This is usually the first reaction I get from people who know me as an endurance cyclist.
One thing at a time, let’s look at protein first as it’s the most common concern.
I must admit to being sceptical myself before fully embarking on my Vegan journey last March. I used an app daily initially to monitor my intake and was surprised to discover that even without trying too hard I was consuming a good 1.2-1.5g protein per kg body weight. I’ll show you a typical day below.
What I found was that because most plant based proteins (Soya being the exception) also contain more carbohydrates than meat, I didn’t need the usual servings of carb dense food such as bread and pasta to boost energy intake. Also, as plant based proteins contain very little fat compared to meat and dairy, I could ‘spend’ those saved calories on foods containing beneficial fats such as those found in nuts, seeds and their oils.
So, what is your daily protein requirement?
How long is a piece of string? More fundamentally, just what IS protein anyway?
Protein actually consists of a chain of amino acids, and the combination of which varies from food to food.
We must consume 8 of these amino acids regularly as the body cannot make them. The ‘essential’ 8 can then go on to synthesise the rest the body needs. Clever.
Animal sources of protein contain all 8 amino acids, simples. Plant proteins do too, but not always in the same plant, so Vegans have to make sure they eat a variety of plant based proteins in order to receive all the amino acids the body needs.
Most beans and pulses for example are lacking the sulfur containing amino acid methionine. (Crucial for neutralising those pesky free-radicals that cause disease and accelerate the ageing process). But don’t panic, conveniently Mother Nature made grains high in said amino acid, so combine your beans and pulses with a grain such as rice or bread and hey presto, your needs are met... Whoop!
Needs vary hugely from person to person and are dependant on sex (that is gender, not how much you get), weight, activity levels and so on.
Why is protein important?
I think we all know how important protein is for body composition, maintaining healthy lean tissue and repair. It’s also a large part of hair, skin and nails, your immune system, pH regulation, hormone balance, nutrient transport and energy production.
If you‘re not getting enough from your diet, the body will prioritise needs and deliver protein to life maintaining functions such as pH balance and energy production, other ‘less important’ areas such as hair, nails, body composition and hormone balance will be short changed leaving you at risk of dull hair and flakey nails at best, or worse, the inability to fight infections, control inflammation and prevent disease.
The World Health Organisation states that the minimum daily requirement is .8g per kg body weight. So for me at 57kg that means just 46g protein daily to support body processes and maintain muscle mass. The difficult part is working out how much you need beyond the minimum if you are physically active, poorly or trying to build muscle.
Given that I can be riding my bike for up to 200 miles a week, breaking down lean tissue and therefore needing additional protein for repair beyond the norm, I plumped for 1.5g-1.8g which means 85g-114g per day. 85g on the average training day, 114g or more on long training days.
I recently suffered a very nasty fall from my bike on black ice and injured my sacroilliac joint ligament. All things considered I am really pleased with the speed at which I recovered, and after 5 weeks I am already back on my bike and enjoying climbing over the Moors and Wolds once more. Couldn’t have done that with a protein deficiency!
So how do I manage my protein intake?
Here’s a typical day:
Breakfast... I don’t have it. Shock horror! (I can feel another blog coming on...Still following IF; Intermittent Fasting... will explain another day).
Protein smoothie consisting Almond Milk, Plant based Protein powder contains BCAA’s (essential for muscle repair and growth), frozen Blueberries, Tbsp Flaxseeds, Tbsp Raw Cacao and a small banana if I’m training later that day.
If I’m training 1st thing in the morning I still tend to ride fasted for about 2 hours before ‘carbing up‘ (usually at a good cafe!) then will have the protein smoothie when I get home.
I use Revolution Food’s Raw Sport Protein powder for women.
Protein content 27g
Usually leftovers from the evening before.
For example, portion of Butternut and Butterbean Risotto. (Recipe will appear soon!)
Portion homemade Hummus with carrot and celery.
Aduki Bean Shepherds Pie
Broccoli and Green Beans with 1tbsp toasted Sesame seeds.
Protein content 26g
Peanut butter 2tbsp
Protein content 12g
Total for the average training day 83g
= 1.4g per kg
NB If I was training heavily that day (over 60 miles) I would add another protein shake consisting of just the powder, fruit and Almond milk. +24g protein bringing the total to 107g for the day = 1.9g per kg.
So you see it can be done, you just need to ensure you eat a good variety of foods and perhaps use protein powder if you workout alot. I haven’t mentioned Tofu or Tempeh here as I haven’t found a good organic product yet. If anyone can recommend one please do comment below, thankyou, and thanks for reading xx
Love this chart I found on mikimottes.com