How-To Guides

February 2, 2023

How to Eat 120 Grams of Protein a Day (+FREE meal plan!)

Whether you're focusing on building muscle, weight loss, or just eating healthier, following a high protein diet is key. Learn the secrets to eating at least 120 grams of protein each day and snag your FREE 2 week meal plan to get started right away!
This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate and a Like It To Know It affiliate, I earn a small commission on purchases made through some links at no extra cost to you. Please see our privacy policy for more details.

If you're reading this, you've probably read (or watched) somewhere that you need to focus on protein to hit your health goals.

Then when they told you how much protein you need, you probably said "there's no way!"

Well, my friend, that's why I wrote this blog post!

Not only is eating at least 120 grams of protein a day possible, it's easier and more affordable than you think.

In this blog post, I'm going to talk about:

  • 10 reasons why you need protein (besides building muscle!)
  • The best way to calculate your daily protein needs
  • 5 simple swaps you can make today to increase your protein intake
  • 15 high protein foods that actually taste good (besides chicken breast)
  • If animal protein or plant-based protein is better for you
  • Whether or not you need protein supplements to hit your goals
  • How to choose an affordable, high quality protein supplement
  • My tried-and-true formula for eating a high protein diet
  • How to get your FREE high protein meal plan straight to your phone

But, if you're short on time, here's the short answer:

The easiest way to eat at least 120 grams of protein each day is to prioritize eating whole foods and creating a meal plan each week with high-protein meals. Click here to get a FREE 2 week high-protein meal plan sent straight to your inbox!

Why do you need protein?

Protein is one of the three macronutrients your body needs to work properly.

It is also the building block for all the cells in your body and the things they do for your body.

You should prioritize eating protein each day because:

  • Specific proteins called enzymes aid in digestion, blood clotting, energy production, and contracting muscles
  • Specific proteins like keratin, elastin, and collagen provide structure for your bones, ligaments, hair, skin, and lungs
  • Protein helps create antibodies to fight illness and infection
  • Some proteins are key hormones like glucacon, insulin, and ADH, which affect major organs like your pancreas, kidneys, and liver
  • Protein promotes the continual growth and maintenance of your tissues, muscles, and bones
  • Protein boosts your metabolism, balances blood glucose levels, and keeps you fuller longer, which reduces cravings

And those are just some of the key roles protein plays in your body! As you can see, it does a lot more than just build muscle mass.

Now that you know the importance of protein, let's figure out what the optimal protein intake is for you.

How much protein do you actually need?

To be honest, each nutritionist, registered dietitian, and personal trainer has their own opinion about what the adequate amount of protein is for the average person. (Each opinion has good reason and science behind it, of course, but there's still no official consensus.)

Some recommend 0.36g-0.5g of protein per pound of body weight, or 0.8g-1.2g per kilogram of body weight. Others recommend just 60g-80g for women and 80g-100g for men.

The problem with these two approaches is that neither of them account for YOUR individual needs.

Just focusing on body weight means you're not including variables like age, height, gender, or activity level.

And saying every woman needs the same amount of protein is ridiculous because one woman could be an Olympic gymnast and another could be an exclusively breastfeeding mother who just gave birth 2 weeks ago. There's NO WAY you two will have the same daily protein intake!

This is why as a nutritionist, health coach, and athlete, I set my total protein intake as a percentage of the total number of calories I need each day.

This method accounts for my age, height, weight, gender, and activity level (because that's how you estimate your daily calories) and it allows me to fine tune my daily protein goals to fit my overall health and fitness goals.

For example, when I'm training for my annual half marathon, I slightly reduce my protein intake and increase my carbohydrate intake. When I'm building muscle with heavy lifting, I increase my protein and slightly decrease my carbs. When I'm breastfeeding, I need a lot of protein because I'm nourishing my body and my baby simultaneously.

So, to get the best idea of how much protein YOU need, aim for 25%-30% of your total daily calories coming from protein. This ensures you're getting enough protein but leaves you the flexibility to modify your needs based on where you're at in life.

To do this, use an online calorie calculator and answer honestly. DON'T give the weight you wish you were or say you exercise more than you do! Remember that this initial calculation helps you understand where you're at right now so you can make changes to get to where you want to be.

Once you have your caloric estimate, find the percentage of calories that should come from protein. For example, if you want to aim for 25%, you would multiply your daily calories by 0.25.

