Damn you Robert Atkins…
Recently I made a fairly significant lifestyle and nutritional decision. After a few years of mildly entertaining the idea, I finally converted over to a completely plant-based diet. I’m not a mind reader, but I bet that I can guess what you’re thinking…
“How on earth are you going to get enough protein?!?”
Don’t worry, you’re not the first to ask and you surely won’t be the last. This is actually the question that always deterred me from completely adopting this lifestyle. Influenced by trendy diets, misinformed coaches, and other uneducated athletes, I always believed I needed an inordinate amount of protein. I was told, “It’s the building blocks of muscles”, and I figured that if I planned on building Rome, I was going to need a whole lot of blocks. But through extensive research, I’ve found that it’s not as much about the quantity of blocks, but rather the quality of these muscle-building materials.
It helps to understand that protein is a macronutrient. “Protein” is actually a whole family of amino acids, 23 to be exact. When grouped together in various combinations, we get what we refer to as protein. So, there’s not a protein molecule in that chicken breast, rather a combination of different amino acids. Now that we know that protein is nothing more than a combination of amino acids, Dr. Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition and Food Studies at NYU, expands further, “All proteins are made up of the same amino acids. All. No exceptions. The difference between animal and vegetable proteins is in the content of certain amino acids. If vegetable proteins are mixed, the differences get made up. Even if they aren’t mixed, all you need to do to get the right amount of low amino acids is to eat more of that food. There is no ‘need’ for animal proteins at all.”
Dr Nestle is saying that if I eat a diet that includes a broad mix of vegetable proteins, I can easily make up the difference. This is because protein is found in all plant foods; including vegetables, grains, legumes, soy foods, nuts and seeds. Therefore, as long as my caloric intake is adequate, consuming enough protein just occurs naturally. That’s the beauty of whole foods; they contain everything you need without all the guesswork or deciphering of lengthy nutritional labels.
Just in the short time that I’ve been a practicing vegan, I’ve noticed significant differences in my running and energy levels in general. My pace is getting faster, my body is getting leaner, my energy is increasing and I’m recovering faster. Building lean muscle and recovering faster, is that not what we’re hoping to achieve when consuming all that protein? So, if these benefits are being afforded to me by eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet, would you still question if I’m getting enough protein?
By Jonathan Kastner