How To Boost the Protein in Your Meals (while keeping fat low)
I began this post with the vegan and vegetarian in mind, as I realize that many of you are struggling to meet your daily protein goal. However, this information is as applicable to omnivores and flexitarians, especially if you consciously avoid animal protein at times. Prepared foods, rather heat and serve from the grocery store or dine out, are often low in protein. Getting adequate protein as a plant-based eater is possible. I eat a mostly vegan diet and consistently get in 145-160 grams of protein per day. However, not being aware of high protein plant foods or not having a plan for how to get in adequate protein can put you at risk for muscle loss, especially if you are eating in a deficit and working out regularly.
If you have received an Elite Nutrition Prescription then you know that the Elite Nutrition recommendations for those of you who are seeking fat loss is a bit higher than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of .8g/kg body weight. The Elite Nutrition Rx, for most, is designed to protect and increase muscle mass while you are eating in a deficit. This requires a protein goal that is at the higher end, but typically within, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
While the protein goals in the Elite Nutrition Rx can seem challenging for even some omnivores, it can be challenging for vegetarians, and especially vegans. Even I find it challenging, and I know food extremely well. But I don’t reach my goals by happenstance; I very strategically plan my intake to meet all of my macro goals.
Recently, I bought a vegan heat and serve soup from Costco, and with all of the snow outside, soup seemed perfect for today. The only problem was that the soup only offered 2g of protein per serving. I set out to boost the protein in the soup so that I could have it as my lunch for the week.
This is how I bolstered the protein content to make it suitable for my macro goals, specifically targeting protein.
Added 2 cans of pinto beans (42g Protein)
Added 6 tbsp (30g) of Nutritional Yeast (18g Protein)
Added 1 cup of Textured Vegetable Protein (48g Protein)
In addition, I seasoned the soup to my taste, and threw in a couple handfuls of kale. Check out the outcome below and compare it to my goals.
My Nutrition Rx goals for meals: 37g CARBS, 37g PRO, 8g FAT
Starting macros of the soup: 12g Net CARBS, 2g PRO, 1g FAT
Ending Macros: 36g Net CARBS, 30g PRO, 2g FAT
You will notice a few things about the protein boosted meal:
I was able to add 28g of protein, while only adding 1 additional gram of fat. Reducing the fat in your diet is perfectly doable if you are willing to assess your diet and make changes to food preparation methods and consider substitutions for some food selections.
My fat intake is way below goal for this meal. While it is acceptable to be below your fat goal, I would not recommend being this much below for every meal in a day. While my lunch tends to consistently offer only 1-3g of fat, I tend to go over my goal for snacks and dinner; a lower fat lunch allows my daily macros to balance. I try to stay at or slightly (1-3g) under my fat goal for the day.
I only take net carbs into consideration. Please ensure that your tracking app is set to track net carbs if this is a possibility. Net carbs = total carbs - fiber. Fiber is not digested or used for energy, it should be subtracted out of your carb goal daily. If you are not eating your goal in net carbs, you may be sacrificing protein to cover the missing carbs. This can result in muscle loss.
I am not concerned with hitting each goal perfectly. Don’t be overly rigid. Ensure that you are getting as close as you can, but you can always balance things out at a later meal/snack.
Every meal does not have to be a gourmet experience. My meals are tasty and satisfying, but they are rarely fussy.
These practices can be used by omnivore and plant-based eaters alike. Some other protein boosting tricks that I use include:
Batter foods in chickpea flour, nutritional yeast, or a combination of the both.
Use pureed beans to thicken sauces and stews instead of traditional thickeners, such as flour, and corn starch.
Add protein powder to food where possible, such as overnight oats with ½ scoop of protein powder. I also use a ready to drink protein as the liquid for my overnight oats. This boosts my oatmeal to 20 grams or more.
Add peanut butter powder to shakes, pancake mixes, oatmeal, or use it in any way you would traditionally use regular peanut butter. Peanut butter has approximately 8 grams of protein and 16g of fat for 2 tablespoons, while the peanut butter powders, typically have the same amount of protein for only 2 grams of fat.
Get it? Got it? GOOD!
No? Don’t got it?
If you would like to get a custom meal pattern that will assist you in reaching all of the macro goals in your Nutrition Rx, call today to schedule an initial consult or follow-up appointment.
Each food category in a meal pattern will have a corresponding list of foods that can be substituted in the provided quantities without greatly changing the macro balance for the meal.
For example, my lunch meal pattern is as follows:
2 Starches (15g of Carbohydrate each) 3 Non-Starchy Vegetables (1.5 c., Free food) 4 Very Lean Proteins (approx. 7 grams of low-fat protein each)
I typically eat beans and greens daily for lunch. Any bean, and any green vegetable will fit the above pattern. I can add a very lean meat substitute, such as seitan, or add TVP and Nutrition yeast, as I did in the soup.
If I wanted to completely abandon my usual lunch, I could use the same pattern and my substitute foods list to create an endless variety of meals, such as the following:
2 starches - 2/3 cup rice 3 Non-Starchy Vegetables – 1 ½ cup broccoli,… OR MORE. IT’S A FREE FOOD! 4 Very Lean Proteins – 128 g. BBQ Seitan (3), 1/3 scoop protein powder in iced coffee (1)
Meal patterns can be greatly beneficial to vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike, especially when you find that you are consistently struggling to get all of your macros within the recommended ranges. Or if you have to go over one macro to reach the goals in another.
Remember that my macro recommendations are designed to support muscle mass, provide adequate energy and encourage normal hormone function and, in most cases, encourage fat loss. Therefore, getting within range for all of your macros is equally important. I chose to focus exclusively on protein today because getting in enough of this particular macronutrient can be challenging for vegetarians, vegans, and even some omnivores.
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Patricia Ellis, MS, RDN, LD