Protein is an important and it needs to be included in everyone’s diet. It contains amino acids, the building blocks necessary for muscle growth and maintenance. Additionally, protein helps you to feel fuller for longer and helps you to feel more energised without resorting to sweet treats.
Carbohydrates are often considered the main area to manage to eat healthily. But it’s actually consistent protein consumption that is the most difficult to accomplish yet also the most rewarding when you get it right.
Consuming enough protein is an important contributor to effective weight and body fat management. While controlling carbohydrates is also important, consuming sufficient protein is key.
The reason for this is due to blood sugar levels. When our blood sugar levels drop, we feel a decrease in energy. To counteract this, we often seek out something sweet (i.e. carbohydrates aka processed sugar of all varieties) to boost those energy levels. When you get into the habit of supplementing low energy levels with sugar, unnecessary weight gain is inevitable.
This is where sufficient protein intake comes to the rescue. When you consume enough daily protein, you’ll feel fuller through the day because protein takes longer to digest.
This longer digestive process means you’ll receive a more sustained release of energy after your meals. When you are getting regular energy through the day, you’re less likely to crave sugar to give you a boost.
Why is protein important when exercising?
When you exercise, you create little tears in the targeted muscles you’re working on. Following exercise, your body gets to work on repairing and rebuilding those targeted muscles to come back stronger. This is nothing to be concerned about – it’s all part of your body’s recovery process.
After you exercise, your body will start the recovery process where it heals and rebuilds these little tears in the muscle tissue. As proteins are the building blocks for muscle tissue, it plays an important role in this process. By consuming protein on a regular basis both before and after your workouts, the next time you exercise, those targeted muscles will rebuild stronger and be more capable of adapting to the demands you’re placing on them.
Myth-busting: Vegans don’t get enough protein
There’s a common misconception that plant-based diets lack protein because animal protein is presumed to be the only option. However, there are numerous plant-based, protein-rich sources that provide a sufficient alternative including soy, tempeh, beans, edamame, quinoa, barley plus a wide range of seeds.
The key to consuming enough protein on a plant-based diet is to diversify and not rely on one source. By ensuring you get a healthy combination of soy options as well as varied legumes, grains, and seeds on a weekly basis, you’ll tick those protein boxes and get everything you need.
If you’re vegan, opt for 1 cup of cooked legumes (i.e. chickpeas, edamame or tempeh) every day. This is because legumes are rich in lysine (an essential amino acid), which is in shorter supply from other plant-based sources.
Plant-based protein sources
To get the biggest bang for your plant-based protein buck, here’s a list of excellent plant-protein options.
- Seitan. This is made from gluten and has a very similar texture to cooked meat. While it is very high in protein at 25g per 100g serving, and can be adapted to a variety of recipes, if you’re sensitive to gluten you’ll want to try other options.
- Tofu, tempeh, and edamame. These soy-based options all contain between 12–20g of protein per 100g serving. While tempeh has a nutty flavour, tofu tends to lack any distinctive flavour on its own. So, you’ll need to hone those seasoning skills to make tofu a tastier option.
- Lentils. At 18g of protein per 100g serving, lentils are an excellent source of protein. Additionally, lentils are rich in slow-release carbohydrates and fibre, making them an excellent source for both energy as well as improved digestion.
- Quinoa. This ancient grain contains 8g of protein per 250g serving. It’s also a great source of fibre and iron and makes an excellent alternative to rice.
- Green peas. At 9g per 160g cooked cup serving, these little beauties are also loaded with fibre. Add in the other list of nutrients in green peas along with their versatility to add to recipes, and you’re on to a winning source of plant-based protein.
Plant-based protein powders
Protein powders are an excellent way to supplement your protein intake. While you always want to try to get your protein through more natural sources, protein powders are effective at topping things up for consistent intake.
Here are a few things to consider when choosing plant-based protein powders.
- Soy protein powder. Soy protein is a complete protein, meaning it contains enough of all essential amino acids. Soy protein powder is also loaded with protein (25g per 100g serving).
- Pea protein powder. Pea protein is a complete protein but is low in methionine, an antioxidant. This can be overcome by combining pea protein powder with protein powder made from rice.
- Rice protein powder. Rice protein is also a complete protein but is low in leucine. Leucine is an important amino acid for muscle growth and healing. This can be overcome by combining rice protein with pea protein (a 30/70 mix). This combination closely resembles the protein profile of whey protein.
- Texture of vegan protein powders. Sometimes plant-based protein shakes can have a grittier texture than whey protein powder. This is because plant-based protein powder contains more fibre from actual plants, which can make the texture grittier. If you prefer a smooth texture to your plant-based protein shake, try adding the liquid before the powder and then blending fully.
No matter how you decide to get your protein, make sure you are eating it at every meal, and this will ensure you recover faster, maintain a healthy weight, and feel less like snacking.
James Staring is the founder and lead fitness coach at Fit to Last Personal Trainers.