Protein has long been heralded as the number one ally when it comes to weight loss. Not only can it regulate your appetite, but it also satiates hunger, meaning you feel fuller longer when you're getting enough protein.
So how much protein should you be eating?
According to certified dietitian Leslie Langevin, MD, RD, CD, piling on the protein at meal times isn't exactly the best strategy — even though protein can be your best friend when you're trying to lose weight. In fact, Langevin told PopSugar that you should be aiming for "no more than 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal."
The reason you can't just eat three chicken breasts and call it a day is because the human body can't take all that in at one time. "The body can only absorb 20 to 30 grams at one time. Eating this amount of protein is a good target per meal because that will help with satiety and be the max your body can absorb at the meal for muscle repair," Langevin said.
In essence, if you're eating more than 20-30 grams of protein per meal, that protein isn't helping to level out your hunger pangs or repair your damaged muscles from that workout you did earlier. Instead, you're just eating empty calories.
Another important point to make about protein consumption is to vary your sources of protein. Make sure you're eating plenty of plant-based protein (like legumes, leafy greens, whole wheat and nuts) instead of solely animal-based protein so you can protect yourself against health risks like heart disease and cancer. Plant-based sources of protein can also help you maintain a healthy weight.
Just as various sources of protein are important to see best results, timing is too. Dr. Matt Tanneburg told PopCulture.com that you should be eating a quickly-digestible meal or snack of carbs and protein within 30 minutes of working out.
"After a workout, your metabolism stays revved for another couple of hours," Dr. Tanneburg says. "That means that you are burning more calories after your workout than you normally do throughout the day. If you don't replenish your body with nutrition, your body will naturally start consuming your protein stores. You want to make sure to eat within that 30-minute window in order to have your body recovery and replenish as it should."
If you miss that time window, your body will draw fuel from your glycogen stores (your already existing stores of carbs and protein) and could slow down recovery by a few days rather than a few hours. You'll be sore and tired longer, which means you won't be able to train as hard during your next workout, which means you won't be able to burn as many calories.
So keep some protein bars in your gym bag or whip up a smoothie when you get home from the gym — you'll be sure to see results.