The number one question I’m often asked as a vegan is, “Where do you get your protein?”
My canned reply would be that Americans actually eat too much protein and I get all that I need from plant-based protein sources, such as nuts, seeds, veggies, grains, beans and legumes. However, I’ve recently experienced a spell of fatigue, muscle weakness and a subpar immune system, so I decided to check my protein intake and realized I actually might need to eat more protein!
Americans rely a little too heavily on meat-centric meals for protein; we could all benefit by leaning more toward plant-based protein sources. However, we first must be aware of our daily protein needs and the reason this macronutrient is held in such high regard by numerous nutritional professionals (myself included!)
Proteins are chains of amino acids that all have unique functions within the body. They are the building blocks of tissues, enzymes and hormones and will allow you to both recover from exercise and illness and build muscle faster. Protein is also helpful in regulating blood sugar, keeping us full and ultimately aiding in weight loss if total food intake isn’t in excess. Check out this link for a list of essential amino acids and their vegetarian-based food sources.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides a general recommendation for daily protein intake. Depending on lifestyle factors, age and gender, our protein needs vary. A good rule of thumb for healthy adults is a minimum Recommended Dietary Allowance of 0.8g/kg body weight. Most adults could benefit from intakes above the RDA (1.2g/kg body weight) to help maintain muscle function and mobility, as well as for the treatment of certain diseases including obesity, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, heart disease and sarcopenia.
Let's look at a specific example.
A woman who weighs 130 pounds weighs 59kg.
Calculate your weight in kilograms by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2.
Her weight in kilograms is then multiplied by the RDA of protein - between 0.8g and 1.2g.
59kg x 0.8g-1.2g = 47g-71g of protein per day.
Certain situations may lend themselves to additional supplements or protein-rich foods, such as the situations described here. Protein needs become more important during periods of reduced food intake, such as weight loss or during periods of recovery after illness or during aging.
Not only is getting enough protein important, but more and more research shows the benefits of proper protein distribution throughout the day in maintaining body composition, bone health and blood sugar control. Research also shows that evenly distributing your protein intake throughout the day at every meal (especially breakfast) is the best option for optimum health.
Are you meeting your daily protein needs? Add it up! Keep a food journal for a day or two and calculate your protein intake and compare it with what you should be consuming each day. A great place to keep track is My Fitness Pal.
A few great protein-rich ingredients for your Blast include nuts like walnuts, cashews and almonds, nut butters, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, chia seeds, cooked quinoa or amaranth, and protein powders.
For a protein-packed NutriBlast recipe, check out our 30 Gram Protein Blast!