Being an Active Vegetarian Woman(Part 1): Protein

A lot of people dive into the vegetarian or even vegan lifestyle and don’t do enough proper research for what your body has been getting from meat over the course of your life.  You could write an entire book on how to properly transition from a meat to non-meat diet but for today I am just going to focus in on some of the more obvious ones as well as what to look for if you are feeling really tired and sluggish during your day, especially come the afternoon.  As you can tell from the title this article is aimed at my active female readers, if you aren’t of the fairer sex feel free to head over to my Supplements article.  Keep in mind when I say ‘active’ I don’t mean someone that walks or rides their bike to work, or plays ultimate Frisbee twice a week, although that is great.  This article is geared towards the woman that is really pushing her body 4-5 days a week in a highly focused and t and probably purposeful way.  If this isn’t you then you please read on but you can take what I am saying with a grain of salreduce some of the numbers by 35-45%

So, you’re slowly phasing meat out of your diet are you?  Think it’s just that easy do ya?  Well it’s almost that easy, but you do need to know what your body needs because it’s a pretty complex machine ya got there.  There are a lot of things that you get in large quantities from meat that you take for granted.  I’ve been strength training for many years and I’ve been a personal trainer to a lot of women from time to time and over the course of my years I’ve had to do a lot of research in order to advise women what they should be doing and what their bodies need.  This will be a multi-part series, with each article dedicated to 1 or sometimes 2 important components necessary for a healthy body.  It was my intention to write one large article but after seeing my word count here top 2500 I realized this might be a bit much for one sitting and will be publishing these over the next little while.  We will be covering a broad variety of items that your body needs and most of these articles are written for a meatless diet or towards a woman that is moving towards a more vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.  There is a lot that your body needs and it’s crucial you have the low-down to lead the healthiest, happiest and fullest life possible.  Today we are starting off at the top with what I feel the most important aspect of a healthy diet:  Protein.

Protein:

As a woman working to constantly improve her health and physical fitness, protein should always be on your brain.  It is absolutely crucial in the recovery and repair of damaged muscle tissue, preventing muscle loss over time and can also allow your body to push itself up to 40% more than it normally would by provided much need fuel for your muscles during strenuous activity.  It is a misconception that increased protein intake is only for body builders or those wanting to ‘bulk up’, especially in women wanting to be as fit as possible while maintaining a feminine physique.  This commonly held myth causes many women undervalue and to be undernourished in the most important ingredient to a healthy active lifestyle. For your records the key ingredient involved in ‘bulking’ up is testosterone not protein and lacking a pair of testosterone factories in your nether-region will naturally keep your body shape generally where you want it unless you are involved in extreme weight training most likely with the use of steroids.

So don’t fear protein, it is the key building block in repairing your body and without proper protein intake you are only realizing a fraction of the results you could be seeing from all of your hard physical work!

Why?

This is the big one for sure, as nice as it is to imagine yourself being able to easily supplement chicken and fish with a lot of beans, lentils and the like they really don’t carry the amounts of protein that you think they will.  Sure they have high levels of protein compared to other vegetables however compared to meat they are a poor substitute pound for pound.  100 grams of Venison for example packs in 34 grams of protein [1] whereas 100 grams of dry lentils(200 grams wet) will carry 18-20 grams[2], almost 1/2 of what you are getting from meat.  Meaning to make up for that one small steak you’re going to have to mow back 400 grams of lentils and lentils are near the top of the totem pole when it comes to protein.  Clearly eating 300-400 grams of lentils 3 times a day isn’t something most people can stomach so we need to find new ways of supplementing the protein. And supplement we must, because protein is the building block of lean muscle tissue, it is what the body uses to repair damaged muscles and more importantly it is what the body uses to build new ones.  The higher levels of protein in your diet the more your body gets geared up to build lean muscle tissue and boost your metabolism.

The way I see it our body has two instinctual modes: Long term survival and Short term performance.  When your diet is high in fat and favors carbs over protein your body adapts to be able to store those foods most effectively.  It doesn’t want to invest too heavily in tissue that consumes a lot of energy so it begins making more fat than muscle because fat can be stored longer and be used over great durations as part of a long term survival strategy.  Your body doesn’t know when the next energy rich meal is going to come so it plans for the worst.

When your body has a constant supply of protein however it doesn’t worry as much about long term survival and gears itself to use this energy rich diet in the most efficient way possible, which is by building lean muscle tissue.  In doing so it can utilize all of the protein it’s getting without worrying about running out of energy because muscle tissue uses a lot more energy and burns a lot more calories than fat, up to 7 times as much.  So we become faster, stronger and have more endurance, which in ancient times would make us better hunters furthering our protein rich diet.

How Much?

