Following A High(er) Protein Diet
I increased my protein for 3 weeks & this is what happened
It has been a very long time since I counted calories, macros, or anything close to. For years, I relied on MyFitnessPal to tell me exactly how many calories I should be eating, and I ignored everything else. I didn't necessarily care about where the calories were coming from, rather I just focused on eating less than my recommended daily amount. I personally struggled with finding a balance and building a healthy relationship with food while on a number driven diet; I became obsessive, restrictive, and incredibly unhappy.
Counting calories did teach me a lot about the basics of nutrition though, and how simple it can be to manipulate the body's weight. It brought a newfound awareness to food, my personal diet and my eating habits. As mentioned, it has been years since I have actually counted calories, but I am aware of calories every single day - and that is okay. In fact, it is something that I encourage most people who are looking to live a healthier lifestyle, to also be aware of. Counting calories and macronutrients are not the end all be all measurements of health; however, they will give you a better understanding of both basic nutrition and how our body uses the food that we eat.
After finding what works for me and being comfortable in my ways, for what seems like forever, Chad and I decided to challenge ourselves to making sure we consume a given amount of protein every single day. This came about after Chad jokingly mentioned that he wondered what 400 grams of protein, per day, would do for his body. I innocently laughed along, but deep down I knew he would be extreme determined enough to go for it. For those of you who don't know, Chad is a nationally ranked, raw powerlifter and his body can tolerate and benefit from a very high amount of protein. Me on the other hand, I'm just Hanna - you know, the healthiest me - and I'm certainly not going to consume 400 grams of protein a day.
The thought of a little self-experiment by increasing my overall daily protein intake while working out 3-4 times a week, did however interest me. Over the last few years, I've definitely found a routine that works best for me; I managed to not only lose the 25+ pounds that I gained, but I have also maintained a healthy body weight while slowly increasing my overall strength. By no means am I unhappy with my current diet or body image; but in my opinion, switching things up and trying something new can be fun. Before moving on, I want to reiterate that this is just a simple experiment to see how my body reacts to a little more protein throughout the day. By no means am I following a Keto diet or strictly high protein diet. And what works (or doesn't work) for me, might not work for you! As always, you have to do what works best for you.
I'm sharing my experience in hopes that more woman will feel comfortable consuming protein in their diets. There is such a negative stigma around protein and building muscle in fear of "bulking" up, so I'm here to clear some of those things up. Before we dive int my new routine, let me start by saying that I do currently consume protein at every meal. I'm not going from a low protein diet to a high protein diet, rather I am simply making sure I get enough protein in throughout the day. The biggest difference is the tracking aspect of it all. I normally just wing it and guesstimate my overall protein and calorie consumption for the day. Before my experiment, I would say that number was around 70-80 grams of protein, while consuming 1,600-1,800 calories per day.
For the next few weeks, my plan is to increase my protein intake from 70-80 grams per day, to 120-140 grams of protein per day. The twenty gram range is for days that I either go to the gym or do not go to the gym; I will aim for the higher number after a strength workout and the lower number on rest days or low impact days. Also, I plan on adding in more protein with nutritious and wholesome foods, and only relying on a protein shake/bar if needed. I don't want anyone getting the wrong impression; I never rely solely on synthetic protein for my main source of protein. REAL food always comes first.
The Start + What I Eat In A Day
Day 1 started on Sunday, May 27th, after a long leg day at the gym. After committing to both each other and our experiment, I was well on my way to consuming 120-140 grams of protein per day, while maintaining a daily caloric intake of 1,600-1,800 calories.
My body weight was around 130 pounds, which is a little heavier than where I feel most comfortable, but by no means does this number define my overall health. This was actually the first time I weighed myself in a while, and mainly for the sake of this experiment. At this point, I felt like my daily choices weren't always the best and I was really excited to use the next few weeks as a way to reel things back in.
