Where I’m originally from, the Great White North (Canada), people still use dog sleds to travel in the winter. You can think of your body as the sled the dogs are pulling. And the dogs are the protein that make up your body — especially your muscles. If you only have one or two dogs pulling your sled, it doesn’t matter how much food you feed them, they can only eat so much food and turn it into motion. It’s much better to have four or six dogs pulling your sled if you want to pick up speed.
Muscle (Not Fat) Creates Energy
Likewise, if you’re not getting enough protein you just don’t have enough muscle with which to expend energy. It doesn’t matter how much carbohydrate or fat you consume – you need muscle to expend that energy. This is why people who have little muscle tone can eat a high-calorie diet and yet feel lethargic all day.
Vice versa, too much protein can be a problem too. But not as serious as too little.
You want the balance, not too much or too little. If you are eating a well–rounded diet containing plenty of vegetables and fruits it’s difficult to overeat on protein. And if you make sure, most days, that you’re including enough protein rich foods, you shouldn’t find it difficult to get the relatively meager amount of protein you need to thrive. Still, surprisingly, people in our developed countries are often deficient. Either because they eat too much high–carbohydrate junk food, follow a vegetarian diet without adequate amounts of non-meat protein or
have trouble absorbing protein. Sometimes, too, when money is tight people will fill their tummies with rice or bread as it is much cheaper than most protein sources (except legumes). In this strategy I’ll help you determine how much protein you need to eat each day. You can then see whether you are getting enough or too much. From there we can add or reduce the protein rich foods and put together a meal plan that has enough protein.
Your Body is 16% Protein
Muscle, hair, skin, and connective tissue are mainly made up of protein. Protein is not only critical to every single cell in your body, but also to the hormones and enzymes your body produces. Protein allows the neurotransmitters in our cells to communicate with each other. A lack of protein can affect everything. From your ability to digest food, to the way your genes express themselves, to your libido.
What Protein Can Do For You
• Motion depends on proteins through our muscles.
• All biochemical reactions require catalysts called enzymes, which contain protein.
• The structure of cells, and their extracellular matrix is largely made of protein called collagen.
• The transport of materials in body fluids depends of proteins like blood.
• Hormone receptors and other signaling molecules are proteins.
• Proteins are essential nutrients for humans.
• The transcription factors that guide cell differentiation, respond to signals and turn genes on and off are proteins.
Signs That You’re Not Getting Enough Protein
• Apathy, irritability and a spaced-out feeling
• Lack of muscle mass and weakness
• Low blood sugar (or constant high and low blood sugar)
• Diarrhea and intolerance to dairy products
• Lack of stomach acids
• Low body temperature
• Cravings for meat, peanut butter, eggs, dairy, nuts or beans
• Poor condition of nails and/or hair
Signs That You’re Eating Too Much Protein
• Your meals consist almost exclusively of meat, eggs or dairy
• Kidney problems
• Kidney stones
• Dehydration – even when you are drinking lots of water
• Ketones in your urine
• Chronic bad breath
• Joint pain
How to Calculate Your Protein Needs
Here’s how you can determine the amount of grams of protein you need to eat each day to stay
• Metric Version: Multiply your ideal body weight in kilograms by 0.8. So if a healthy
weight for you would be 70kg you need 70 x 0.8 = 56g of protein a day. Multiply by 2 for
growing infants. Multiply by 1.2 for growing adolescents.
• Imperial Version: Multiply your ideal body weight in pounds by 0.35. So if a healthy
weight for you would be 110 lbs you need 110 x 0.35 = 39g of protein a day. Multiply by 0.9 for
growing infants. Multiply by 0.54 for growing adolescents.
How to Distribute Protein
Let’s say you discovered you need to consume 60 grams of protein a day. You can simply divide it by three and have 20g at each meal. If you want, though, you can have two heavy protein meals of 30g each and skip having protein with the third meal. Maybe have a fruit smoothie with two scoops of protein powder for breakfast, meat and salad for lunch, then just cooked vegetables and rice for dinner.
Some people find they don’t digest protein well at breakfast or dinner. I’d recommend you eat your highest amount of protein at lunch because this is when your protein-digesting stomach acid is at its best.
Protein Rich Foods
Almost all foods have protein but most vegetables and fruits have so little it’s not worth counting (avocados and olives are exceptions). Grains tend to have more protein (especially quinoa and millet) but they are not complete proteins containing all essential amino acids so I wouldn’t recommend you count them entirely for your protein needs.
But if you are relying on legumes for your protein you should make sure you are eating at least one meal with an equal serving of grains (such as rice or bread). It doesn’t have to be the same meal. However, the legumes and the grains together will supply a complete protein. Stick to the list provided below for your protein requirements.
For now I just want to make sure you’re getting the right amount of protein. Even bad protein is better than not enough protein. And too much good protein may be worse than the right amount of not–so–good protein. So this week let’s just adjust your quantities — don’t focus on what you are eating.
How to Make It Simple
1. Calculate your protein needs as described earlier.
2. Print out the chart above showing protein amounts.
3. Circle the foods you usually eat.
4. Now, take a typical day, and figure out how much of those protein foods you eat at each meal.
E.g. you may have 1 cup of milk with your cereal in the morning. Or you might have half a
can of tuna at lunch. Write it down.
