Protein Confusion: Your Questions Answered!

Let?s face it?nutrition can be so confusing! There are grams of this, percentages of that, do eat this, don?t eat that, do eat this at this time, don?t eat it at that time…and on and on and on. And since nutrition is pretty much the most important component of reaching any health and fitness goal, it can get downright frustrating when you?re trying to achieve those goals and can?t seem to figure out the best way to do it food-wise! And protein? Yeah…it can definitely be confusing. If you?re a fellow wannabe protein professional, you want the answers to these popular protein-related questions…NOW!

What is it?
Why is it so important?
When should I eat it?
How much should I eat?

First up, the protein basics.

What is protein, why is it so important, and when should I eat it?

While NO macro is the most important one, protein is definitely up there on the list…in my top three (wink, wink). Every single part of our bodies is made up of protein?from our skin to our muscles and organs. Without protein, we would not exist! For this reason ALONE, it’s crystal clear why adequate protein in our diets is so necessary. Besides being the foundation of our existence, it has so many important functions in our bodies:

  • Like I said, every single cell in our bodies contains protein, so consuming the right amount of this vital nutrient is crucial!
  • Protein contains many vital vitamins and minerals (those micronutrients) including vitamin E, magnesium, iron, zinc, and the B vitamins?all of which your body needs to function properly.
  • Besides muscles, it also helps build bones, cartilage, skin, and blood, as well as hair, nails, enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals.
  • Not only is protein a body builder, but it?s also a body repairer! Protein is so powerful!

Believe it or not, protein is the most immediately satiating macronutrient. What does that mean? Simply put, protein will make you feel full immediately after eating it. For this reason, Chris and I have a rule in our home: Protein first at each meal. This keeps all of us from overindulging in the easy-to-overdo carbs (and junk foods, when we eat them!). And if you follow any of our carb cycling plans, you will notice that we eat protein at every. single. meal.

Wondering about some good sources for protein? Here you go:

  • Dairy: cottage cheese, eggs, egg whites, egg substitutes, Greek yogurt
  • Meat: chicken, duck, ostrich, turkey, beef, buffalo, elk, venison, pork (always choose those lean cuts)
  • Seafood: catfish, halibut, lobster, salmon, shrimp, tilapia, tuna
  • Vegan: tempeh, texturized vegetable protein (TVP), tofu

And here?s another awesome protein option! If you follow me and Chris at all on social media, you?ll often see us chugging down a protein shake. Let?s get real…we?re SUPER busy (hence, the chugging πŸ˜‰ ), and a protein shake can be an easy, delicious, and nutritious way to fill in that protein gap in our nutrition programs.

How Does Protein Powder Factor In? And When Should You Use It?

You?ve probably heard about protein shakes and meal replacement shakes, so what?s the difference between the two? Great question!

Click here to shop our Perform Whey Protein Isolate Shake

  • A protein shake (like our Perform Whey Protein Isolate Shake) serves as the protein portion of a meal, and to create a complete meal, you?d add a carb, or a fat, or both.
  • A meal replacement shake (like our Everyday Low Carb Meal Replacement Shake) is exactly that?it replaces an entire meal. With our shakes, the shake alone can be a complete low carb meal, and we have several delicious flavors too!

What?s a low carb meal? Check out our carb cycling basics here!

In general, we recommend consuming (or chugging!) two protein or meal replacement shakes a day since we also want to make sure we?re getting most of our nutrients from whole foods.

While it?s important to eat enough protein, it’s also important that we don’t over consume this macro. A surplus of protein in the body can put unnecessary stress on your kidneys, dehydrate you, cause gout, and back up your digestive system, which leads us into the next question…

How much protein should I consume?

The amount of protein your body needs is dependent on a handful of things:

  • Your body weight and height
  • The amount of muscle mass you carry
  • Your activity levels
  • Your goals.
A nice rule of thumb for the average person is to eat 80% of your body weight in grams of protein.

We say 80% because we are attempting to feed the lean muscle mass in your body. If you are 150 lbs, then 120 grams of protein a day is a safe number to shoot for. If you are 200 lbs, then 160 grams a day should work for you. Now keep in mind…we ONLY want to feed the muscle mass on our bodies, so if you happen to carry a little extra body fat, you should estimate the pounds of muscle mass on your body and feed JUST that part of you. For example: You weigh 400 lbs, and you know you are about 45% body fat (180 lbs) and 55% lean muscle mass (220 lbs). In this case, Chris and I would feed you 176 grams of protein a day (220 x .80). Easy peasy!

And here?s another rule of thumb: According to the experts, the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR), which is a safe and effective range for protein intake, is 10-35% of daily calories, depending on your goals.

Still confused?! Here is the easiest way to remember just how much protein (and carbs + fats!) to eat at every meal.

We call it the Palm, Fist, Thumb Rule!? At each meal:

  • your protein should be about the size of your palm
  • carbs about the size of a closed fist
  • fats about the size of your thumb

For example, my not-so-guilty pleasure food?chicken and waffles! One of these chicken breasts and 2 of these waffles was my meal. I ate my lean protein first (the grilled chicken) then finished out my meal with the carbs my body needs. Make sense?!

Heidi, what is your daily protein consumption?

