In the workout world not many things are talked about quiet as much as protein. When should you take it? How much do you need for optimal muscle recovery? Is there such a thing as too much? Do we need to get it from animal products? Are all proteins made the same? With so many questions and opinions surround something as seemingly simple as protein no wonder we are talking about it so much.
Before we dive into all the specifics about protein, recovery, animal vs plant sources I want to just take a moment to discuss the difference between male and female physiology. I just want to point out that women are not just smaller framed men, shocking I know!
Although most online muscle building forums, endurance sport blogs and the like would have you believing so (I understand that this is not always the case but it is definitely often the case) males and females use and process our macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates) similarly but not identically. Males for example have little to no issue tapping into their fat stores and using them for energy whereas the female body would much prefer using just about anything else and holding onto that precious fat just "in case", plus this will shift depending on where a woman is in her hormonal cycle.
But I digress, our physiology is a discussion for another time, the important part here is that the male body and the female body are different and feeding them like they are identical but different sizes isn't going to get you the best results. Today we are focusing on protein and how to provide our body with optimal sources of amino acids
Plant VS Animal
With many of us becoming more environmentally conscious, more concerned about the ethics of industrialized farming practices or just feeling like meat/animal products aren't a good choice for you fewer of us are relying on animal proteins for our animo acid needs.
If you have been a vegan or vegetarian for a while now you are probably sick of being asked "but where do you get your protein", the fact of the matter is you don't need to eat animal based proteins in order to receive all the essential amino acids your body requires to repair muscle tissue, transport oxygen through the body (red blood cells), control growth and maintain a healthy metabolism. Vegetables, legumes, eggs, dairy, grains, nuts and seeds all provide the body with some of the amino acids required for optimal health.
Now here is where it might get a little tricky...
Low and High Biological Value Protein
To illustrate this point I am going to choose broccoli and steak, only because this comparison has been so popular on social media platforms and when it comes to making nutrition choices it is important to make them from facts and not feelings.
So, 100 calories of broccoli has about 8 grams of protein and 100 calories of steak has about 11 grams of protein. Right now maybe you are feeling pretty good about that protein choice right why would you ever eat steak if you can eat 100 calories of broccoli and get almost as much protein?
Well, the thing is 100 calories of broccoli is about 5 cups of chopped broccoli florets where as 100 calories of steak is about 2oz or about a half serving of protein. Now before you start getting hot under the collar I am not saying you HAVE TO eat steak or any meat product for that matter in order to get what your body needs but what I am saying is there is a difference and this is a great way to illustrate it.
So yes, protein is 100% present in MOST vegetables, so not just beans and lentils. But also yes, you need to eat substantially more of them to get the equivalent amount of protein found in animal products.
So, we know there is protein available in plants, however unlike animal source protein most (almost all) vegetable sources of protein do not have all of our essential amino acids in the quantities our bodies requires them in. What does this mean? It means that eating a high value protein such as an egg will offer your body a complete complement of essential amino acids, whereas a low value protein like a bowl of black beans would only partially satisfy this requirement.
It is important to explain that low does not mean bad or good it simply means that unlike a high value protein a bit more thought needs to go into turning that incomplete/low value protein source into a complete/high value protein source.
Maximizing Your Protein
This is the fun stuff how to maximize your protein. For you meat eaters out there this is pretty simple a thoughtfully cooked piece of salmon or chicken will provide you with all your essential amino acids but how do we go about doing this for meat free sources?
The answer to this question is actually quite simple. Combine them! By taking a low biological value protein like rice and combining it with some beans you end up creating a complete protein. Meaning that you are feeding your body what it needs! Taking that extra time to turn a plant protein into a larger meal is normally the only additional step vegans and vegetarians need to take in order to ensure they are getting an adequate/appropriate combination of essential amino acids for their bodily needs.
The moral of this story is that you are able to get protein from a variety of plant and animal based sources. Having a few meatless meals very week, to not only help boost your fiber intake but also assist in lowering inflammation, improve vitamin and mineral absorption, soothe digestion and help to support that immune system. There are loads of positives when it comes to eating more plants and one of those positives just happens to be protein.
My name is Brittany, I am a Holistic Nutritionist, Yoga Teacher and Certified Personal trainer. My hope is to help inspire, encourage and motivate others to live their happiest and healthiest lives.