Sometimes getting enough daily protein feels like a race against the clock: If you’re busy, it might be noon before you realize you forgot breakfast. Then you work through lunch, nearly skip dinner, and by bedtime you’ve had barely a chicken breast’s worth.
But make no mistake: If you want to build muscle, burn fat, and perform your best, you need ample protein on a regular basis. In fact, as we reported previously, sports scientists now recommend getting up to 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight (that’s 135g for a 180-pound man) spread throughout the day for optimal absorption. To make sure you get enough, adopt these habits—you’ll get bigger and leaner, and even feel more alert.
1. Eat more meat
Unlike protein from plant sources, meat’s protein offers all the amino acids your body needs to build muscle, always in a concentrated dose. In 2011, the Journal of Nutrition found that subjects on a diet high in protein derived from meat improved their reaction time over those who had more modest protein intakes. No adverse effects were observed.
A caveat, though: Most protein-rich meats also have their share of fat, which is calorically dense, so those calories can add up fast and lead to unwanted weight gain. For this reason, you should eat leaner foods like chicken and fish more often than beef and pork.
2. Eat every three hours
Frequent eating doesn’t boost the metabolism, as previously thought, but it does ensure you get enough nutrition over the course of the day, in intervals that allow your body to process protein effectively. If it helps, set a timer to remind you to eat at roughly three-hour intervals, for a total of five or so meals a day, and aim for 30 to 40 grams of protein in each meal.
Don’t feel like carrying a cooler of meat around all day? Stock up on grab-and-go sources of protein like fat-free yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, and cottage cheese to get you by till you can sit down to a big plate of chicken or fish.
3. Pack in the whey
The easiest, fastest delivery system for protein is a powder you can mix into a shake or smoothie.
To get max results, look for one that consists primarily of whey protein. A 2015 study in the Journal of Food Science compared whey with other protein supplements made with soy and rice and found that whey had the highest concentration of leucine, an amino acid that signals muscle growth.
Recipe: Muscle in a glass
Mix up this smoothie to support gains and suppress hunger:
2 cups water
1 cup frozen spinach
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 scoop chocolate whey protein
Mix all ingredients in a high-speed blender. The frozen greens will take the place of ice cubes, making the drink cold, while the banana and peanut butter will mask any bitterness.
370 calories, 24g protein