Protein: what to eat to fuel your workouts and day to day diet

A range of foods containing protein

With National Fitness Day on the calendar this week, it’s the perfect time to review your protein intake to ensure it is meeting your body’s needs with or without exercise. 

Whether you’re a meat-eater, vegetarian or vegan, protein intake is an essential part of a well-balanced diet and helps to fuel your activity.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top protein tips.

For the meat eaters

Animal produce is a great source of protein and contains all the essential amino acids. Importantly, meat is a rich source of leucine, isoleucine and valine, the branched-chain amino acids and key muscle builders and repair instigators.  Whilst many people, especially those doing more strength training exercise or body building, eat these after a workout, it’s also really important to be having sufficient quantities of all essential aminos throughout the day.

Roast chicken leg with potatoes and vegetables

Depending on body weight and activity level, aim to get around 20 to 30 grams of protein into each meal.  This may not always be possible depending on your schedule; hence protein shakes can be particularly helpful to plug the gaps if you’re very active.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

Start the day right with a protein-filled breakfast such which includes two eggs (18 grams of protein total), with an omelette being a great choice.  Lunch could include some low-fat fish such as canned tuna in a wrap, with dinner containing turkey or chicken.  Both are lower in fat than pork, lamb, or beef: try to eat these meats no more than twice a week.

For the vegetarians

Vegetable sources of protein generally don’t contain all essential amino acids, although there are notable exceptions such as hemp protein.  Some vegetarians eat fish (pescatarians) and some don’t.  However, eggs and dairy contain all essential amino acids, therefore it’s important to eat these foods in order to get the quota of these key amino acids.

With so many egg-based options for breakfast, you need never get bored of the same dish! Eggs with hollandaise sauce and spinach, frittata, or, poached eggs with smashed avocado on sourdough or wholemeal toast are great options.

shutterstock_716903197 avocado and poached egg Dec17

When it comes to grains, then quinoa is one of the best, boasting all essential amino acids, albeit slightly low in some.  However, quinoa makes a great base to any salad, with goat’s cheese, beetroot and walnuts being a great addition, whilst also supplying more protein.

Quinoa and bulgar wheat salad with feta

There’s certainly no shortage of options for dinner recipes with stir fries winning the day and fermented forms of protein such as tempeh and tofu making great choices.  Add some grated ginger, spring onions, soy sauce and a little honey with some chopped veggies and you’ve made a fabulous protein-filled meal. Enjoy the stir fry with some whole grain brown rice or basmati and you’ll be fuelled for your next morning workout!

For the vegans

It’s important for vegans to be aware of protein intake purely because vegetable proteins can be lacking in all essential amino acids and are also low in some.  Therefore, it’s important to include a good combination of grains and beans in your diet, though they don’t need to be in the same meal.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

Porridge makes one of the best starts to the day, especially if you’re planning on doing some exercise, such as a longer run, a couple of hours later.  And you can really power up the protein content by adding some nut butter, almond milk and stirring in some cacoa nibs.  Cacoa nibs are the less processed part of the cocoa bean and have a higher protein content.

Pre or post work-out lunch is a great time for including some energising beans in some form, and there are plenty to choose from.  Lunch could be something as simple as some haricot beans, mixed with tinned tomatoes, rosemary and garlic on sourdough bread or making up an easy chickpea salad.

Chickpea salad with feta

For dinner, lentils provide another fabulous source of protein with one cup providing about 18 grams.  Lentil bolognese therefore delivers on taste, protein content and energy.  Add in some thyme and other mixed herbs, tinned tomatoes, onions and celery and you’ve got some powerful antioxidants to boost immune health too.

So, whatever your diet preferences, power up your work-outs and overall nutrition with good quality protein choices.

Stay well.

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All images: Shutterstock

 

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