Protein Challenge! Are you eating the right amount at the right times?

by Bethany Vessey, Registered Dietitian on February 7, 2014

Hey everyone! I have a challenge for you!

This week let’s all try to get at least 25-30 grams of protein at each of your 3 daily meals.

I work daily with individuals typically between the ages of 30-50, who are looking to either improve their physical fitness and/or lose weight and I always get questions asking “are there certain foods we should be eating certain at certain times?”  Well I have a doozy for you! In a very recent (Jan 29, 2014) study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers looked at how eating protein evenly throughout the day can dramatically increase muscle protein synthesis (building) in healthy active individuals. As my clients have heard me preach time and again, ” if you are looking to decrease your overall body fat and increase your metabolism, then focus on increasing your lean muscle mass.” In this study, those participants that ate their daily protein amount evenly over their 3 meals seen that as much as a 25% increase in overall muscle development as apposed to those who consumed their protein in the more traditional method of 2 smaller amounts at breakfast and lunch and a much larger amount at dinner.

One of my favorite writers Alex Hutchinson also wrote a very interesting article about this topic in the Globe called “Want to build muscle? It’s not what you eat, but when.”. The article has many interesting points in it with it’s main point again being that the total protein intake is not as important as how it is distributed.

So why “25-30 grams of protein” at each meal you ask. . . ? Well, a very highly published researcher, Dr. Douglas Paddon-Jones, who has done an extensive amount of research looking into how we can reduce the loss of our muscle as we age suggests the consumption of 25-30 grams of high quality protein at eat meal to help maintain our lean muscle mass. In many of Dr. Paddon-Jones studies he explains that any protein consumption greater than 30 grams in one sitting is used as an energy source and not to help build or spare muscle tissue. Another really interesting point he noted was that the rate of at which we make new muscle tissues does not change as we age, which means a 60 year old will build muscle at the same rate as a 20 year old. So no excuses, just eat properly and train appropriately and you can increase your total lean muscle mass at any age!

So for this challenge it is important to note that I am not asking you to change the amount of protein you consume daily but merely become more aware of when you eat it and how much you eat at one time. My clients hear me say almost daily, it is important to consume a quality source of protein, fat and carbohydrates at every meal and EVERY snack. These studies help me send that massage home even further.

Considering the most challenging time of day to get your 25-30 grams of protein is at breakfast I have added below some healthy breakfast options that meet this recommendation. I have also added a delicious Quinoa Pad Thai recipe that is PACKED full of protein and would make a fantastic lunch and dinner option.

Good Luck on your challenge!

Breakfast Options

Berry Protein Shake!

Gluten Free Pancakes + 1/2 cup greek yogurt!

Morning Mix

2 Servings

1 medium apple
1 medium orange
1 cup halves strawberries or blueberries
2 tbsp slivered almonds or walnuts, raw
1/2 cup cottage cheese, (1% m.f.)
1 cup greek yogurt
1 medium kiwifruit


Mix together and add cinnamon to taste.

CALORIES (kCal) 340
FAT (g) 4.77
SODIUM (mg) 254
FIBRE (g) 7.8
SUGARS (g) 28.68
PROTEIN (g) 33.38
VITAMIN A (µg) 16
VITAMIN C (mg) 127
CALCIUM (mg) 113
IRON (mg) 1.01

Quinoa Pad Thai

6 Servings

1 cup quinoa, (dry measure)
1 3/4 cups chicken broth, ready to use, reduced salt
2 tsp peanut oil, divided
2 breast chicken breast, diced
1 dash salt
1 dash black pepper
1 12oz bag broccoli slaw
1/2 cup edamame beans, frozen,
2 thin slice onion, raw, green
1 whole egg
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup soy sauce, sodium reduced
1/4 cup vinegar, rice
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp natural peanut butter
1 tsp natural peanut butter
1 tbsp sweet chili thai sauce
6 tbsp peanuts, raw, chopped, or curshed

Bring chicken broth to a boil in a saucepan then add quinoa. Place a lid on top then lower heat and cook until quinoa has absorbed chicken broth, about 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork then set aside. (Can be done ahead of time.)
Combine soya sauce, rice vinegar, water, sugar, peanut butter and thai sauce, in a microwave-safe bowl then microwave for 20 seconds. Stir until smooth then set aside. Whisk together egg and sesame oil in a small bowl then set aside.
Heat 1 teaspoon peanut oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper then add to wok and stir fry until no longer pink. Remove to a plate then set aside.
Heat remaining teaspoon peanut oil in wok then add broccoli slaw mix, frozen edamame, and green onions. Stir fry until tender, 2-3 minutes, then push to outsides of wok, creating a clear space in the center. Add egg whisked with sesame oil to center of wok then stir fry until soft scrambled.
Add cooked chicken, quinoa and sauce to wok then toss to combine. Serve with 1tbsp of chopped peanuts.

If you’re you like heat add a few dashes of red chili pepper flakes! Enjoy!

CALORIES (kCal) 375
FAT (g) 12.71
SODIUM (mg) 600
FIBRE (g) 5.8
SUGARS (g) 5.42
PROTEIN (g) 33.36
VITAMIN A (µg) 18
VITAMIN C (mg) 1.2
CALCIUM (mg) 49
IRON (mg) 4.21


Mamerow, M. M., Mettler J. A., English K. L., Casperson S. L., Arentson-Lantz E., Sheffield-Moore M., Layman D. K., Paddon-Jones D. (2014). Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults. Journal of Nutrition, [Epub ahead of print].

Paddon-Jones D., Short K. R., Campbell W. W., Volpi E., Wolfe R. R. (2008). Role of dietary protein in the sarcopenia of aging. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87(5), 1562S-1566S.

Symons T. B., Sheffield-Moore M., Mamerow M. M., Wolfe R. R., Paddon-Jones D. (2011). The anabolic response to resistance exercise and a protein-rich meal is not diminished by age. Journal of Nutrition Health & Aging, 15(5), 376-381.


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