Ever since completing my course on Nutrition and Wellness I have had some friends come to me with questions about what they are eating; is it enough? Is it too much? is there anything missing? Knowing that no one is perfect I think as humans we are always looking for where there is room for improvement and what types of things we can fix. One of the things I have seen the most frequently and something that I personally struggled with was eating enough protein.
What is a protein anyways? Well there are two different types of protein: complete and incomplete. A complete protein is a food that has all 9 essential amino acids in balanced proportions, an example of this is would be eggs, eggs are basically amazing. An incomplete protein, you guessed it, lacks one or more essential amino acids, an example of this would be nuts or seeds. For meat eaters getting all of your essential amino acids really isn’t an issue seeing they are all present in meat (poultry, beef, pork, etc), for vegetarians and vegans or the meat adverse it might just take a bit of extra finagling to make sure you are getting all essental amino acids. A non-meat eater can do this by combining two or more incomplete proteins (e.g. rice and beans) to create one complete protein. There are also foods such as quinoa and soy which are non-meat forms of complete proteins.
Now that we know what a protein is, what are they good for? Proteins are used by the body for just about everything, from tissue (muscle) repair, to helping transport vitamins and minerals all over your body. When you think of all the things that proteins do it makes sense that they should be an important part of your daily meal planning. I believe it is also important to note that protein is essential for all people (sedentary to bodybuilders and professional athletes) the levels of protein your body needs to consume in order to operate at its maximum capacity just change based on your activity levels. It is pretty reasonable to think that a bodybuilder or a professional runner would require more protein than someone that spends most of their day working in an office and rarely makes time for exercise…but this doesn’t mean those who are more sedentary need protein any less for daily functioning.
The average person requires 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight, so about 0.4g per pound, depending on how active you are this number can go up (1.3g per kg if you are active or pregnant and 1.8g per kg if you are an athlete or training). For example if you are a 150lbs woman who is active on a daily basis you should be aiming to consume about 88.7g of protein each day.
How are you supposed to track this? How do you make sure you are getting enough? To find out the quantity of protein in something the first place I look is normally the nutrition lable, they break down how much protein (among other things) per serving and it will give you an idea of what you are feeding your body. Other useful tools for tracking your protein intake are apps such as Lose It that help you to log everything you have eaten in a day and it keeps track of your calories, protein, sugars, and activity levels. Personally I journal, I like the act of writing out the food I eat and I don’t calorie count because well it makes me totally crazy and I find that the ownership behind writing out your meals is enough to keep me on target to meet my goals. That being said everyone is different so be sure to find something that works for you.
When adding or changing anything in your life it is always good to do a bit of research to get a general idea of what is out there. For ensuring you are getting adequate amounts of protein in your diet it shouldn’t be any different. Go out and find out what some of your favourite foods have to offer in the way of protein and maybe check out ways of increasing it. Knowing the average amounts of proteins in food will make it a bit easier for you to plan your meals.
Here are a couple examples of foods and their protein levels; 1 cup of milk has about 8 grams, 3 oz of meat has about 21 grams, and 1 cup of dried beans can have about 16 grams of protein. Now there are other things that contain protein, such as vegetables (e.g. spinach, broccoli, and peas), nuts, legumes, quinoa, chia seeds, sea food (most would consider this meat), any dairy product, dairy substitutes like fortified soy milk or almond milk, the list is pretty endless.
If protein is so essential why aren’t we more aware of it? I don’t think protein avoidance is something that anyone tries to do; I believe that it comes down to education. I think a lot of us, especially meat eaters take for granted that we are getting enough protein because we eat meat, and I think some non-meat eaters may not be aware of the plenitude of options out there. Before I was given guidelines for healthy living I really just assumed my muscles were supposed to be sore for a week after working them out, it hadn’t occurred to me that maybe they needed something more to help them heal.
Armed with information I am able to make better choices for my body and I am sure my body and muscles thank me for making healthier choices. To help you make some healthier choices when it comes to protein intake I have included a list of protein packed foods for breakfasts and snacks. I am focusing on breakfast and snacks because I personally find that they can at times be the most difficult ones to figure out in terms of what to include to get your protein.