“But where do you get your protein?” – my least favorite question. Ever. It’s a little frustrating that many people trust the media for nutrition advice. The media has their own agenda. It’s been over two years since I’ve gone meatless. I feel great, I’m still progressing in my sport, and I don’t miss it. However, I’m not going to try and preach vegetarianism at you. Let me give you a little backstory.
I started caring about nutrition and what I ate fairly young – middle school to be exact. I am the youngest of three active children and both my older siblings had an influence on my diet choices. At that time, I decided to give up red meat and pig. I tried to eat low-fat, whole-grain, and plenty of fruits and veggies. Chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, and dairy were my main sources of protein. I ate little refined sugars, but I do have a bit of a sweet tooth. Sometimes the smell of grilling steak would get to me, but I really didn’t have much of a problem giving it up. Fast forward 13 (ish) years and my husband decides he wanted to start working towards a more plant-based diet. He discovered the triathlete Brenden Brazier and his story of going vegan. At that point, I was like, “I’m not ready to give up my chocolate milk, but eh, let’s start vegetarian. No meat or fish.” This changed my focus to getting in more beans, legumes, and lentils, but I did some reading and realized it really isn’t that hard to get enough protein without meat. The realization that brought me to this conclusion is that we really don’t need as much as “they” say we do. The second realization came from reading and researching the protein we get from plants already (it’s more than “they” lead us to believe).
The key to making the switch is to take it slooow. I still eat eggs, and some dairy. I’m very slowly cutting down on dairy, but I’m no where close to cutting it out completely and I may never will. Your body does not like rapid diet and/or activity changes. And if you’re a real meat lover and try to go cold turkey, it’s bad for your psyche, too. Make it a lifestyle change, not a fad diet.
There is another factor to consider when looking at healthy diet for YOU – genetics. What did yo momma eat? Grandparents, great-grandparents? I believe it matters. This might even mean going totally meatless isn’t the best decision for you. If your ancestors survived on eating a lot of meat, your genes probably picked up on that. My family on both sides grew up kinda poor. Even my mother says she remembers when she was young eating just corn on the cob (that they grew) for dinner and that was the meal. Throughout my parents’ childhood, their families progressed economically and in the United States meat became less and less expensive as the farming industry boomed. But I think my genetics play a role in how well I do without meat.
I told you it’s not hard, but it’s not super easy either. You do have to try, and think about your meals, and make sure you’re getting good nutrition from what you eat. You can’t just eat pasta. Start with reading a book. The Thrive Diet by Brenden Brazier is a good one. The Plant-Based Power Diet by Leslie Beck is also a good one.
Whatever you do, my advice is to NOT believe everything the media tells you, read health and nutrition books, and just try things. See how you feel. Don’t get all “Type A” and try and get a 32-week diet plan that someone else made. The human body is so complicated and while there are groups, there aren’t identicals. So don’t get stuck on someone else’s diet plan. Learn objectively and apply subjectively.
Alright, so to answer the question (where do I get my protein), mostly from beans, legumes, lentils, peas, hemp, nuts, and seeds. I try to get variety, especially with beans, to get a good balance of the essential amino acids. I’m not vegan so I still have dairy and eggs. My body loves eggs. I use milk as a recovery food. I no longer use low-fat dairy unless I’m not eating it for nutritional benefit – like if I want to enjoy a latte or something. Although protein is not the bulk of what I eat, I’m certainly not on the “fat is fuel” train. Bring on the grains! I am not gluten sensitive individual, so sprouted whole wheat bread is on my grocery list (which, by the way has 5g of protein per slice). Brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, barely, corn, oats, I’m in love. Potatoes are a favorite, and of course I eat a lot of fruits and veggies. More than 60% of my daily calories come from carbohydrates.
Unfortunately, I have nutella and wine weaknesses. But I make sure I don’t consume these dangerous foods too often. And I’m a sucker for baked goods. Treats with refined sugar are terrible, but because sugar is a carbohydrate and I use a large amount of carbohydrates in training, I’m not as worried about “cheating” as much as you might think. For more on that, see www.struckbystride.com/sugar/. Alcohol is another issue, and I rarely drink while I’m in a training cycle for a marathon.
My diet is pretty picky as I’ve become sensitive to what my body needs when. Timing is just as important as the food itself. How I train and recover depends heavily on how and when I eat. Another book to consider is Nutritional Timing by John Ivy. Sport specific nutrition books will give you better ideas concerning training needs. If you are an athlete, you are not the same! Sports Nutrtion for Endurance Athletes by Monique Ryan, The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition by Matt Fitzgerald, and Racing Weight also by Matt Fitzgerald are good resources.
I enjoy reading nutrition books and learning new things as we continue to find out more and more how the food we eat affects us. However, I don’t take much at face value – I have to take into account experience and feel. Nobody has it all figured out. I try to be open to change as my body adapts (or doesn’t!) and to being flat out wrong and learn from my mistakes.