I personally consume 120 grams of protein a day. This is a bit higher than recommended above, but if you?ll remember, protein consumption also depends on your own personal goals. My goals are to build muscle and increase my mass. I currently weigh in at 116 lbs, of which 100-105 lbs of my weight may be lean mass (Side note: ?lean mass? includes bone, organs, tissue, blood, etc., in addition to muscle). For a sedentary or lightly active lifestyle, or one where I wanted to simply maintain my current weight, I would probably eat 100-105 grams of protein a day. Since I am still trying (like heck) to increase my muscle mass, my daily protein intake is a bit higher at 120 grams a day.

Protein Problems: I’m confused by how much to eat of which foods!

Protein sources can be a bit confusing, especially when the amount of protein in 3 ounces of this equals the same amount in 5 ounces of that! And when you add protein powders into the equation, it?s nearly impossible to know off the top of your head (when you don?t have your scale handy) how many ounces of lean meat, or how many eggs, or how much protein powder you need to eat to get in all those grams of protein you need.

MyFitnessPal has been my best friend over the past few years, giving me ALL of the info I could possibly need to know on protein portions. While I am going to give you a simple portion equivalent guide below to some common protein sources, I still highly recommend you download a calorie counting app to help you throughout the day.

Alrighty, these portions are approximate equivalents for 21-26 grams of protein:

  • 3 ounces of fish: Checkbook cover
  • 3 ounces of lean meat (chicken, extra-lean ground turkey, extra-lean beef): Smartphone or deck of cards
  • 1 scoop of protein powder: Golf ball
  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt: Baseball

While all of this information may be a lot to consume (pun intended), rest assured that practice makes perfect…and it even took ME years to figure it all out. Even at that, I am still learning, so know that you?re not alone in all of this protein confusion. We WILL become protein pros?together!


Related reading:

Protein Powder: It?s Not Just for Shakes Anymore!
Eating with Macros: A Day in the Life
Macro Tracking For the Win! All of Your Questions Answered

22 Responses

  1. Great information! I was wondering how you balance protein bars/powders with real foods. I feel like a majority of my protein comes from those, is it bad that I?m not getting more of it from dairy and meat products?

    1. Hi Kassidi: Great question! We recommend you drink no more than 2 protein shakes per day, and the same could apply to protein bars or a combo of the two. Meal planning, especially doing repeat meals throughout the week, can be super helpful to make sure you’re getting in all your nutrients from whole foods as much as possible. Hope that helps! πŸ™‚

  2. Hi Heidi! I just joined your tranform app today and was wondering how to select the best protein powder for the shakes?!

    1. Hi Suzanne: Welcome to the app! In general, we recommend low fat (less than 3g), low carb (less than 5g), with 20-25g of protein per serving. Other than that, go with what you like best! We hope you love the app! πŸ™‚

  3. Hey Team Powell,

    So I totally get what this article says, my target is 130lb I?m under 140lb now and like Heidi I?ve always felt a bit more suits me so I usually target 120-130. But I?ve downloaded the app and on Women?s Physique 1 – Lean and Shreddded it?s coming out as 155g and 179g protein depending on the day. I know it?s not impossible to do, just thinking it?s not quite right? Thoughts? Thanks Al.

    1. Hi Al: We’ve learned that you actually need more protein than you think, especially on the Physique program. I’d trust the process for a couple of weeks, and then go from there. We use algorithms that work in combo with you and your biometrics and your goals. Be sure and do your weekly progress updates too. We hope you love the app!

  4. Hello there?s a lot of foods in the app I don?t have because of the family size so I try to get what everyone will like so as far as following the nutrition plan would you suggest just going with the macros that you have listed for me because I?m not following most of the nutrition foods that you have listed on your app. Do you think there will be a time when you can add in your own foods like single foods versus meals. For instants if I have a turkey sandwich on a flatbread with lettuce and cheese or what is in the meals just not the exact meal you have do you get what I?m saying ha ha….. thank you for your time

    1. Hi Lisa: Yes, you can go by the recommended macros in your app nutrition program, and we’re working on the option for you to enter your own foods too! Stay tuned – we’re hoping to release this 2.0 version of the app soon!

  5. How many scoops of protein powder would you recommend as the max for the day? I?m doing the transform app and I want to have it for 3 of my meals and want to make sure that?s ok!

    1. Hi Dana: If at all possible, we recommend sticking to 2 shakes a day and concentrate on whole foods for the rest of your meals. πŸ™‚

  6. Heidi I just signed up for Transform. Could you tell me what protein powder you use? I have never used one and there are so many to choose from. Thank you.

    1. Hi Sue: Welcome to the app! We recommend low fat (less than 3g), low carb (less than 5g), with around 20-25g of protein per serving. Other than that, go with what you like best! πŸ™‚

  7. Hi I am considering your transform program.
    I have been eating clean organic Non Gmo for about 5 years. I quit smoking and drinking now for years. I lost 90lbs and I am at 300lbs-307lbs for the last year. I work out and lift weights. I am so frustrated not losing anymore and doing all the right things. Please tell me if I go with the program I am able to still eat clean.
    I am always so sore and I know I have to take this weight off. I just turned 57 and I am working like a fool because everyone around me is so sick and I am so healthy but fat. UGH!!!

    1. Hi Julie: Yes, you should be able to follow the Transform app and eat clean. You can do this! πŸ™‚

  8. Thank you for this article. Macros in general can confusing and overwhelming. This is why stepped back for a few weeks, because I was stressing over what to eat, when to eat and how to eat. I am now ready to get back to it. I have a goal to be lean and run my first 10k next year.

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