Stay up to date! Sign up for our newsletter and be the first to get all Blast Fitness news!
You’ve heard me say it many times before; most women grossly underestimate the amount of protein we need each day. Yes veggies are very important, yes we need to be cognizant of our fibre intake, yes healthy fats are a must, but protein is becoming the new ‘black spot’ in the nutrition industry. We’ve villiainized dietary fat and created a carbohydrate-fearing culture, so it is not surprising that protein was next on the chopping block (pun intended).
We need protein, and we need it from a variety of sources to stay healthy and fit. Ensuring adequate protein intake daily supports our muscles, bones, blood, hormones and immune system. Skimping out on protein increases our hunger levels as we are less likely to be full and satisfied, causes our blood sugar to be out of whack and increases cravings.
So yes, protein intake is important. Today we are going to talk about how much protein we need, and how we can get it in without needing to eat a chicken breast at each meal.
Before we jump into today’s post all about protein sources other than chicken, I’d like to say there is nothing wrong with eating chicken. It is ubiquitous when we talk about protein, and I think most people imagine a chicken breast when they think about protein-based foods. In the house I grew up in we didn’t eat much chicken. If it was on the menu then my Dad made bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, which is still how I prefer to eat chicken to this day. It’s tastier, not as dry and frankly, cooking chicken with the bone-in offers some amazing health benefits including better absorption of minerals like calcium and magnesium.
There are a number of reasons we need to vary our protein sources. Firstly, we can get bored when we eat the same thing over and over again. Healthy eating boredom for me leads to reaching for packaged snacks and making impulsive, less-than-optimal food choices. I think variety is the spice of life and the food we eat is no different. Secondly, we lose out on getting a wide variety of minerals and amino acids when we only eat chicken breasts as our main source of protein. Choosing chickpeas, greek yogurt, ground beef and salmon helps to ensure we get the adequate nutritional value we need from food.
I like to break down my protein sources into two categories; primary sources of protein and secondary sources of protein. Primary sources of protein are almost always animal based and they include all 9 essential amino acids that the body cannot formulate on its own. I also consider foods primary sources of protein if their highest macronutrient content is protein (before carbohydrate or fat). Secondary sources of protein do not contain all 9 essential amino acids and have more carbohydrate or fat than protein respectively.
We do not need to get all of our protein from animal based sources. This article is a perfect example that varying your sources of protein is important, but I choose to eat animal protein because I like it, it helps to maintain a healthy and strong body and it plays a part in a balanced approach to eating.
In an effort to give you some assistance when it comes to preparing your protein-packed meals, here is what I’ve got in my fridge for protein options this week.
My parents were commercial salmon fishers for 30 years. This was our ‘chicken breast’ growing up! While I’m not super stingy on always purchasing local or grass-fed beef, I only eat wild stock salmon. For health, environmental and it-was-ground-into-my-belief-system reasons.
Salmon is packed with protein, a whopping 22 grams in a 3 ounce serving. Another great way to get the protein and healthy omega 3’s from salmon is to buy it canned. It keeps in the cupboard and you can whip up a salmon salad to top greens like arugula. The most common way I cook salmon is to preheat the oven to 400F, place a filet of salmon on a piece of parchment paper, drizzle a small amount of soy sauce on top and cook it for 8-10 minutes. Avoid overcooking salmon as dry and flaky fish is not nearly as delicious.
Yes I eat the whole egg. The yolk of an egg contains most of the nutritional value including half of the egg’s protein content, vitamin D and lutein. I boil these for breakfast, and scramble them with veggies.
We go through at least one dozen of eggs in a week at our house. If you are concerned about how many eggs it is safe to eat each day, you can read this article and its’ reported studies HERE. As always, nutrition information can be conflicting based on the study sample. One thing I do not support is food fear-mongering. Eggs are healthy, real foods and a great choice daily (yes, avoid them if you are allergic or intolerant, that is obvious).
Why purchase egg whites when you are already eating eggs? I learned this trick from the great Dr. John Berardi of Precision Nutrition. Adding egg whites to dishes like scrambled eggs and frittatas can help to increase your protein content without increasing the overall calories.
I use egg whites like this: make scrambled eggs with 2 whole eggs and add 1/2 – 1 cup of egg whites. Rather than use 4 eggs, it helps to add protein with a lower overall caloric load, but we still get the nutrition of a whole egg. Between myself and my husband, we both prioritize our protein intake and this one way to improve our workout recovery time.
Ground beef is one of my favourite ways to get protein at dinner. I’ll make it into bunless burgers with avocado, mustard and tomato or even cook it up in a pan with some taco seasoning to put on top of a big green salad a la taco salad with salsa as the dressing. We have great local beef that is grass-fed which is what I buy most of the time. Sometimes we eat conventional lean ground beef, and it is worth noting that we have much more strict agricultural laws here in Canada. Many of the growth hormones that naturally occur in animals like rbST and rBGH are not allowed to be supplemented in Canadian cattle.
I don’t always buy greek yogurt as it’s not my favourite food to eat, but when I top it with some fresh raspberries, dark chocolate and hemp hearts, it tastes delicious. I’ll also use it as a substitute for mayo when I make chicken or tuna salads with celery, onion and carrots.
Greek yogurt has a higher protein content than other types of yogurt. Go for the unsweetened, unflavoured brand and add your own fruit or honey later.
This is one of my favourite secondary protein sources. Made from chickpeas, hummus is great as a spread on a wrap or as a dip for celery, carrots and cucumber. I consider this a secondary source of protein because hummus contains more carbohydrate gram for gram than it does protein. Two tablespoons of hummus contains 5 grams of carbohydrate and 2 grams of protein. Of course it contributes to our daily protein intake, but you’d have to eat massive amounts of hummus in order to consume enough protein to support muscle growth and immune system support.
My favourite winter time recipe calls for cannellini beans (or white kidney beans). I love to cook up my Kale, Sausage & White Bean Cassoulet on cold nights when a salad just isn’t going to cut it satisfaction wise. It’s a hearty french-country inspired stew that packs a protein and veggie punch and will keep you full for hours.
Beans are another example of a secondary protein because they are higher in carbohydrate than protein. Of course they are still a great way to get fibre and protein in one meal, and I’ll often pair them with a primary protein source like my favourite local italian sausages.
It is important to note that vegetarians and vegans can get all the 9 essential amino acids from plant-based complete proteins like quinoa and hemp hearts. These are still secondary proteins, but are great options if you choose not to eat meat.
So now you know how I’ll be getting enough protein without needing to eat chicken this week, and next week it will be different yet again. I’m not a fan of eating the same thing week after week. But before we wrap up, it’s important to discuss how much protein is actually enough.
The Health Canada states that 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is the recommended daily amount of protein for a sedentary person. This means that if you are active and you’d like to get stronger, we need to be eating at least 1-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight each day. To put this in perspective, if you weigh 140lbs or 63.6kg then you will need to eat between 63-95 grams of protein daily to support your training and health. Highly active females need to be eating upwards of 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight each day.
As with anything, break this down into do-able chunks. Our body can only digest and absorb 25-30 grams of protein in one sitting, so break your meals and snacks down into about 25 grams of protein each and you are well on your way.
Remember, adequate protein, high-fibre carbohydrate and some dietary fat are all important for a healthy diet that will have us looking and feeling our best.
To your strength and wellness,
P.S. Are you looking for more science-based information on protein for women who lift regularly? Read this stellar article from Girls Gone Strong.