Thoughts on being a body builder and being a vegan. Let’s answer the question everyone asks: where do I get my protein?
It seems when nutrition comes up in conversation, everyone talks about protein. I was at the dentist with our oldest son the other day, and the dentist started asking me about protein while she was working on his teeth! For many reasons, proper nutrition has become synonymous with adequate protein intake in our culture, and (unfortunately) for most people, that means lots of animal products. So when you tell them you’re vegan, you are immediately on the stand testifying that plants do in fact have protein.
The thing about protein is it’s easy to get enough from food. And plants are included in the category of food, of course. The minimum daily protein requirement for healthy adults is between 40 and 60 grams on average, which many of us get in a meal or two! There is evidence out there demonstrating that athletes may benefit from a higher intake, but the idea that you’re somehow less healthy if you don’t guzzle copious amounts of protein at each meal is pretty absurd.
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I can understand where a lot of these questions are coming from though. Before becoming a plant-based athlete, I would have had the same panicky questions about protein for anyone who claimed not to eat any animals, and it’s only through years of personal experience and nutritional education that I can appreciate that it’s really a non-issue for the vast majority of people.
When answering questions like the ones I was getting at the dentist’s office, my normal motto is to focus on whole foods like beans, greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, and you’ll get plenty of protein without having to rely on either animal-based foods or processed sources. If most people cut refined foods like soda and flour-based products in favor of whole plant foods, they would likely get all the protein they need even without any animal products like meat or milk. They’d also get a whole slew of disease-fighting nutrients, too!
While I stand firmly against any need to consume animal products for protein or anything else, there are sometimes I’ve found refined protein sources can be beneficial. For example, protein powder has been shown to improve recovery and muscle gain in resistance training subjects. It can also be a great quick snack like protein power balls for when you don’t have time for a meal and would otherwise reach for a much less healthy option, such as a donut or candy bar.
Another time protein powder can really come in handy is while dieting. I am in the process of dieting for a bodybuilding competition right now (which is probably why this is on my mind), and I can say without a doubt that consuming a daily protein shake, like a protein apple pie smoothie, makes my life easier and more enjoyable. If you’re trying to maintain a certain daily intake of protein while cutting calories, as bodybuilders do, then sticking to exclusively whole foods can leave you with a very tough meal plan to follow. I only consume about 150 grams of protein per day (which is not much for a bodybuilder my size), and I would still have to eat mostly beans, tofu, and green vegetables at each meal to hit that target while on the lowest part of a diet. With a post workout protein shake though, I am able to include very healthy and satisfying foods that happen to be lower in protein such as fruit, sweet potatoes, and whole grains. This allows me to get in more diverse nutrition and enjoy my diet more, a win-win!
I am an ambassador for Sunwarrior, but I like to think that my perspective is pretty unbiased. If you’ve read any of my work, you’ve probably noticed I rarely mention protein powders and instead am always pushing a whole foods, plant-based diet. But I do think it’s important to share that there are circumstances where protein powder is a great option, such as those I’ve listed above. Just make sure you go with a plant-based brand you trust, one that is organic. And, yes, Sunwarrior happens to be that kind of brand.