I doubled my protein intake for a month, and it made me *way* stronger
Let’s talk about protein. It’s a macronutrient, an essential part of the human diet, and it’s probably the thing you hear muscle heads talking about at the gym. When it comes to how your protein intake affects your body, it’s often difficult to separate truth from fact.
I stick to a mostly-vegetarian diet. That sounds healthy, but oftentimes it isn’t. When I was at the height of my depression, working 50+ hours a week at a demanding job, and doing basically nothing to take care of myself, that meant I would eat a free donut or three at work, drink a lot of coffee, and have takeout for dinner. My self-confidence and general self-love tanked during this two-year period: I had no energy, I couldn’t fit into my favorite clothes, and felt generally hopeless most of the time.
I needed a change, so I embarked on my very own fitness journey.
For the first two months, I stuck with what I know: Cardio and a relatively healthy plant-based diet. This went pretty well for me, but I realized I wasn’t doing anything to truly strengthen my body.
I began researching the ways I could alter my diet to get maximum results and feel healthier than ever. Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the recommendations I saw the most was to drastically increase my protein intake and combine that with regular weight lifting instead of just cardio.
A study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine claims that increased protein levels, when consumed while doing regular strength training, led to enhanced muscle mass and performance. Another study from McMaster University compared two groups of men doing the same workout routine, with one consuming double the protein of the other. At the end of the trial period, the high-protein group had higher muscle mass and performance than the low-protein group.
The science was there. More protein, more muscle.
Here’s why I decided to go for it:
I knew that this time around, I had to be body positive while making changes to be healthier. That meant “weight loss” or “fat loss” could NOT be my goal – my objectives needed to be getting stronger and feeling better.
So instead of continuing with cardio-only and cutting calories (the only way I’d ever learned how to lose weight prior to this), I decided to lift weights instead, as well as double my protein intake from about 50 grams to about 100 grams per day.
And, well, it worked. I did get stronger. And my body changed, a lot, in about six weeks.
This is how I did it:
In order to make sure I was getting 100 grams of protein a day, I had to do a lot of pre-planning. In the mornings, I would input what I planned to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks into a fitness tracker app, which would tell me approximately how much protein I would consume that day. Then, I knew if I needed to bring food with me in order to eat enough protein while I was out of the house.
Here’s what a typical day of eating looked like for me:
Protein Shake with 2 scoops of organic, plant-based protein powder from Orgain
Apple or Banana
Protein: 21 grams
Hardboiled egg and half cup of almonds
Protein: 10 grams
five ounces of grilled chicken, one cup of rice, veggies
Protein: 52 grams
half cup greek yogurt, fruit
Protein: 12 grams
A typical plant-based dinner of mine, typically veggies/beans/grains, curry, pasta, etc;.
Protein: 10~ grams
TOTAL PROTEIN CONSUMED: About 105 grams
Science says that higher protein consumption is most effective if you’re regularly working out, so I knew regular trips to the gym were in order.
In the interest of simplicity, I decided to work out three days a week, lifting weights for a different muscle group each day. This gave my muscles plenty of time to rest and recover, and gave me enough free time that I didn’t feel like it was taking over my life.
Gym days consisted of 10 minutes of cardio at the beginning and end of each workout, with about 40 minutes of weight-lifting in between. I was almost always in and out of the gym in an hour.
My goal was to get stronger and feel better, and I succeeded! I honestly feel like a changed woman. After just six weeks, I look forward to getting up early to go work out, because I have so much more energy on the days I do.
In this time, I’ve gone from being unable to do a single pushup to being able to do 10 (and not on my knees!). I am much less sore in the days after a workout than I was when I started. I’m also going on hikes on the weekend without getting incredibly winded. Most importantly, I have my energy back and feel like I’m in control of my life. That’s a beautiful feeling.
Will I keep it up? To a point. I believe in flexibility and moderation, so I’m happy to embrace slower results if it means I can enjoy a wider variety of foods. I plan to stick to my plant-based protein shakes in the morning, because they’re so portable and keep me full until late morning, which has been really convenient (and much cheaper than my old habit of trekking daily to the coffee shop near work).
In the end, I’m glad I realized consuming 100 grams of protein a day really isn’t that hard – it just takes a little planning.