Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The protein predicament

Some of you (especially those who have been reading my rambling posts for a while) know exercise, outdoor activity and health rank pretty high on my family's list of priorities.

Well, over the past month, my dad, younger brother, DH and I have been affected by varied strains of viral infection, so one of the observations as we are returning to our regular active routine was the weakness and lethargy that remained even after the symptoms faded. That led to a discussion on nutrition, specifically our daily intake of protein.

Most of us know that protein is one of the basic building blocks of the body and is essential for muscle growth and repair. Protein is required for every vital body and maintenance of all organs and connective tissue (bones, ligaments, cartilage, muscles etc.) skin, hair and even genes. And if the body does not get enough protein, it starts breaking down muscle to get its needs within a day or two...this is scary stuff, as I am pretty confident your everyday activity involves a lot more than just vegging on the couch.

We all take some form of protein in our diets every day. But as we engage in more cardiovascular activity, we focus on loading ourselves up with carbs. As for protein, a smear of peanut butter, a glass of milk, an omelet...and we believe we have enough protein to keep our bodies running (pun intended).

So, the question is, are we taking enough protein to cover the body's needs?

How to calculate your protein needs:
Weight in kilograms multiplied by (0.8 - 1.8)
Use a lower number if you are in good health and are sedentary (i.e., 0.8). Use a higher number (between 1 and> 1.8) if you are under stress, are pregnant, are recovering from an illness, or if you are involved in consistent and intense weight or endurance training.

It is well-known that only animal protein has all the essential amino acids the body needs. But the downside is the high fat content and associated risks of heart and other diseases.
Plant (vegetable) protein is incomplete and lacks certain essential amino acids. It is also more difficult to digest and absorb. According to this article, with vegeterian diet, to achieve a balanced amino acids intake, a variety of plant protein sources need to be complemented with each other in the diet.

Monitor your average protein intake over a day or two. You will notice that unless you are diligent about it, you could be severely shortchanging yourself.

I eat meat, but am not a regular meat eater. Also, I prefer natural food sources to artificial supplements. I eat chicken once or twice a week, fish, steak and pork a couple of times a month (if that). My major sources of protein then are milk, yoghurt, eggs, peanut butter and lentils (which, in order to get the quantity of protein I need, I should be eating tons of). I also get a few grams from oats and whole wheat sources, but definitely not as much as what I should be consuming. Even if you are counting the protein you consume everyday from different sources, is the protein content in the said sources accurate considering that nutrition charts only indicate the protein content in a particular source, and not the amount that is actually absorbed by the body? While I do not believe that high-protein diets are the answer, I have decided to add to my diet more egg whites, milk and canned lite tuna (in water), in addition to vegetable sources.

Here are a couple of articles that list the quantities of protein in various food sources. Note that large quantities of each source (plant sources, in particular) only yield a small amount of digestible, absorbable protein.

How do you get your daily requirement of protein? What are your preferred sources of protein?


Jill said...

I'm a protein-aholic; my ex-trainer enstilled the value of protein for marathon training. I drink a protein shake either morning or mid-afternoon and I use Isopure protein powder because it's an isolate protein, therefore more of the protein gets absorbed than other whey protein powders. I mix it with frozen fruit and spinach and wha-la, 50 gr of protein. I also eat a lot of chicken, egg whites, carbmaster yogurt, cottage cheese. Then I be sure to inhale an entire cake and go into a sugar coma the evening after the marathon :).

Excellent job on your half marathon - woohooo!!

ajh said...

I know I am not good about protein and I am trying to be better.

Sarah said...

Very interesting post!!! My proteim mainly comes from milk, eggs, beans and some meat. I should probably count it some day.

The Happy Runner said...

Interesting post! I have been craving meat (I eat about what you do) in the biggest way lately and I have chalked it up to needing more protein.

Marlene said...

Great post... I *think* I get enough protein most days. I eat a high protein cereal (Kashi) for breakfast, beans at lunch (chickpea salad(, almonds and/or hardboiled eggs for snacks, chicken (or other lean meat) with dinner.

lauren said...

Interesting post! I am going to read up and try to figure out the amount of protein I am getting vs. what I actually need. Thx! I normally get my protein through eggs, yogurt, chicken, fish, and almond or peanut butter.

desi said...

Very informative post Kavi. For my protein, I go with almond butter, egg whites, milk, soy milk, yougurt, lentils, fish,pistachio, peanut and almond. I don't think I get enough protein especially having been a vegetarian for a long time.

Beth said...

Hmmm... my diet is not enviable. It is probably the area that needs the most work in my life. I have started drinking a skim protein shake, like skim Muscle Milk after lifting weights or a longer run. I like it very much and I think I feel a diffence.

Emily said...

Very interesting post. Most of America is the opposite, eating more protein than is actually needed. The body can only process/store so much each day, and the rest is shuttled into making triglycerides or used in the TCA cycle for energy.

I think it's also good that you pointed out plant protein vs high biological value. Here's another great site that talks a lot about protein specifics:

Thanks for the great post!

Erica said...

First of all- love this post. I could not agree with you more- if you eat a mostly or full vegetarian diet, getting enough protein can be an issue. I personally try to avoid soy, so this limits my potential sources. I monitor my daily intake and get the majority of my protein from eggs, egg whites, milk, yogurt, beans (yes, you do need to eat a ton if this is a major protein source for you haha ;)) and nuts. To supplement, I use Jay Robb's Egg White protein blend. I hope that ya'll stay healthy- its getting warmer time to be sick ;)

I Run for Fun said...

Thanks a lot for your input, guys! Glad to see that everyone is conscious of this issue. Thanks for the link, Emily. Very informative.

Stay healthy, everyone!

Roisin said...

This is something that I struggle with, oddly enough, given that I am an avowed carnivore. Because meat ends up being expensive, I don't eat much of it these days. If I eat any at all, aside from the odd meal out, it's usually chicken. So I think I get the bulk of my protein from milk and peanut butter!

Ali said...

I really struggle with getting enough protein. It's my least favourite thing ... I'll eat the veggies and carbs first.

I try and have egg whites or smoothie for breakfast and always bring so kind of protein for my lunch ... tuna or chicken to put on my salad.

So at least I get those two if I miss at dinner.

Also, if I cook chicken in advance and have in the fridge I tend to eat it since it's handy

Mel-2nd Chances said...

Great post!! I'm trying to be more conscious of my diet, I'm not sure if I eat enough calories in a day for all that I'm doing. Lately, I've been taking a Vega shake more days, and eat chicken and salmon a few time a week! Have a great weekend!

Irene said...

(I'm still busting up over Jill and the cake...) LOL...

I get most of my protein from chicken, egg whites and beans, and every once in a while a soy protein shake blended with fruit. I've been reading up of vegan protein alternatives, but I'd probably never go completely that route.

Prior to running I was super into weight training and used protein supplement shakes, but had to look for either soy or lactose free formulas, since I break out with whey.

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting!
Thank You!

Mahesha Chayapathi said...

Very informative blog. Being a Vegetarian I always look for plant based protein choices. After reading Scott Jurek's Eat and Run I've realized there is miles of difference between "Vegetarian" and "Healthy Vegetarian". I'm getting inclined towards Vegan diet and slowly working in that direction. So far sources like Quinoa, Tofu, Soy, Brown Rice, Spirulina , Tons of lentils and greens are helping out. Would appreciate if some one can provide more plant based protein choices. Thanks a lot.