After following Go Kaleo for a while and now reading her new book, Taking up Space: A Guide to Escaping the Diet Maze, I’m 100% convinced that I need to make more of an effort to get more protein if I have any ambitions in the strength/body composition department.
Yes, I still want to follow the intuitive eating approach. And yes, I still reject the idea that fitness is about achieving a certain aesthetic. I think both of these beliefs are compatible with aiming to get more protein into my daily pattern of eating.
Intuitive eating doesn’t mean paying no attention to what I eat. In fact, the last principle is “Honor your health with gentle nutrition.” Ironically, now that I’ve lifted the restrictions, I have pretty much no strong food cravings. This makes it much easier for me regularly to make choices that have good nutritional value. I find myself attracted to whole foods in any case. But I need to think more consciously about where I’m getting my protein.
Aiming for a leaner body that has a different lean mass to fat ratio than what I have now doesn’t need to be about looking a certain way. For me, it’s more about feeling strong and energetic. That in turn helps me enjoy my chosen activities more and feel as if I am experiencing positive gains from them.
I’m vegan. That means I avoid any animal products to the best of my ability. I’ve chosen it for ethical, not health, reasons. As far as what I eat is concerned, that means no meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, or honey. I’m okay with these omissions and do not miss anything on the list of non-vegan choices. But I am finding that my strength training program and the concomitant increase in lean mass just is feeling stalled.
It could be because I’m almost fifty (that’s no secret!), so any changes are going to come more slowly. But more likely it’s because I’m not getting sufficient protein to fuel the fire. If Go Kaleo is correct, then we all should be getting one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. For me, that means more than 125 grams of protein daily. The way I’m eating at present makes that a stretch on most days.
This is not to say a vegan diet does not offer ample sources of good quality protein. It just means that it requires some attention. It’s not as simple as just grilling a chicken breast or eating a can of tuna (neither of which I can even imagine myself doing anymore).
My first goal is to get to about 100 grams of protein per day. To do this I need to make sure I’m getting good protein at every meal and every snack. What does this mean in real food terms? I’ve done a bit of research and here’s what I have come up with.
At breakfast, I’m already getting a good 23-25 grams of protein by not changing anything. I put peanut butter on my toast or english muffin and soy milk in my morning smoothie, made also with a couple of scoops of pumpkin seed protein powder. A cup of oatmeal with a cup of soymilk has close to 20 grams of protein. On more leisurely mornings, a tofu scramble is a fantastic start.
At lunch, I often eat soup or salad. The commitment to protein means making sure I add legumes or seeds (1/2 cup of kidney beans has 20 grams) to my salads and eat tofu (1/4 cup has 10 grams) or tempeh on regular basis. Brown rice has protein (2.5 grams per half cup). The same portion of quinoa has twice as much.
For dinner, there are lots of different things to do. When I have pasta, I can make a blush sauce by adding some silken tofu to my tomato sauce and boost it even more with chickpeas or kidney beans. Falafel is a pretty good choice. So are veggie burgers or veggie sausage, at least some of the time. And I’ve already developed the habit of adding some beans to my tofu stir-fries. And I have a really tasty balsamic vinagrette recipe that uses cashews as a base instead of olive oil.
For snacks, I can dip my sliced apples in peanut butter or almond butter, have some hummus with crackers or veggies, or steam up some edamame. If I want apple sauce, I stir in a few sliced almonds or soy nuts. Occasionally, clif bars or clif’s builder bars can ramp up the day’s protein intake, with 10 grams in a regular clif bar and 20 grams in the builder bars. They’re very much like candy bars in other respects, so they’re not something I want to rely on daily.
There are also some surprises when I start looking at the protein in foods. It’s possible, for example, to find pretty good amounts of it in the pita bread and english muffins that I already enjoy eating. I don’t want to use bread as my major source of protein, but it’s good to know that it factors into the protein equation.
Sadly, at least for the next little while, I’m going to need to track. I’ve been quite public in announcing that I am no fan of tracking — it is oppressive and represents to me all that is wrong with dieting (the monitoring, weighing, measuring, and counting).
But I plan to keep track for the next few days just to get an idea of what is actually required for me to reach 100 grams of protein in a day. Using the strategies outlined above, which don’t really deviate from what I like to eat already but do require me to make conscious choices that include protein, it’s not as hard as I thought it would be to hit 100 grams in a day. But in order to see whether I’m making it, I’m going to track my food this week. I am pretty sure that I won’t need to track for much longer than that.
The biggest challenge is dining out at restaurants that have don’t cater to vegans. Lots of places will come up with something, but it frequently lacks protein. Today, for example, I had lunch at an Italian restaurant and had a spinach salad and the grilled veggie panini. They were both delicious but aside from the five or six glazed pecans in the salad, neither had much quality protein. The panini bread had more than any other ingredient. That’s okay once in awhile, but if I’m trying to hit 100 g a day, I can’t have too many lunches like that.
I’m also going to track my body composition at the start of this protein experiment. Tomorrow I have an appointment at the bod pod, and I will check in again after six months of making a conscious effort to get more protein.
Right now, I’m going to go steam up some edamame (9 grams) for my afternoon snack, and throw together a salad that includes tempeh bacon (6 grams for 3.5 slices), hummus (1-2 grams per tablespoon, depending), and sliced almonds (6 grams per 1/4 cup) thrown in with the mixed greens, avocado, sliced tomato and black olives.
I’m curious to see whether this focus on protein will make a difference in the results I see in my resistance training program. If you have any more suggestions for protein-rich vegan options, please share them in the comments.
Meanwhile, bon appetit!