How much protein should you be aiming for?  Well it really breaks down to the type of exercise you are doing, if you are an endurance athlete a good ratio for you is about 1.2g/KG of body mass.  This works out to about 0.6 grams per pound.  If you are a 65kg woman(roughly 140 lbs) you will want around 72 grams of protein per day.  If you are body building or doing intense weight training then you are going to want to increase that more to around 1.8g/KG of body weight, meaning you’d be taking in rougly 130 grams of protein per day.  I would advise you talk to your personal trainer about this as it does become taxing on your liver if you are taking protein in great excess.  What the body can’t assimilate it will flush through the liver and if it is flushing a LOT then your liver is going to be in a bad way after too much of this. This isn’t something to obsess over by any means, just something to keep in the back of your mind and be cognizant of as you plan out your day as you want this number spread out throughout the day.  You do not want to try to grab a large portion of your protein intake all at once, either to make up at the end of the day or try to get it out of the way at the beginning.  The human body can only process so much protein in one sitting and any excess will just get flushed out through the liver.  The magic number for how per sitting depends on how much lean muscle you have and how big you are but a safe number for an athletic woman between 60-70 KG (135-145 lbs) would be about 30 grams per serving.  Also keep in mind that your body only processes protein at 90% efficiency so in reality you could get away with 33 grams.

When?

Your body will need protein more during certain parts of your day and I will list these in order of importance

“If your not getting protein in your body within 30 minutes after a training session you may as well have been sitting on you bum instead of going the gym”

  • Immediately after a training session: Your body has just torn it’s muscles to shreds(be it your hamstrings or your heart) and used up much of your sugar and protein reserves to keep you going strong.  It is starving for more right now and in order to get the most out of that session and not have your body rely on catabolizing existing muscle tissue to repair the damaged ones you need to get protein in you fast, and by fast I mean within 30 minutes.  I have a friend who is a body builder and he sums it up best when he says (in a sexy english accent non-the-less) “If your not getting protein in your body within 30 minutes after a training session you may as well have been sitting on you bum instead of going the gym”
  • First thing in the morning: The gains you are seeing in strength and endurance are coming while you are training, they come after the workouts when you are resting and your body has a chance to repair itself, making itself stronger.  This happens more than any other time while you are sleeping and so for 6-8 hours a day while you rest your body is frantically repairing all of the damage you did to it the day before in preparation for the next day of training.  As you can imagine, knowing what your body uses to repair your muscles, by the time you wake up you’ve used up all of the good protein in your body and are running on fumes.  So again, unless you want your body to start catabolizing existing healthy muscle tissue to repair the damaged pieces you need to get protein into your system to last you till lunch
  • Before a training session: While not as important and you don’t need as much protein as after the session or when you just woke up it is always good to have some in your system, even just a little, because you want your muscles to that little something extra to be able to explode a bit further.  Obviously it is the carbs that you want more before training for that long term energy but protein a bit of protein is also important
  • Before Bed: Again, not as important as the other two but this way you will be giving your body some extra ammunition to repair itself with during the night.
  • Now assuming you’re goal is 70 grams per day you would roughly want to break down your intake as follows:

    1. 25 grams after the workout
    2. 25 grams for breakfast
    3. 10 grams before your training session
    4. 10 grams before bed

    And of course keep in mind there is lunch in there, so you might end up having 10-20 grams for lunch depending on what you are eating and you could reduce some of those numbers accordingly.  But as I mentioned above please do not obsess over this, these are just approximate goals to aim towards, some days might be around 80, some days might be around 60, who knows.  I couldn’t tell you down to the gram what I’m taking in but I have the goals I aim towards so that I can maintain consistency and get the most out of my training.

    How?

    This article is aimed at active women, I’m writing it for someone in particular who is a professional athlete, so I’m going to assume I will getting less cringes than from most of the population but Protein powder is really going to be the easiest and most efficient way of getting what you need into your system and because your lifestyle is as active as it is you need more protein than most.  It also has the added benefit of allowing you to keep fairly accurate track of how much is going into your system, unless you plan on putting your body of lentils on a scale every time you sit down for a meal :)  There are a ton of protein powders on the market these days and most will be fine for men and women but for many reasons, especially if you are a vegan or a vegetarian the Whey option is out.  This leaves you with Soy, Rice, or Hemp proteins, although soy will probably come out on top just because of how much protein is found in soy protein isolates.   For example it is quite easy to find Soy powders that are 90% protein but I have yet to find a Hemp powder over the 40% mark, which means not only will you have to take in twice as much but hemp protein is usually 2-3 times as expensive, or even more for an increase of cost of up to 600%.   First place to look, if you are wanting to be frugal, would be  in your local grocery store, preferably a big box chain as they will have the greatest selection.  You want to look for Protein isolates as they contain more of what you want and less of what you don’t,plus your body is able to process the protein in an isolate much more efficiently than in an concentrate.  Now if you are in Canada I can be even more specific, skip the health foods stores and head straight to the nearest Great Canadian Superstore(or ‘Real Canadian Superstore’ as they are called now).  Go into the pharmacy section and check out the Presidents Choice Vegetarian Protein Powder.  They come in a large 900 gram tub, so don’t be fooled into buying one of the smaller containers and they are only $19.99 which puts them way under any other powders on the market of comparable quality.  It’s made up of Soy, Rice, Pea and Hemp proteins so you have an nice mixture there and aren’t relying just on Soy, monsanto soy no doubt.  As a woman you want to seek out the isolates as apposed to the compounds as they will contain less carbs and if possible avoid any flavoured mixes as you are just taking in additional sugars that you dont’ need.  If you want flavour you can always go out and buy raw cocoa to add it to the mix or blend up your shakes with fresh fruit .  The other benefit of taking a soy based protein is that it is much higher in Iron than whey, something most women are lacking in their diets.

