There’s a reason the fittest guys at the gym love their protein shakes: When you pump iron, protein repairs the tiny tears that strength training creates in your muscles, which helps them grow bigger, faster.
You have to take in protein all day long—not just at dinner—if you want to maximize your gains. In a University of Texas study, researchers found that muscle protein synthesis—the driving force behind your muscle growth—was 25 percent greater when people ate protein throughout the day (30 grams of protein per meal) compared to those who ate a bulk of their protein at dinner (10 grams for breakfast, 15 grams for lunch, and 65 grams for dinner).
Unfortunately, most Americans’ diets match that latter group. On average, we eat almost three times as much protein during dinner (38 grams) as we do during breakfast (13 grams), according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
If you want to maximize your gains and keep your hunger in check, get your fix by sneaking more protein in throughout the day. Refer to these 15 tips when you need a fast and convenient way to bump your intake.
Power Up Your Peanut Butter
Your average spoonful of peanut butter is a great way to get some protein on its own—but if you want to go all out, Power Butter can double your intake, says Jim White, R.D.N., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Two tablespoons of the stuff will get you 16 grams of protein compared to the 7 grams you’d find in a typical serving of peanut butter.
Prep Hard-Boiled Eggs
Don’t underestimate the convenience of hard-boiled eggs. Boil a bunch in advance and keep them in your fridge so you have a quick add-on option to low protein meals, says Aragon. Adding just a couple of hard-boiled eggs into your salad or as a side to your sandwich can increase your protein intake by 12 to 14 grams.
Here are 14 more delicious ways to eat an egg.
Pick the Right Powder
Powders are a great way to pack in protein without dedicating a ton of time to meal prep. Plus, if you choose a high-quality powder, there’s no difference in how it impacts your muscle growth or retention compared to other high-quality protein sources, like eggs, meat, and fish, says Men’s Health nutrition advisor Alan Aragon, M.S.
“There’s really nothing easier than this to bump up your protein intake,” he says. “One scoop has 20 to 25 grams of protein, about the same amount as 3 to 4 ounces of meat.”
He recommends Gold Standard whey protein. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, Raw Fusion, a mix of plant-based protein, is a great option. Plus, it’s a simple way to switch things up if you get tired of whey, Aragon says. Once you’ve found a powder that works for you, throw a scoop into one of these smoothie recipes for a quick meal on the go.
Load Up On Quinoa
If you’re into stir-fry or burrito bowls, swap out your rice or noodles for quinoa, says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet. Half of a cup of these grain-like seeds will get you 4 grams of protein and nearly 3 grams of fiber—that’s compared to only 2 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of fiber you’d get from regular white rice.
Go Nuts With Granola
Granola is a great way to add crunch to your oatmeal or yogurt, but most store-bought versions are heavy on carbs and light on protein. Enhance your favorite mix by adding a handful (or about 1/4 cup) of nuts like peanuts or almonds to your serving, suggests White. This boosts your favorite granola (White recommends the Bear Naked Granola, which already contains 4 grams of protein per serving) by 7 grams of protein.
Want to go all out and make your own? Check out this easy homemade granola recipe and add an extra half-cup of nuts to increase the whole mix by 15 to 18 grams of protein.
Try the Best Bar Ever
Keep a stash of protein bars handy if you tend to get hungry in the afternoon. Be cautious here: Many protein bars are just candy bars in disguise and come loaded with sugar and empty calories. Aragon recommends The Best Bar Ever. It’s created with a blend of whey, casein, and whole-food ingredients like nuts. It packs in 20 grams of protein.
Sub the Sour Cream
A baked potato isn’t the same without sour cream, but you can barely notice the difference when you use plain Greek yogurt instead, says Chris Mohr, Ph.D., R.D. You’ll get 3 to 4 extra grams of protein in a couple of tablespoons, a punch of probiotics for your gut health, and save yourself unnecessary calories, too.
Dip With the Right Chips
Substitute your greasy potato chips for a handful of alternative chips made completely from beans, suggests Marie Spano, R.D., a sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Hawks. Just a couple of ounces of these chips yield 10 grams of protein. That’s compared to the measly 4 grams regular potato chips would offer. Plus, they’re also full of fiber, which helps keep you feeling full so you don’t over do it, she says.
Treat Your Sweet Tooth
While yogurt will never replace ice cream, it can still satisfy your cravings for dessert. This sweet treat will serve you about 35 grams of protein: Mix half a cup of part-skim ricotta and half a cup of Greek yogurt with a tablespoon of honey. Topp it off with 1/4 cup of walnuts. You can also go with one half or 2/3 cup of berries instead of the honey for added nutrients, suggests Aragon.
Perfect Your Pasta
If you’re really craving pasta, opt for one made from black beans and other legumes, Spano says. Your average serving of white spaghetti serves up about 7 grams of protein, but a couple of ounces of black bean spaghetti will bump you up to 25 grams.
Pair it with this homemade pesto recipe and you’ve got the perfect dinner.
There are some benefits to eating full-fat cheese, so sprinkle some shredded Parmesan onto salad, pasta, or any other of your favorite dishes to punch up the protein, flavor, and calcium, Aragon says. Three tablespoons of shredded parmesan will add nearly 6 grams of protein to your meal.
Top Your Salads With Edamame
Gans recommends adding these green soybeans to any salad to make it more filling: Just one cup of edamame will add a whopping 18 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber to your meal.
It tastes great as an appetizer, too. Try this recipe to give it punch of flavor.
Sprinkle In Some Seeds
If you like to keep things simple with cereal in the morning, adding in hempseeds is a mindless way to up your protein intake, says Mohr. Three tablespoons will get you 10 grams of protein—combine that with the 8 grams of protein you’re already getting from your milk and 5 to 9 grams in a healthy cereal and you may actually stay full ‘til lunch.