One aspect of my wellness journey is to enhance my fitness routine, so I can build strength, endurance, and stamina. To hold myself accountable for this change, I took the initiative and signed up to do the Tough Mudder. However, during my recent training, I’ve discovered that I don’t have the strength that I used to.
There is a noticeable difference with how far I can run, how much I can lift and how long my exercise sessions last. Since being healthy is more than increasing my amount of exercise, I turned to my diet for help. There is one nutrient that comes up often when referencing exercise. It is a fundamental nutrient every person requires. An essential nutrient for those who are looking to improve their strength. Protein!
When you think protein, your mind likely associates it with muscle growth, repair and development. However, protein has more uses than bulking up an actor for another one of those superhero roles – I’m looking at you Chris Pinevansworthpratt. This essential nutrient is also important for immunity, hormone and enzyme production. Your body can also break protein down and store it for energy production. Finally, it is very important for children, adolescents and pregnant women to get an adequate amount of protein because of their growth and development requirements.
On average, each adult should get about 50 grams of protein per day – consider consuming more if you are very active or trying to build body mass. Of course, just like any other nutrient essential for the body, balance is key. Lack of protein can make it harder for your body to grow and repair itself (this is very uncommon in the American population) and too much protein will add stress on your kidneys and liver. If you consume more protein than required, you need to be using it with adequate exercise and strength building. For reference, 3 ounces of meat (the size of a deck of cards) is about 21 grams of protein, 1 cup of yogurt equals about 11 grams of protein and 8 ounces of milk equals about 8 grams of protein.
Animal Based Protein
When it comes to animal based protein, the ideal goal is to stick with the lean meats. A diet consisting in a high amount of red meats tends to have a high amount of saturated fats and sodium, which in turn can spiral into bigger issues such as, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease. It’s recommended to stick to the lean meats like turkey, chicken and fish. These are the meats that contain minimal amounts of fat. My rule of thumb is that all other meats should be consumed in extreme moderation! I personally enjoy chicken breast, tilapia and salmon. Any other lean meat includes all types of poultry and all types of fish.
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Another source of animal based protein is, dairy. However, dairy should not be the staple in your diet as a source of protein. Although foods like greek yogurt and cottage cheese provide an ample amount of protein, there is also a high fat content associated with dairy products. It is best to consume these foods in moderation because too much fat will reverse the hard work you’re putting into your workouts.
Plant Based Protein
It’s becoming more prevalent how beneficial it is to consume a diet high in plant based foods, especially when it comes to where you get your protein. Plant based foods are beginning to shine brighter in the spotlight than meats. By focusing on obtaining your protein from plant-based foods, you will also get more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that aren’t as prevalent in animal-based foods.
Also, these type of foods provide a higher amount of fiber, which is a key ingredient missing in a high meat and dairy diet. Plant-based foods provide healthy fats that are necessary for good heart health. Finally, a diet high in plant-based foods does not carry the same high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease risks that a typical meat based diet carries.
If you have fitness goals, similar to mine, that will require you to consume above the average daily value of protein. This means consuming a diet that consists of both plant-based and animal-based protein. We already touched on what meats you should be eating, now let’s review the plant-based foods that best provide protein:
Edamame 1-cup = 18g
Black beans 1-cup = 16g
Lima beans 1-cup = 16g
Peanut butter ¼-cup = 7g
Wild rice 1-cup = 7g
Quinoa 1-cup = 8g
Almonds ¼-cup = 6g
Chia Seeds 2-tbsp = 6g
Steel cut oatmeal ¼-cup = 5g
Cashews ¼-cup = 5g
Pumpkin seeds ¼-cup = 5g
Potatoes 1 medium = 4g
Spinach 1-cup = 6g
Avocado ½ = 2g
Broccoli ½-cup = 2g
Brussel sprouts ½-cup = 2g
And those are just to name a few! When looking at these foods, it’s easy to see how quickly you can meet your protein goal by the end of the day. For instance, this morning I made a smoothie and it had 9 grams of protein all due to spinach, chia seeds and almond milk.
I used to be one of those people who thought that if you don’t eat meat, then you would not get enough protein. Now, I see that it is very easy to get more than enough protein from just one meal! The important thing to remember is to get your balanced amount of protein from a variety of lean meats, plant proteins and minimal dairy products. Take a closer look at your diet, you may be getting more than you need!