Finally, divide that number by four. This converts calories into grams. (There are 4 calories per gram of protein.)

For reference, look at the image abov to see the equation and rough estimates of what your goals might be.

Now, if all this math intimidates you or discourages you from prioritizing protein in your diet, don't worry! Numbers aren't for everyone and that's ok.

Let's dive into the difference between counting calories, counting macros, and intuitive eating, and which one is best for you.

Different ways to track protein intake

Calorie counting

Ah, good ol' counting calories. It's the easiest of all the options, but it's also the least effective.

That being said, counting calories might be effective for tracking protein if:

  • You're not familiar with macros or nutrition labels
  • You struggle with under eating, binging, or have a fear of food
  • You don't have any specific goals with body composition or athletic performance

I don't love just focusing on calories alone, but it's a good place to start if you have very little knowledge about nutrition or feel overwhelmed by all the trendy buzz words with nutrition.

Calorie counting is a good foundation for the other methods I talk about, so if you choose to focus solely on calories, I recommend having a goal of eventually switching to another method so you can really feel your best.

Macro counting

I personally love the principles of macro counting and this is how I teach and train the majority of my clients in nutrition.

Macro counting focuses on the ratio of macronutrients in your diet. In other words, it's the relationship between how many carbs, fats, and protein you eat throughout the day.

You choose how much of each macronutrient you want to eat each day and you track the total grams of each in an app like MyFitnessPal.

This makes it easy to know exactly how much protein you're eating!

Macro counting is also a great way to look at your food holistically and learn how your body uses each macronutrient.

Macro counting is a great option for tracking protein if:

  • You don't mind a few different numbers and understand nutrition labels
  • You want to learn how your body functions with different foods
  • You want to change your body composition to optimize athletic performance

Click here to find tons of delicious macro-friendly recipes to help you get started!

Intuitive eating

This one is the "advanced" option, in my opinion, but it's the most sustainable and it's my end goal for each of my client's health journeys.

Intuitive eating builds on the principles of calories and macros, but allows for more freedom in your food choices and honors your hunger cues and cravings.

It's a hard one to teach and a harder one to master, but I've successfully hit my daily goal of 140g protein consistently for over a year and a half, so it's totally possible!

With intuitive eating, you train your body and brain to understand each other very well but you still practice the principles of staying within your calories and eating enough of each of the macronutrients.

For example, I don't know exactly how many calories my oatmeal was this morning, but I know that I have more energy when I start my day with complex carbs (oats) and I added egg whites, protein powder, almond butter, and fresh fruit, so I hit each of the macros and had lots of protein.

It takes lots of practice to understand your body's cues, cravings, and responses, but once you've practiced with calories and macros, it's much easier.

You also just know how to get enough protein without having to track any numbers because you've trained your body to need lots of protein and you know when your body is telling you it needs more protein.

Intuitive eating might be a good option for tracking protein if:

  • You've practiced tracking numbers before and it's become more second nature/mental math than actual math
  • You understand how your body uses food and want to master your hunger cues and cravings
  • You don't need to change your body composition or make any significant changes for athletic performance

So, which is better: macro counting, calorie counting, or intuitive eating? Whichever method will help you get enough protein in your diet without adding stress or obsession around food.

Most of my clients learn how to count macros for about 6-9 months, then transition into "intuitive eating with macro awareness." This means they stop counting numbers but they continue to use the principles of macro counting to guide their intuitive eating.

Whatever you decide, be consistent and don't give up!

Simple swaps to boost protein intake

Now that you have an idea of how you want to track your protein intake, let's look at some simple changes you can make TODAY that will boost your overall protein intake without any extra effort.

The principle here is to focus on what you can ADD to your diet, not take away.

Here are some easy substitutions with higher amounts of protein:

  • Regular pasta → chickpea pasta
  • Flour tortillas → high fiber tortillas or almond flour tortillas
  • White bread → multigrain bread or whole wheat bread
  • Whole fat feta cheese → fat free feta cheese
  • Ricotta cheese → whipped cottage cheese
  • Parmesan cheese → nutritional yeast
  • Regular yogurt → Greek yogurt
  • Granola bars → protein bars
  • Chocolate milk → chocolate protein shake
  • 2-3 whole eggs → 1 egg + 2 egg whites
  • Water (in oatmeal or smoothies) → liquid egg whites
  • Rice (in burritos) → black beans

Notice how you're still getting your the bread, tortilla, cheese, or chocolate drink, but one simple change can dramatically increase the health benefits and overall protein content? That's how simple it is!