    We’ve gone over when you should be taking this and how much, but don’t feel like you just need to be making your shakes and chugging them down all the time.  You can get a little creative in how you ingest the protein to break up the routine a little bit.  For example in the mornings instead of soy milk on my granola I will use one scoop of the PC powder and then pour it over my granola.  I make sure to get 44 grams per serving so for me I have a fair amount of granola but if your goal is 25 grams of protein in the morning you might only need 2/3’s a scoop or even 1/2 depending on how much protein you are getting in your granola or cereal.  You can use it to thicken soups, put in pasta sauces, etc etc.  Most of the time though it will come in the form of a shake just because it’s quick and easy but there are other ways you can sneak it in there :)

    Give your body what it needs to push itself

    Links of Interest:

    http://www.weightlossforall.com/protein-vegetable.htm

    http://www.vegparadise.com/protein.html

    http://www.buzzle.com/articles/vegetables-high-in-protein.html

    http://ezinearticles.com/?Protein-Powder-For-Women—What-to-Look-For-in-a-Protein-Powder-For-Women&id=2316473

    http://www.gainmusclemass.net/protein-powder-for-women.html

    http://www.healthynewage.com/intrasound-powder.html

    http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20050829/protein-exercise-may-promote-weight-loss

    http://www.active.com/nutrition/Articles/The_role_of_protein_in_exercise_recovery.htm

    Supplements

    Most people are going to instantly go to ideas of juice and roid monkeys with that word and a simple education in supplements can clear up this confusion.  There are some very natural products that give our bodies a little bit of an edge. Not all people are going to need every supplement out there, and at the same time some will need one more than the other. Now there are some things that certainly can be attained naturally but I personally get absolutely no joy out of spending 1/24th of my day in a kitchen making a meal and then another 30 minutes eating it. It would be wonderful if I did, but the reality is I don’t. So for my protein and my carbs I need supplements to make sure that I get enough to maintain and grow my lean muscle tissue.

    PROTEIN: By eating enough protein to maintain your lean tissue while losing fat, you keep your metabolism revved up. Every pound of lean tissue burns 14 calories per day compared to only about three calories burned for each pound of fat per day. When you take in protein it is metabolized into lean muscle mass more than anything, the rest is mostly flushed out of your system. The more protein you take in (to a limit-too much taxes your kidneys) the more you build lean tissue and that alone is enough to rev up your metabolism to the point where it is burning more calories in a ‘resting state’. However that being said ‘Muscle work builds muscle, not protein supplements’ (http://www.campusrec.uci.edu/fitness/includes/protein.pdf)
    Another Article to read regarding Protein on weight loss: http://www.exrx.net/Nutrition/Protein.html

    There are specific formula’s to follow depending on what you want to do with your body. You can refer to the first linked PDF file above for some backup on what I am saying but I have been trying to achieve a minimum of a 2.0g/kg ratio. This means that for every KG of body mass I take in a min. of 2 grams of protein. I am 91kg and so my bare minimum is around 180g of protein. Now my goal is to get bigger, something which most women run away screaming from. It is so funny how when I start talking to women about weight training they get petrified about ‘bulking up'(much more petrified than maintaining a large bum). How you train and what you put into your body will determine this not simply training and taking supplements on its own. For someone aiming to be lean and toned a 1.4-1.6 g/kg protein ratio is perfect. If you are say 65kg(140lbs) then you should be aiming for around 90-100 grams of protein to go along with your training schedule. This means you will actually have to know what you are putting into your body.. Counting calories is horseshit, I have seen people close to me try it and it doesn’t work. Don’t count the Calories, KNOW what the calories are made up of and go from there. You know what is high in fat and sugars, don’t eat them!. Alternatively learn how much nutrients are in your food and run a tally of how much protein is going in. You don’t need to keep a bloody pen and paper with you all the time, just keep a general figure in your head and keep your eyes on your quota. Refer again to that PDF for a table with protein amounts in common foods.

