The first thing to consider about switching to a high protein diet is that maybe you shouldn't switch to a high protein diet. Protein supplements aren't a catch-all fitness hack. They won't melt fat off your frame. "You don't suddenly eat protein bars and poof, it works out for you, all the sudden you have six-pack abs," says Drew Logan, celebrity trainer and cast member on Strong. In fact, if getting leaner is your goal, "you could probably benefit from cutting back on some of the other crap you're eating and keeping the protein the same."
If you're an active person who exercises their muscles at least a few times a week, eating a steady, trainer-recommended dose of protein each day is a good call. You see, protein sets off a cellular reaction that helps your muscles heal after a workout breaks them down. And a healed, healthy body is much better equipped to achieve peak performance, weight loss, and muscle growth.
In short, protein won't do squat for you if you don't work out.
But if you do work out, and you are interested in healthy (and bigger) muscles and less body fat, Logan has some guidelines for protein intake and which supplements to choose. (For more advice, as well as healthy, chef-created meals that don't taste "like tree bark," check out his new book, 25Days.) Here's the breakdown.
How much protein to eat:
Like all things diet-related, protein intake depends on your weight, height, and fitness level. Based on average American weight and height, Logan recommends 20 grams of protein per meal for women and 30 grams for men. Snacks would be half of that: 10 grams of protein per snack for a woman, and 15 grams for a man. Of course, the more intense your fitness regime, the more protein your body needs.
Tip: The more intense your fitness regime, the more protein your body needs.
"I'm 6 feet tall, I weigh 215 pounds, and I'm 5 percent body fat. Clearly, I need more protein because of my genetics, my resting metabolic rate, and my activity level," says Logan. "For me, high protein is, for you, excessively obnoxious."
What time of day to eat protein:
"Let's say I wanted to lose 20 pounds," Logan says. (He doesn't.) "Then I would exercise every morning on an empty stomach."
Exercising before breakfast puts your body into immediate fat-burning mode because you haven't eaten any calories for it to burn through first. Then, for the rest of the day, it is in healing mode, when it needs protein-rich foods to rebuild broken-down muscle. It's during that healing process, called the anabolic effect, that muscles also grow.
Following that early morning workout, Logan suggests eating protein every four hours thereafter, more frequently if you're exerting more energy. To remind yourself it's time to replenish your body's protein supply, set alarms on your phone.
"If I'm on an extremely high training schedule, or I know I've got something I'm getting ready for, then I'm going to set those alarms for every three hours. I start it after I finish my breakfast, then every three hours the alarm goes off, and it's either time for a snack or a meal," he says. "If it's an off time for me, I might stretch it out to four or even five hours."
What kind of protein supplement to eat:
Protein comes in many forms. There's egg protein, whey protein, casein protein, soy protein, etc. Logan suggests staying away from soy protein, especially men, because it increases estrogen, which increases inflammation. Protein bars and shakes often blend proteins, but an ideal protein supplement will be a protein isolate, says Logan.
"It gets in your system faster, it's more highly absorbable, and it's more biologically available, which means the amount that you're taking in, the body can use more of. It's great for an immediate after-workout situation."
Tip: To remind yourself it's time to replenish your body's protein supply, set alarms on your phone.
The second thing to look for in a bar or shake is the sweetener, which should be either monk fruit or Stevia. "Neither one of these sweeteners affects your blood sugar level. All other sweeteners—fructose, saccharin—they all affect your blood sugar level," Logan says. Spiked blood sugar causes the pancreas to release insulin, and insulin is associated with weight gain.
The third thing to look for is a low-carb bar or shake—don't waste your carbs on a supplement. Get them in real food, like whole grains. Which leaves Logan's recommended bars: Quest bars and One bars, both of which are low on carbohydrates. Stash a few in your work bag or pick up one at the gym. They'll get your muscles healing.