Ponderings on protein

When I started lifting back in January, I also started paying better attention to my diet. The friend who introduced me to lifting asked if I was getting enough protein; I replied that I didn’t know – didn’t know how much I was eating on a regular basis or how much I should be eating. So I started keeping track of my food. I started using the myfitnesspal app to keep track of macros (carb/protein/fat percentages) as well as tracking calories in general to make sure I wasn’t over (or under!) eating.

A side note here: the summer when I got into ultras and was training for the 50M, I started using MFP, but it quickly went from “keeping an eye on things” to obsessing about calories. It was not a healthy time. It never got down to dangerous levels, but it was ruining my positivity and stressing me out. I recall my goal was something like 1400 calories – probably around 1000 fewer than I should have been eating, given the mileage I was doing. Thankfully, that period lasted only a few months. Once I got back from a family vacation and talked to one of my friends about how much calories and food were stressing me out, I stopped using the app and very quickly began feeling better. (As it turns out, eating is good for you! Who knew.) So when my friend suggested I use an app like MFP to track things, I was a little cautious, but I had already had the experience of misusing the app and felt reasonably confident that I could handle it and stay in control, so I went ahead with it. End sidenote.

As it turned out, I wasn’t really getting enough protein – probably about 40-50 grams. I don’t blame veganism on that – plenty of vegans get plenty of protein, myself currently included. Protein intake just wasn’t on my radar, especially since I’d had a pretty low-key winter for exercise. Since I’ve started tracking macros, I typically aim for about 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat*. This translates to anywhere from 120 to 160+ grams of protein per day, depending on my activity level. Of course, I don’t hit these marks exactly, every day, but it’s a good guideline that helps me figure out what to eat.

Like a lot of runners, carbs were my best friend. Pasta, bread, potatoes, etc. I never thought to change how I was eating, since I didn’t feel particularly bad about carbs. I still don’t. Carbs are wonderful. (I don’t get how people can try to go “no carb.” It’s in fruit. It’s in veggies. What are these people eating? And unless you have celiac disease or in some other way really are sensitive to gluten, just hush up about how terrible bread is for you. People have been eating it since the dawn of mankind. It can’t be that bad. I was stunned when I heard the woman for whom I babysit utter the phrase, “All grains are just bad.” Just – no. Nope. Wrong. Rice is a staple in, like, every country. And the bread/dawn-of-mankind statement applies here too. But this is the same family whose 8-year-old child, upon opening the baking powder can whilst making cookies with me, looked up and asked, “Is this liner BPA-free? An eight year old. Ok, I’m done.)

However, since I’ve upped my protein, I’ve noticed a number of changes. Protein is typically more filling than carbs, so I usually feel full for longer after eating. I have more sustained energy throughout the day. The most noticeable difference, though, has been my recovery time. It’s basically zero. It takes a lot to make me sore, but I’m almost never really sore the next day. Granted, I’ve only recently started running much again, but after my long runs I’ve been totally fine. Same with lifting: even if I have a hard workout, there’s not much attrition the next day.

It’s kind of odd, actually. Over the years, I’ve gotten so used to feeling beat-up the day after a long run. It’s told me that I worked hard (and that I needed to rest). Pain is an assumed part of distance running, and it kind of feels like cheating the system. I’m sure it will be back once I really get into the swing of things, but I suspect it will be less than before.

I try to get as much protein naturally as I can – beans and such – and I end up eating a lot of soy products. I’d like to cut down on that, actually. I gave in and, feeling like a bro, ordered a 4-lb. bag of soy protein powder (Honeyville Farms). I had my first protein shake. I got used to the taste. I discovered new ways to incorporate the stuff into other, tastier things (my favorite is vegan protein pudding). And no, protein powder does not equal InstaHulk (although I have put on some muscle mass from lifting plus increasing protein). Now that I’m shifting my focus more towards running and away from lifting, I’m going to continue eating lots of protein. It’s been good to me.

– bec

*A note on macro percentages: everyone feels best and performs best at different breakdowns. Mine is somewhere around 40/30/30, but everyone is different. Take some time and experiment to see what’s most optimal for you; make sure to take notes on how you’re feeling and performing while you’re doing this so you can notice changes and correlations over time.

Vegan Protein Pudding
It’s easy. It’s tasty. It’s full of protein. Just put this stuff in a food processor and try to not eat the whole batch – or do.

1 block silken tofu
4 scoops (1 cup) protein powder, soy/hemp/otherwise
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup maple syrup or sweetener of choice
1.5C soy milk (use chocolate for extra chocolate, though it has more sugar)
You can also mix in peanut butter, that’s pretty good and adds a little fat.
Top with raspberries, blueberries, chocolate chips, whatever.

You can also do a quick, one-bowl version: 2 scoops protein powder, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, about 1 cup soy milk, and some sweetener. You can just mix that up in the bowl. Since it doesn’t include the tofu, you may need a little extra milk to get the desired consistency.

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