    Your protein intake should be split up throughout your day so you are doing say 30g in the morning when you wake up, 10g or so before your workout, 30g after and then whatever else you eat in the day to make up the rest. For someone bulking up you are going to need a bit more, more often. I personally do 60g when I wake up, 40 before my workout, 65g after my workout and then normally a shake of 40g for lunch with my normal diet on top of that. The most important times to have elevated protein in your system is in the morning shortly after you have gotten up and immediately after a workout as your body is in it’s most depleted state at those times.

    It should be noted that I am not relying on shakes for 100% of my nutrition, nor would I recommend it. Solid food is a wonderful thing, AS LONG as you don’t eat shit. If you don’t think you have the strength to stay away from chips and Burger King then stick with the shakes and multi-vitamins. But myself I indulge in nice Veggie burgers and the like every chance I can, soups, salads, generally real good food or I go crazy.

    Carbs: http://www.muscle-fitness.co.uk/5.html

    Atkins and all the rest of these jokers can take a hike as far as I am concerned. Carbs are a wonderful thing and an ESSENTIAL thing to a healthy and toned body. They fuel the body for exercise, help drive protein into muscles for growth and prevent the breakdown of hard-earned muscle mass. What is crucial to know here is where your carbs are coming from and the most common source of it in our bloated society is White-Refined Sugar, the bloody scourge of our lands. No matter what kind of exercise you are doing our bodies must burn through the sugars that are stored in them from prior consumption before they can even thinking about touching the fats which is why it is so important to know where your carbs are coming from. A good amount of healthy carbs in your diet is essential to not only looking healthy but feeling healthy, so do NOT avoid whole grain products at all you are only doing yourself a dis-service. Cutting the sugar out of your diet will lead to almost immediate results as your body is then going to be able to start eating away at those reserves instead of burning through the can of pop. None of this anyone needs to hear, it is all common sense, don’t drink pop, don’t candy or shit like that it is really that simple. This single switch will no doubt play the largest role in loosing unwanted and excess weight. We don’t need it, and after you loose your psychological addiction to this shit (which our society has cleverly engineered) you won’t even like it anymore.

    Creatine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creatine
    http://www.absolute-creatine.com/creatine.htm – please note the section on ‘women and creatine’.

    For some of us Creatine is the quickest way to gain mass. With a body type that is tall and lean and while this generally is a very favorable thing considering the alternatives it is not the body type that you want if you are training 7 days a week. The most common form of Creatine is Creatine Mono-hydrate, which means that there is about 12% water in the mix that bonds with the creatine and in-turn bonds with my muscles which leads to increased water retention in my muscles as a nice side effect. HOWEVER this is not the purpose of taking creatine, although it is the icing on the cake, creatine in studies has shown to dramatically increase strength and endurance exercises. In runners they get faster times and can run longer, with weight trainers it means they can squeeze an extra 15-20% more reps out at a higher weight. This allows me to tear more muscle which leads to more muscle repair which leads to more fat being burned and converted into lean muscle mass. The harder you can push yourself the quicker the results are going to be. It should be noted that there are specific creatine products designed for women in order to eliminate the water-retention quality of creatine (who wants to be bloated?) and the women should talk to the experts about which one is best for them. Bottom line is creatine allows you to push harder for longer squeezing that much more out of your workouts and pushing your results further than they could go normally. There are many different kinds of creatine products on the market most are a pre/post product meaning you ke a serving before the workout and then another one after the workout. There are some others where you do a smaller amount during the day and that is it. Again it all depends on the product and what works best for you.  The downside is that Creatine can increase your water retention making you a bit larger however not quite as cut.

    Glutamine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glutamine
    http://www.criticalbench.com/glutamine-benefit.htm

    Now this is something, training or not, that everyone and their neighbor’s dog should be taking.. The benefits all around good from increased vascular elasticity to aiding gastrointestinal function to aiding healing times after surgery.
    When it comes to training one of the key benefits of this supplement is that it goes to preserve existing built lean muscle mass. Again like with creatine this allows you to do more in less time, as your body isn’t replacing as much lost or “catabolized” muscle-mass it gets to refine itself more as apposed to rebuilding or in my case add more muscle mass in a shorter amount of time. It is recommended that you take about 10g of Glutamine a day, normally right before a workout, and then right before bed (the two times of the day where your body is most susceptible to being in a catabolic state.

    There are a few other natural products I do to give myself an edge which I will not go into as they aren’t necessary when someone is starting out. The main key here are the one’s described above, when you should be taking them and in what quantity.