5. Now use the chart to figure out how much protein those servings are providing.
6. You should now know whether you are getting too much or too little protein.
7. Simply increase or decrease your serving sizes to bring you to the amount you should be
Let’s say you’ve determined you need 60g of protein a day. You might divide protein up like this…
If you are a meat–eater:
Breakfast — 3 eggs (18g)
Lunch — 2.5 oz chicken breast (20g)
Dinner — 3.5 oz fish fillet (22g)
If you are a vegetarian:
Breakfast — Oatmeal cooked with 2 cups of milk (16g) and 1⁄4 cup of soaked almonds (8g) or 3 eggs (18 g)
Lunch — Whole grain or rye sandwich with 4 tablespoons of peanut butter (16g)
Dinner — 1 cup of cooked lentils (16g)
If you are a vegan:
Breakfast — 4 scoops of protein powder in a smoothie (30g)
Lunch — 1 cup of beans in a salad (16g)
Dinner — Nut pâté (14g)
Give Yourself a Few Options
If you are a strict vegan you can still easily plan main protein dishes between nuts, seeds, legumes and protein powders.
If you eat meat you have a greater range of variety. You can eat the meat, the dairy and the vegetarian sources of the protein foods listed.
Have a routine. Maybe for lunch you rotate between tuna, salmon, cottage cheese or hard boiled eggs. For dinner you can rotate between chicken, beef, fish or dhal made from legumes. Breakfast can be a protein shake or scrambled eggs or oatmeal with soaked nuts.
Start thinking about protein as being the centre of each of your meals. It’s your basic structure after all. On the side include some vegetables. Have fruit for dessert. And if you eat starch, include a little. Ignore the government pyramid where breads and pasta comprise the bulk of each meal and create a flabby structural base.
Questions and Answers
I find protein rich foods hard to digest. What can I do?
Your stomach may not produce enough hydrochloric acid (which helps break down protein). Ironically, protein is necessary to produce hydrochloric acid. So if you are already protein deficient you may not have enough protein to produce the acid to break down more protein.
Try taking one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in one or one-half cup of warm filtered water before you eat. You can sip it while preparing your meal. The acid in the vinegar will help break down the proteins and stimulate your stomach’s ability to produce its own acid.
You’ll be amazed at how easy this proves to be. You can vary the amount of water depending on how close to your meal you drink it and how much liquid is in your meal already. Digestion is usually better if you don’t water down your gastric juices. Also, make sure to do the Stomach Vacuum in Module 6 before meals as this will help stimulate your stomach acid.
The friendly bacteria in fermented foods like yogurt (Module 51) and sauerkraut may also help break down the protein. If all else fails, try taking digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid
I have signs of low protein even though I’m eating more than enough. What’s up?
First, make sure you’re not eating too much protein — as you may be overloading your ability to digest all that protein and it’s just being eliminated.
Either way, you are probably not digesting your protein properly. Getting your protein from raw nuts and seeds may be difficult for you unless they are soaked first. Non–organic or homogenized milk can be very hard to digest. For example, hard cheeses can clog people up. Beans and legumes should be soaked and cooked until soft. Charbroiled meat or burnt meat can also digest poorly.
Some people don’t do well with certain proteins. As you download and move through the various protein food modules, I’ll help you evaluate which proteins work best for you. E.g. some people do fine on organic fermented dairy, while others do very poorly.
You also need to make sure you are putting your protein to work. Weight training or body weight exercises in our Energizing Exercise modules will help a lot with that. Otherwise, you may not be digesting protein well — in which case you should see my response to the previous question.
I find it hard to get enough protein as a vegetarian or a vegan. I don’t want to eat meat, what can I do?
Even on a strict vegan diet, it shouldn’t be hard to get concentrated sources of protein, after all, people in various cultures have been doing it for centuries. But you have to work at it. Also, you have to be aware that not everyone can be a strict vegan. I have tried vegetarian diets over the years and find that I feel most healthy on an animal-based protein diet.
Soaking and pureeing nuts or seeds can easily provide 20 to 30 g of protein per meal. Organic peanut butter grown in a dry climate free of mold is a quick protein booster. You can also buy or make almond butter, hazelnut butter, pumpkin seed butter or sunflower seed butter.
Legumes are good but you may want to skip eating grains with them at the same time but eat grains at another meal for their complementary amino acids. The popular rice and lentils dish of vegetarians may not allow enough space in your stomach for sufficient amounts of protein rich legumes. Legumes have starch themselves, so you may try eating them on their own with cooked vegetables, in a salad or in a stew.
You don’t have to worry about combining grains and legumes at the exact same meal to get the balanced protein, your body can piece the amino acid chains together later. I don’t recommend you consume too much soybean products like soymilk or tofu. They are a modern invention created to sell what was essentially a waste product from the soy industry. Fermented soy products such as tempeh is the exception.
There are also plenty of vegan, egg–based or whey–based protein powders that are packed with easily digestible protein. So while I don’t encourage or discourage a vegetarian diet, it is safe to say you should do fine on a vegetarian diet as long as your body finds enough easy-to-assimilate plant-based proteins.