Getting Enough Protein
I spent about 18 months eating no fish, eggs or meat - in fact, no animal products at all - and I can't even begin to count the number of times people questioned me over whether or not I was getting enough protein. There seems to be a common mind set that protein = meat and meat = protein. While animal protein is a great source, you don't have to compromise your nutritional or ethical choices or lifestyle decisions to get enough.
The first thing to understand is why we need protein in the first place. Protein is needed by our bodies to build and repair all of our cells and tissue. It is also essential for the production of chemicals such as hormones and enzymes that are required for various processes in our body to occur. In order to keep healthy, we need relatively large amounts of protein, fat and carbohydrates - known as macronutrients. There is a difference though between protein and the other two macronutrients in that our bodies are able to store carbohydrates and fats but not protein so we need to pay attention to keeping our protein intake consistent in order to support the systems and functions of our bodies.
So how much protein do we need? We all have very different lifestyles and of course bodies so our individual needs really vary. It is generally advised that 1g of protein per kg of body weight is about right - so thats a pretty easy calculation to do and someone that weights 60kg should aim for about 60g of protein per day. Now of course for meat eaters, it is much easier to reach this by just adding a piece of chicken to each meal but with a little thought, we can get that amount of protein each day with or without animal products.
There is one thing to consider though if you are sticking to a plant-based diet. Proteins are made up of amino acid chains. Out of a total 20 amino acids, our body produces 11 of these which are called non-essential amino acids. This leaves 9 essential amino acids that you have to get from food. Animal protein contains a complete amino acid profile but there are also several foods such as quinoa and black beans that do too. The trick here is to include a variety of protein sources in your diet in order to make sure that over each week you are getting all the essential amino acids that you need. Really though - that is something we should all aim for, a varied, nutritious, whole-foods diet!
So where do I get my protein? At the moment I am eating fish and I'm trying out eggs too which of course are a great starting point. Nuts and nut butters are great too, although I have to remember to ration these a little as my body doesn't like them in large quantities and they are high in (healthy) fats. I then like to include beans and pulses such as butter beans and chickpeas at least once per day. Plant-based protein powders are great too and can be added to a smoothie in the morning or when you are working out. Oats, quinoa and brown rice are great too and then of course lots of vegetables. I tend to eat greens like spinach, broccoli, kale and peas at least once a day and this adds to your protein intake more than you would think, with a cup of peas having 8g of protein.
I really encourage people not to obsess over calories or macronutrient counting unless they are training for something specific. However, giving a little thought to what you are eating can go a long way. Including protein at every meal or snack time can not only help your energy levels dramatically but it will also help to keep you feeling full and stop you from snacking unnecessarily. Don't worry too much about when you eat protein in relation to working out, especially if you are a moderate exerciser who is just looking to stay fit and healthy. Just make sure you include protein consistently throughout the day and trust me your body will thank you for it!