For years Dave and I talked about moving to a plant-based diet. For years we have eaten a clean, whole-food based diet that included fresh fruits and vegetables, but also fish and lean chicken. As endurance athletes, our biggest concern was whether we would get sufficient protein to repair and build muscle and achieve peak performance. And would the lack of animal protein hinder our overall performance?
We have done a lot of research on protein as well as overall nutritional and health for distance athletes, our age group, and our longevity goals. When we shared our decision online to move to a plant-based diet, the feedback was mixed. Most of the concerns centered around protein. Some key information about protein helped us think strategically. First, here’s some background on protein:
Proteins consist of twenty different amino acids, eleven of which can be synthesized naturally by our bodies. The remaining nine, called essential amino acids, must be ingested from foods we eat. So really, our bodies require certain amino acids, not protein per se. These nine essential amino acids are not exclusive to the animal kingdom. In fact, they’re originally synthesized by plants and found in meat and dairy products only because these animals eat plants. “Complete” and “incomplete” proteins are amino acids that make up protein. Complete proteins contain all the nine essential amino acids the body can’t produce and must therefore be obtained from food. The common misconception is that protein must be eaten in its complete state to obtain the health benefit. In reality, eating a variety of foods, each containing a few amino acids, can be a healthier way to get complete protein. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Your body takes these building blocks from any source and builds a complete protein from them.
With that stage setting, the blogs that follow in this series look at a few common myths about protein…what we actually require and optimal sources. They will be refreshers for some readers and provide new insights for others. Be sure to read it for help sifting through all the information out there and a simpler perspective on our relationship with protein.
First up is about how much protein we actually require.