Most people can benefit from eating more protein, from building more muscle to maintaining a healthy weight. Where to put that extra protein, though? Snack time is a great opportunity to eat more healthful foods and to increase protein intake.
Eating on the go is typical for most busy Americans, which often means reaching for whatever is convenient rather than healthy. Use these ideas to plan for protein-rich, filling, and satisfying snacks every day.
Why Is Protein So Important?
Protein is one of three macronutrients, along with fats and carbohydrates. It is essential to health and normal functioning. Protein molecules are long chains of amino acids, and they play several roles in the body:
Protein molecules provide structure, in skin, hair, bones, and muscle.
Proteins include enzymes, which catalyze chemical reactions.
Proteins send messages through the body, signaling between cells, tissues, and organs.
Smaller proteins include antibodies, essential to the immune system.
Proteins transport smaller molecules throughout the body.
Protein molecules are also involved in oxygen transportation, tissue repair, digestion, hormone regulation, and more.
Including protein in the diet is essential for basic functioning but choosing the right proteins in the right amounts benefits health in additional ways: building muscle, supporting a healthy pregnancy, and losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight.
Your clients may ask you about protein powders and amino acid supplements for weight loss. This guide to ammino acids explains it all so you can give the best advice.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
The U.S. RDA, Recommended Dietary Allowance, is pretty low for protein, just 46 grams per day for a woman between 31 and 50 and 56 grams for men in that age range. (1) This amounts to about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. It’s not difficult for most people to meet this recommendation, but is it enough?
The RDA for protein represents only about 10% of an individual’s daily calorie intake. The average American gets closer to 16% of calories from protein, and experts and researchers suggest this is still too low. Studies suggest that protein calories should range between 15% and 25% of daily calories. (2)
People who should aim for the higher end of this range include athletes and people who are generally more physically active than average. Older adults and anyone recovering from an injury should also eat more protein.
Research also continues to show that a higher proportion of protein aids weight loss. The likely explanation is that protein keeps you feeling full longer and reduces appetite. For instance, in one study, a group of women increased their daily protein intake to 30% of calories. They ate an average of 440 fewer calories per day and lost weight. (3)
Do you have clients looking to build muscle? Check out this ISSA post to help them understand how important food choices are to bulking up.
When planning protein in the diet, choosing the sources may be as important as amounts. First, consider complete proteins. These are sources with all the essential amino acids, those that the body cannot make. All animal food sources contain complete proteins. Some plant sources also have complete protein, but most do not. A diet that combines a variety of plant proteins provides all the amino acids.
Studies show repeatedly red meat, especially processed meat, contributes to heart disease and certain types of cancer. Diets rich in plant proteins and lean animal proteins are linked with lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure. (4) The key is balance and only consuming moderate amounts of red meat. Focus more on lean protein sources, including a variety of plant-based foods:
Legumes, including lentils, peans, peas, and peanuts
Nuts and seeds
Ideas for Protein Snacks on the Go
Upping protein intake is not easy for everyone. Eating healthfully on the go is also challenging. You can increase protein and eat better overall by planning protein snacks before you get hungry. Whether you buy them or make them, having these snacks on hand will help you eat more protein and avoid junk food.
Peanuts are legumes, a plant source of protein. Peanut butter is an easy and versatile way to snack on protein; it provides about eight grams per serving. Choose a natural product with no added sugar or oils. Eat it with an apple or banana, whole-grain toast, or celery sticks. Measure out individual servings of peanut butter into small plastic containers for a traveling protein snack.
Greek yogurt has been processed to increase protein content. Choose brands that are lower in added sugars or pick plain yogurt and add a little natural sweetener. Individual cups of yogurt are easy to take on the go. Bring a packet of honey to sweeten or eat with a piece of fruit.
Make your own mix to control the ingredients. Use a good mix of nuts and seeds and only add a little bit of sweet treats, like raisins, dried cherries, or chocolate chips. Some of the higher protein choices are peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and pistachios.