Along with the changes being made in my diet, I plan on getting to the gym for strength training 3 times a week, and incorporating light cardio 2-3 times a week. It is important to put all of this protein to good use! Over the next week, I wrote down everything I ate, along with the grams of protein in each meal. Breakfast and lunch is pretty routine throughout the week, but dinner does change nightly. However, the structure of the meal (protein, veggie, healthy carb) tends to stay the same. Here's a look at my typical day of eating during the week:
Breakfast: 7:00 am
Banana Protein Smoothie - 2 scoops of protein, 1/2 frozen banana, 1 tbsp. natural peanut butter, handful of spinach and water | 40 grams of protein
Lunch: 12:30 pm
Chicken Salad - 5 oz. grilled chicken, spinach, cucumber, and radish with ACV | 30 grams of protein
3 Hard Boiled Egg Whites | 11 grams of protein
Snack: 4:00-4:30 pm
Protein Shake - 1.5 scoops of protein in water | 27 grams of protein
Dinner: 7:45 pm
Ground Turkey Tacos - 8 oz. lean ground turkey, sweet potato fries, corn, and fresh salsa | 32 grams of protein
Fruit - cantaloup, apple, or mango
Total Protein: 140 grams
As you may notice, my days are long and my meals are typically pretty spread out; breakfast is very early during the work week, and dinner is usually between 7:45 and 8 o'clock at night. I do eat full meals throughout the day, but I also need a mid day snack to keep me from stuffing my face after I get home from work. Adding in a protein shake during this time was the easiest way to have that snack, calm my cravings, and reach my protein goal for the day.
From the first week, I quickly realized how easy it was to get in enough protein throughout the day. Although the protein shake did add an extra 27 grams, I felt like I could've gone without it if need be. However, it was a huge help in making sure I didn't snack on unhealthy options that I tend to crave after work.
Weekly Progress + Noticeable Differences
As mentioned, I started this plan on a Sunday, which is probably my hardest strength day. I also train first thing Monday morning, with what feels like back to back hard workouts. During these two days, getting in enough protein never seems like an issue; I always have a protein shake after the gym and usually a protein ball or bar at night for dessert. Tuesday through Thursday are working days, and I normally only get in light cardio. This is when I was most curious as to how I would feel on a higher protein regimen throughout the day.
The first and most noticeable change was in my satiety, or feeling full. I normally reach for a snack in-between breakfast and lunch, and again before dinner, but I had zero desire during these few weeks. After having a bigger protein shake in the morning or even doubling up on egg whites, I actually felt like I could make it from meal to meal without being hungry or unsatisfied. I am definitely an "eat when you're bored" type of person, but I didn't even want anything because I always felt so full.
I will say, after having an afternoon protein shake, my fullness was a bit uncomfortable. I don't want to say it was a bloated or sick feeling, but it wasn't as comfortable as eating a few extra eggs, chicken, or even a protein bar. This was really the only downfall of having the extra protein shake, but I did continue drinking it every day.
Within the first few days, I truly did not notice much of a difference in my physical appearance or how I felt overall. It wasn't until the end of the first week/start of the second week that I began feeling more toned and less bloated. I decided to weight myself and much to my surprise, my weight did not fluctuate at all. I was still around 130.3 pounds, and that was totally fine in my book.
I saw and felt the biggest differences in the gym. Going into the second week of higher protein, I felt stronger than I ever have in my entire life. Not so much in the energy sense, but more so in the "Oh, I'm actually using my muscles" sense. For the first time in a long time, I felt like my workouts were actually doing what they were supposed to be doing! Whether coincidence or not, I managed to hit a bench PR (which never happens on bench), a pull up PR, and my legs didn't feel like a baby giraffe when front squatting. I don't want to say it too soon, but I honestly feel like my body wasn't getting enough protein all along. I constantly felt muscle fatigue (and burning) throughout my entire workout, I could never make that mind and muscle connection, and my progress was never consistent.
The first two noticeable differences included two very important goals of mine: 1. Enjoy and feel satisfied after three whole meals a day, and 2. Grow stronger every day. At the end of the day, I will love my body no matter what shape, size, or number on the scale. Increasing my overall protein intake has helped me refocus my goals and begin to feel really confident in my own skin again. So far I feel like I have control over my snacking and 'eating when I'm bored' habit, I feel like my gym time is well worth it and my body is stronger than ever, and I feel like I better understand the importance of protein in the diet.
Final Thoughts + Our Future Together
I wanted to give my body enough time to adapt to a higher protein diet before making any conclusions. This experiment started out as a one week test, but I honestly can't say that much changed in one week. It wasn't until weeks two and three, and 5-8 sessions in the gym, that I really began to notice a difference in my body.
