effort and, by doing it at each meal, could easily add a welcome 10g+ of protein to your day.
Here are a few easy options to try:
2 tbsp nutritional yeast: 10g. 20g almonds: 10g
20g pumpkin seeds: 8.6g 20g peanuts: 5.2g
20g hemp seeds: 6.5g 20g pistachios: 4.2g
20g chia seeds: 6.2g 20g sunflower seeds: 4.2g
20g flax seeds: 8.4g 20g walnuts: 3g
7. Enjoy protein-powered smoothies
On days you’re in a rush or have enjoyed low-protein meals (it happens!), smoothies are a good way to top up your protein intake quickly and conveniently. Plus, if you use the right ingredients, they could bank you 20g+ of protein in a single glass.
If you’re having a smoothie in place of breakfast, try to include protein, healthy fats and fibre to ensure you’ll remain full and fuelled for the day ahead.
8. Eat your protein first
Did you know that protein can reduce your appetite? This is, in part, because protein naturally decreases your levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin. This is great if you're trying to lose weight or struggle with cravings – but not so great for your protein target if it means you can't finish your whole meal.
If you're someone who struggles to finish full meals but needs to get more protein into your diet, eat your protein first. That way, you'll still benefit from the full dose of protein, even if you can't finish a full plate.
9. Make savvy protein swaps
You don’t have to overhaul your diet to get more protein in – often, the simplest swaps are the easiest to sustain!
Making high-protein food swaps, whether in the kitchen or when snacking on the go, is an easy way to increase your protein intake while still enjoying your favourite meals and foods.
So consider swapping out the lower protein option for its higher protein (and equally delicious) alternative:
Plain/flavoured yoghurt (2g/100g) → Greek yoghurt (6g/100g)
Coconut yoghurt (1.2g/100g) → Soy yoghurt (4.6g/100g)
Oat milk (0.4g/200ml) → Soy milk (7g/200ml)
White rice (3g/125g) → Quinoa (7g/125g)
Soft cheese (2.5g/50g) → Cottage cheese (6g/50g)
10. Pick high-protein vegetables
Vegetables have protein? That’s right. While it’d be hard to meet your daily protein quota through everyday veggies alone, adding high-protein vegetables to your meals is a great way to boost your daily protein intake.
Vegetables are low in calories, so they’re also a handy way to add volume to your meals and leave you feeling satisfied for longer. Plus points? They’re packed with gut-loving fibre, essential micronutrients and antioxidants to help you feel your best. That’s why adding half a plate of vegetables to every meal is an all-around health winner!
It’s important to eat a wide range of vegetables, but prioritising those that are high in protein can help to boost your protein intake over the week. Here are some of the highest protein vegetables, along with their protein content per 100g:
Edamame: 14g Mushrooms: 3.1g
Green peas: 6g Spinach: 2.9g
Broad beans: 6g Kale: 2.9g
Cauliflower: 3.6g Broccoli: 2.8g
11. Choose protein-packed snacks
Snack time? You’d best start calling it protein time.
If you’re a serial snacker, choosing high-protein snacks is a golden opportunity to get more protein into your day-to-day routine. Opting for protein-packed snacks also means you’ll feel fuller for longer, especially if you’ve previously been used to reaching for sugary options.
Try these easy high-protein snacks – they’re easy, affordable and tasty, too.
A boiled egg
A stick of cheddar
A can of tuna
Veggie sticks with hummus or nut butter
Homemade protein balls
Roasted chickpeas or edamame
A handful of nuts or seeds