Chickpeas are legumes that make a tasty snack when roasted. Make a large batch on Sunday and portion them out for snacks during the week. For a basic recipe, rinse and dry canned chickpeas. Toss in a little bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread the chickpeas on a baking tray so they form a single layer. Roast at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes or until crispy.
Experiment with different flavors and spices for a tastier snack: chili powder and garlic powder; cayenne pepper and curry powder; smoked paprika and seasoned salt; lemon zest with fresh herbs; cinnamon and just a little sugar after roasting.
Your friends and coworkers may not thank you for the smell, but a hard-boiled egg is a convenient protein snack. Boil several eggs at the start of the week and have a steady snack supply. To save time, peel before you leave the house and store the egg in a sealed plastic bag with a little salt and pepper.
Cheese is portable and easy to eat on the go, and you’ll find a lot of options. Individually wrapped cheese wheels or string cheese are an especially convenient healthy snack. Or make your own snack mix by combining cheese cubes with nuts for a savory, high-protein trail mix.
For this to be a healthy protein snack, you must choose the right product. The stick of dried beef you remember getting from the gas station as a kid is not a healthy option. Many companies make grass-fed jerkies low in artificial additives. These make easy, on-the-go protein snacks. Look for jerkies low in added salt and sugar and free of nitrites.
Anyone struggling to get enough protein in their day should consider protein powder. You can find all types of protein, from whey and egg protein to vegan-friendly pea or mixed plant protein powders. You’ll find endless recipes online for using protein power, but it can be as simple as mixing it into your coffee or a yogurt cup. Even a plain protein shake will do.
Make protein rich snack bites with protein powder to up your intake. You can make them in advance and have them ready to eat on the go throughout the week. Use this basic recipe and add dried fruit, chia seeds, chocolate chips, nuts, or any other mix-in:
1 ½ cups rolled oats
½ cup natural peanut butter (or another nut butter)
½ cup protein powder
3 tbsp. honey
2 to 4 tbsp. water, milk, or milk substitute
Mix everything together, roll into balls, and chill in the refrigerator.
Learn more about protein powder with this article: Soy Protein vs Whey Protein.
Low-Calorie Protein Snacks on the Go
For weight loss goals, choose a high protein snack lower in calories. This means finding foods higher in protein but lower in fat and carbs.
Nonfat Greek yogurt can have as much as 15 grams of protein with just 100 to 120 calories.
Low-fat cottage cheese packs a similar protein punch, up to 15 grams, in a 100-calorie serving.
A pouch of tuna transports easily and provides just 70 calories and 17 grams of protein. The flavored varieties have a few more calories but are still good choices.
Make ½ cup serving bags of salted edamame for a quick, low-cal snack. You’ll get about eight grams of protein for less than 100 calories.
Protein on the go doesn’t have to be difficult. You can easily find high-protein snacks prepackaged and ready to go, or you can make your own for better control of ingredients.
Get your ISSA Precision Nutrition Certification to help clients make better choices about food and diet. Combine it with a personal trainer certification and you can offer clients the most well-rounded health and fitness services.
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2015). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Eighth Edition. Retrieved from https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf 2. Rodriguez, N.R. (2015). Introduction to Protein Summit 2.0: Continued Exploration of the Impact of High-Quality Protein on Optimal Health. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 101(6), 1317S-1319S. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/101/6/1317S/4564491 3. Weigle, D.S., Breen, P.A., Matthys, C.C., Callahan, H.S., Meeuws, K.E., Burden, V.R., and Purnell, J.Q. (2005). A High-Protein Diet Induces Sustained Reductions in Appetite, ad libitum Caloric Intake, and Body Weight Despite Compensatory Changes in Diurnal Plasma Leptin and Ghrelin Concentrations. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 82(1), 41-8. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16002798/ 4. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). The Nutrition Source. Protein. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/#protein-research