Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Protein Question

EDIT 8/9/2011:
Since writing this post I've cut most grains out of my diet and replaced them with leafy greens and more fruit. The result is that I'm now getting closer to 25% of my calories from protein.

So I get asked a lot, where do I get my protein? We're a pretty protein-fixated culture. I visit fitness blogs and see all sorts of protein-shake-this and whey-supplement-that. These same sources generally refer to animal based protein sources as 'high quality' because they contain all the essential amino acids in one simple package. Essential amino acids are the ones our bodies don't produce, that we must obtain from food. I think 'high quality' is a misnomer, I think 'convenient' (in the way that fast food is convenient) would be a more apt description. You can get all the essential amino acids from plants simply by eating a variety of plant based proteins through the day: beans, nuts, seeds and grains.

My simple answer to The Protein Question is that I get my protein from plants. The slightly more complicated answer to the question is that virtually ALL the sound, peer reviewed science out there suggests that the human body runs best on a diet of 15-20% protein. If you are an American with anything close to a typical American diet, you're getting WAY more than that.

Recently I started tracking my food at Calorie Count. I average between 10 and 15% of my calories from protein per day. Conventional 'wisdom' says I'm not meeting my protein requirements, especially as an athlete with a vigorous workout schedule to fuel and recover from. Um, you've seen my picture there at the top of the page? Does it look like I'm not getting enough protein? Or any other nutrient, for that matter?

I think we really need to get beyond The Protein Question. We're all getting enough. If you're having a hard time with energy levels or building muscle mass, look elsewhere in your diet. Are you getting enough fiber? Are you getting enough vitamins and minerals? What about the nearly 1000 phytonutrients that have been identified in whole plant foods? Are you getting enough of those? Our bodies need more than protein to run efficiently and to build and repair muscle. The best source of the nutrients most of us are deficient in is fruit and vegetables. I eat 15-20 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. I don't even think about protein, my priority every day is to get those fruits and veggies into my body. It's working out pretty well for me.

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