You don't need to give up your favorite foods to live a healthy lifestyle. It's all about optimizing your favorite foods to give you the most "bang for your buck."

Now let's explore all the different healthy protein sources available to you.

High protein foods

First thing is first, I will say this until I am blue in the face: there are other ways to eat protein besides a grilled chicken breast! (Although I do love my chicken recipes!)

There are so many types of meats, dairy products, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds that have a good amount of protein per serving.

Here's a list of my favorite high protein foods:

  • Lean meats like chicken, turkey, and fish
  • 100% grass fed beef or steak (at least 90% lean)
  • Eggs and egg whites
  • Greek yogurt, low fat cheese, and low fat milk
  • Beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts (and peanut butter)
  • Nuts like almonds, cashews, pistachios, Brazil nuts, and walnuts
  • Chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds
  • Oats, quinoa, brown rice, and buckwheat
  • Tofu, tempeh, and edamame
  • Peas, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and spinach

And here's some of my favorite high protein recipes you have to try:

Animal protein vs plant based protein

Whether you follow a traditional diet, vegetarian diet, or vegan diet, there are many food sources that provide plenty of protein to satisfy your nutritional needs.

One diet isn't better than the other, but current research does show that incorporating both animal protein and vegan protein in a full day of eating is beneficial to both your digestive system and your immune system.

That being said, there are pros and cons to both a regular diet (with animal proteins) and a plant-based diet.

Animal products have all 9 essential amino acids and have higher amounts of protein per serving, but they usually have a ton of calories, more saturated fat, and less fiber.

Plant proteins don't have all the essential amino acids by themselves, but they can be paired together to complete the amino acid profile. They are less protein-dense and less calorie-dense, but they also have more fiber and essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals.

As a nutritionist, I recommend eating a variety of foods, including both animal protein and plant based protein, but if you have a medical condition that discourages you from one type of protein or the other, it's more important to create your balanced diet around the foods that feel best for you.

As always, please consult your doctor before beginning any nutrition program, making significant changes to your diet, or if you notice any differences in your health.

Whole foods vs supplements

It's no secret that the health industry wants you to eat protein.

Just look at all the influencers on social media: they all swear by their protein shakes, protein bars, and supplements.

But are supplements actually good for you? And do you need them to hit your daily protein goals?

As a nutritionist, I say it depends!

With whole foods, you get more variety in flavor, more natural micronutrients, and they're less expensive in the long run. However, they do take more time to prepare in the kitchen.

Supplements have less variety in flavor and less nutrients overall, and they're much more expensive, too. However, they have little to no preparation required and they're a great option for people with a busy schedule.

My best recommendation is getting at least 80% of your daily protein from whole foods and using supplements as just that: supplements. This means they are a part of your diet, but not the main part of your diet.

Supplements are great for getting in those last few grams of protein or tying you over until your next meal, but they shouldn't be used as meals.

Can you eat a high-protein diet without protein supplements?

Of course! It's just harder and more time consuming.

I've personally done it both ways (hitting 120g protein with supplements and without supplements) and in my experience, both cost about the same amount of money but trying to get enough protein without protein supplements is more difficult.

You spend more time in the kitchen making food and you have to do more planning and tracking to make sure you're getting enough protein.

That being said, if you choose low quality supplements with tons of added sugar, artificial ingredients, and inflammatory oils, your supplements are probably doing more harm than good.

At the end of the day, I ALWAYS recommend focusing on quality over quantity. So if you only get 100 grams of protein but it was from eating whole foods, I think that's much more nutritious than 150 grams of protein from supplements and packaged products.

The happy medium? A high protein diet that consists of mostly whole foods with a few clean supplements mixed in.

What are "clean" supplements, you ask? Keep reading!

How to choose a protein supplement

If you do choose to include protein supplements in your diet, it's important to know which ones are best.

Be sure to read the food labels at the grocery store (or online if you can) to see what's in the ingredients list and what the nutritional breakdown is.

