‘So…. where do you get your protein?’ – I get asked all the time. Being constantly surrounded by fellow coaches, trainers and bodybuilders, I am aware that ‘getting enough protein’ is a real concern in the fitness environment.
Let’s first understand what this ever present question really means. Every living cell within every organism including animals and plants contains proteins and there are 25.000 encoded in human body alone! But when bodybuilders refer to ‘protein’, they’re referring to specific amino acids that form skeletal muscle. The human body can create most of these aminoacids, apart from 9. Foods that contain all 9 of these amino acids, are referred to as ‘complete protein’.
Yes: chicken and eggs do contain all 9 essential AAs… and nuts and vegetables don’t. What we need to understand though, is that we don’t need all nine of them in every meal and every time we eat.
What we need is a sufficient amount of every essential amino acid every day. For someone who eats a varied healthy diet of veggies, fruit, pulses and seeds this really isn’t that difficult. I sometimes ask people whether they know any vegan treated in hospital for protein deficiency – after all, hospitals mainly treat people who eat too much animal protein: cancer, heart disease, type II diabetes etc.. It is quite powerful for many people to realise that none of the common diseases are from the lack of animal protein – quite the opposite.
Still, however, the obsession with protein and it’s supplementation in fitness industry is doing better than ever and fortunes have been made from it. Therefore the bodybuilders and fitness models do not only eat lots of meat and dairy – they also supplement with whey protein, which is the liquid material created as by product of cheese. Putting aside the fact that I am vegan, I would never put any whey protein drink or bar in my body. It’s ridiculously highly processed: when milk coagulates, the solids are extracted, spray dried and filtered then denatured in high heat. Then whey isolates are processed further to remove fat and lactose and hydrolysed to become less allergenic. Add to it the artificial sweetener added to most Whey Protein shakes. Seriously, nothing that far removed from nature can be good for you in a long run.
So what are the best plant sources of protein ? Go for quinoa, buckwheat, soy or mix your cooked rice with beans to result in a simple complete protein ( most beans are low in methionine and high in lysine, while rice is low in lysine and high in methionine). Remember this as it’s really useful! Every time legumes like beans, lentils, and peanuts are combined with grains like wheat or rice, a complete protein is born – which makes peanut on whole wheat bread a super simple recipe.
I am not a big believer in protein shakes and smoothies, especially that I want to stay slim and extra calories ( whether they’re from carbs, protein or fats) end up stored as fat. I LOVE my food too much to replace it with protein powder, seriously – peanut butter sandwich wins all the way.
However if you really need these extra calories from protein you could add some protein pea powder to your smoothies. Or you can also grind hemp, flaxseed and chia into your own protein powder and add it to your soups.
Smoothie ingredients including milled chia, hemp and flaxseed
Almond Milk, Raspberries, Mango, Blueberries and a scoop Pea Protein powder