After three weeks of increasing and tracking my protein, I've learned a few things about eating habits, building strength, and weight loss as a whole:
If you constantly feel like you're reaching for a snack or maybe even binging after work, there's a good chance that you're not eating enough of the good stuff at each meal.
Protein keeps you full. End of story. I could not have made it from meal to meal without having a source of protein. My afternoon protein shake was the exception, and because it only added 150 calories to my daily intake, I was totally fine with that.
If you want to increase your strength, you must consume enough protein. It doesn't matter if you go to a powerlifting gym, Crossfit gym, or barre class every other day. Building muscle and physically getting stronger involves protein!
"Toned," muscular, slim, less fluffy - whatever you want to call it - only happens when you reduce your overall body fat and increasing your muscle mass. By doing so, you must reduce your caloric intake (in order to actually lose weight) and increase your protein intake (to build the muscle). This is by far the hardest body manipulation to achieve because technically you need excess calories to grow, even muscle, but you are trying to reduce calories for fat loss. Adding in more protein into the diet while maintaining a caloric intake will not cause fat gain. Although the scale may not change, your overall muscle tone and strength will. If this is inline with your goals, then by all means, increase that protein!
Every body is different. Everyone requires a different amount of protein depending on their body, their activity levels, and their goals. The best way to find what works for you is to experiment with a few different things. If you feel like you don't consume enough protein, start by adding in one source at every meal. For breakfast, have eggs or a protein shake. For lunch, have eggs or 6 oz. of chicken. For dinner, have eggs, 6 oz. of chicken, or 6 oz. of fish. If you're wondering whether or not you consume enough protein to compliment your goals, focus on including protein at every meal, maybe even a protein shake for a snack, and then go from there.
Increasing protein does not necessarily indicate weight loss. My starting weight was 130.6 and my ending weight was 130.3. In three weeks, I didn't lose a single pound, and that is more than okay. The scale is not something that I use to measure my goals, and certainly not something that I use to judge my body. I am proud of this 130 pound frame and every single slice of pizza that I do not miss out on! Feeling good in your own skin has nothing to do with the number on the scale. Feeling good in your own skin has everything to do with crushing your goals, whether that means hitting a new PR in the gym, running a mile without stopping, or simply cooking at home four nights a week. No, I did not "lose weight" over the last few weeks, but I did increase my strength and my right butt cheek may have gotten a little bit bigger. Only kind of joking.
As I'm wrapping up the final few days, I've been thinking a lot about whether or not I will continue on with this higher protein/tracking my protein diet. Tracking macros and counting calories are two "diets" that I will gladly never be apart of again. However, just as I mentioned earlier, being aware of calories and macronutrients can be incredibly helpful whenever you're feeling stuck.
I will continue to consume 120-140 grams of protein a day, while maintaining an overall consumption of 1,600-1,800 calories per day. As I continue to go to the gym 3 times a week, incorporate some light cardio 3-4 times a week, and remain busy on my feet at work - having enough protein is crucial for me and my goals. I would be lying if I said this experiment hasn't opened my eyes to the reality of protein in the body. You know - learning about it in school and telling people is one thing - actually feeling the benefits and watching your body change, is another.
I am happy to say, over the last few weeks on increasing my protein, I did not "bulk up" or grow chin hairs. The chin hairs were already there.
Only kind of kidding, again.
As women, we are taught and told that having a slim and skinny figure, defines our beauty. We are expected to always be on the latest and greatest diet and talk about how badly we wish to lose those "last few pounds." By doing so, we tend to neglect the foods that are most beneficial, punish ourselves after one slice of cheesecake on a Saturday night, over-work our bodies at every cardio class available, and build an incredible amount of anxiety and stress around it all. After three weeks on a male-dominate diet, I can honestly say I have never felt like more of a strong, powerful, and confident woman.
I hope you enjoyed following along on my journey over the last few weeks. I was thrilled to see so many people interested in what a higher protein diet looks like and can do for the body. As always, if you have any questions regarding my experience - please leave me a comment below or even email me directly!
If you're interested in figuring out whether or not you consume enough protein in the day, what higher protein meals look like, or even one on one mentoring, feel free to sign up for a free initial consultation! Take the guess work out of the mix and let me craft your very own plan, catered to your lifestyle and your goals.