Here are 5 things your protein supplement should have:

  1. At least 12g protein per serving: whether it's a protein bar or protein powder, anything less than 12 g protein won't give you all the benefits you want. It'll either have too much fat or too many carbs, and it won't fill you up enough. For bars, my rule is at least 12g; for powders, it's 20g. My favorite protein bars are Odyssey (use the code "mama10" at checkout to save 10%!), QUEST, Built, and RX bars, and my favorite protein powders are Just Ingredients (use the code "thewellnourishedmama" to save 10%!), Orgain, and Clean Simple Eats.
  2. Little to no added sugar: you just don't need it and I promise you won't want it either. (Save the added sugar for a yummy dessert later!) Added sugar will have the opposite effect on your blood sugar, metabolism, and energy levels that the protein will. Definitely avoid bars or powders that have high fructose corn syrup in them.
  3. No artificial ingredients: this includes things like artificial sweeteners, artificial flavorings, dyes, gums, or really anything you can't pronounce.
  4. No inflammatory oils: you have to read the ingredients list for this one. The packaging could say "sugar free!" or "low carb" or "30g protein" but then be high in inflammatory fatty acids. And in my professional opinion, that's a big no. These types of oils are palm kernel oil, palm oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and peanut oil.
  5. Clean ingredients: this one is a little bit more subjective, but for me, this means most of the ingredients come from whole foods and haven't been sprayed with any chemicals. Look for labels like "non-GMO" or "organic," and check the ingredients list to see if the first 5 ingredients are foods you recognize.

If you are pregnant or recently postpartum and plan on breastfeeding your baby, check out this blog post for my recommendations of the best lactation protein powders!

The formula for success

When it comes to getting enough protein each day, it can seem daunting, especially if you're new to macro counting or trying to eat intuitively.

With over two years of experience and experimentation, I've found the best formula for success that makes a high protein diet easy to follow and easy to achieve.

Here's the secret formula for success:

Aim for 30g of protein at each meal and 15g of protein for each snack.

If you only have one snack a day, shoot for 20g of protein and sneak in those last 10g with your dessert.

(Protein with dessert? It's my specialty! Just type "protein" in the search icon and find a new recipe to try.)

This formula still works with intuitive eating, but you'll need some experience with nutrition labels and portion sizes for the best results.

This formula is how I structure my day and how I train my clients to hit their protein goals, so I know you can do it too!

Here are some simple ways to get started:

  1. Have protein every time you eat: I really do mean it! Not only will you hit your goals, but you will have less cravings and more satiety throughout your day.
  2. Buy quick and easy sources of protein: whether that's a rotisserie chicken, hard boiled eggs, or RX bars, there are so many protein-rich foods out there to keep the process simple. Check out my infographic in the "high protein foods" section of this blog post for all the different sources of protein.
  3. Find high protein recipes: my blog is full of macro friendly recipes, high protein dinners, and high protein treats that you will love. I've got you covered!
  4. Eat frequently: I know this goes against "diet culture," but if you have slightly smaller meals with snacks in between, you are more likely to prioritize protein and less likely to have a drop in blood sugar levels or fight cravings all day.
  5. Follow a diet plan: if staying on track is hard for you, ask for help! Let a nutrition coach or personal trainer (hey, I'm both of those!) help you create those good habits. (Psssst I have a FREE meal plan for you below!)

Your free meal plan

If you're still feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how to eat 120g of protein a day after reading this blog post, don't worry!

I created a FREE high-protein 2 week meal plan that you can download straight to your phone.

This 14 day meal plan has all of your breakfasts, lunches, snacks, dinners, and desserts planned for an entire 2 weeks, including a printable shopping list for each week, an introduction to macros, and my favorite kitchen items for meal planning and healthy eating.

If you have a hard time following meal plans, this guide is a great way to practice getting those higher protein intakes each day without all the work that comes with meal planning. You just have to shop and cook like you normally do!

Each of the recipes comes straight from my blog, and you will be so surprised how easy and delicious a high protein diet can be.

Click here to get your FREE meal plan sent straight to your inbox!


Whether you're an athlete, a breastfeeding mom, or just an "average Joe," protein is crucial for achieving optimal health.

Protein fuels growth, improves metabolism, and reduces cravings.

Choosing protein-rich foods and using clean protein supplements is a great way to ensure you get enough protein each day.

If you want to incorporate more protein into your diet but don't know where to start, try my FREE 2 week meal plan!

Whether you're focusing on building muscle, weight loss, or just eating healthier, following a high protein diet is key. Learn the secrets to eating at least 120 grams of protein each day and snag your FREE 2 week meal plan to get started right away!


Brooke Harmer








No items found.