The ins-and-outs of good nutrition can be confusing, even overwhelming. Within our guidelines, Eating Well the Farmgirlfit Way, we intentionally left room for individualization—we strongly believe there isn’t any ONE diet or way of eating that is best for everybody. We recognize, though, that for an individual that makes it somewhat difficult to know EXACTLY what to eat or not to eat.
So we asked Peter Clark, nutrition coach and founder of Deliberate Nutrition and Fitness, to discuss his overall approach and to give us some additional guidance on one specific topic: PROTEIN. Enter Peter:
The sense that food is fuel is a common one, but I think it leaves something to be desired. The truth is, food is much more than just energy. If it were just energy the source wouldn’t matter and calories would be equal across the board, but they aren’t. Minimally processed, whole food sources of calories are superior to their more processed counterparts; our bodies are able to utilize them to a much greater extent. They are more nutrient dense, providing our bodies with all of the vitamins and minerals needed to function optimally.
The two categories of nutrients we need to provide our bodies are micronutrients and macronutrients. A good nutrition plan will provide a balance, and include all types of nutrients, not providing too much or too little of any certain one. Our bodies need all three macronutrients (Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrates) in order to function optimally, both from an energy standpoint as well as for “materials” and structural support.
In order to be healthy, we need ALL the nutrients! MICRO and MACRO. And we need a balanced intake of all nutrients. Whenever there is a deficiency or an overabundance of a certain nutrient, problems may arise.
A balanced intake may look different from person to person. Depending on your individual physiology you may need more protein, calcium, or any other nutrient than someone else. Unfortunately there’s no way of knowing this for certain just by looking at you. That’s why I always begin by having a client keep a food journal, which I can review to identify areas they may be deficient, so we can correct those first.
Protein deficiency is a very common one that I see in my clients. There is a common misconception that unless you’re trying to build a lot of muscle you don’t need a lot of protein. Protein is responsible for much more than just building lean muscle tissue; it is involved in many other functions and appropriate protein consumption is essential for optimum health.
The minimum amount of protein humans should consume each day is around 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight (a 150lb person would need around 54 grams).
It should be noted that this has been discovered as the minimum standard and doesn’t necessarily represent what is optimal. If a person is performing resistance training, the level of consumption should be raised to 0.65 – 0.9 grams per pound of body weight. Instead of needing 54 grams of protein per day, that same 150lb person needs up to 135 grams. Additionally, even more protein may be needed to boost immunity, metabolism, satiety, for weight management and more.
Let’s pause and look at what was just stated: a 150lb person needs at minimum, 54 grams of protein. That means anything below is deficient, and 54 grams just barely gets you over that line. I think with an optimal nutrition plan, we should thrive! Just barely not being deficient, doesn’t really interest me. In order to thrive, we need to make sure we are getting enough protein to support the building and repairing of lean muscle tissue, other tissues including our skin, and support our immune system.
In the past people have worried about consuming too much protein, and it being bad for the kidneys or other organs. No need to worry. In healthy individuals, diets high in protein have been shown to be completely safe. That’s why I usually err on the side of “too much” protein. I just don’t see a lot of negative to it as long as it’s still leaving room to get enough of the other macronutrients in your diet. Eating about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is a good place to start.
As far as sources of protein, lean cuts of meat are probably the easiest way to get your protein. Ideally if you can select organic and/or grass-fed meats you’re even better off. Grass-fed meat has been shown to have a better nutrient profile than traditionally raised meat. Meat sources of protein are also the most “bio-available,” meaning that our bodies are able to utilize most of what we ingest, rather than it just passing through our system.
If you’re a person who struggles to eat meat, there are certainly other options. It just becomes a little more difficult and more planning is required. That’s because plant sources of protein are very rarely “complete.” When you hear the term “complete” or “incomplete” protein, we’re talking about the amino acids contained in the protein. To be considered “complete,” all 20 amino acids need to be in the food. If any are missing, it is considered an “incomplete’ protein.
This is why it’s important to eat a variety of foods in your diet, especially if you don’t eat meat sources of protein. Foods can work together to create a complete protein, so combining a variety is important to help you cover all your bases.
It is important to get all nutrients in our diets through a variety of sources. We can run into problems any time there is too much, or too little of any nutrient. Protein is a common nutrient deficiency, and there are really no negatives to eating a “high” (up to 30% or more of your total calories) protein diet, unless you have a diagnosed medical condition. To make sure you are getting enough protein, a good place to start is by eating a palm-sized portion of protein at each meal (3-4 times/day). Get your protein from grass fed, organic sources as much as possible. If you are a plant based eater, get a wide variety of beans/legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Supplement with a high-quality protein powder when needed. HERE is a list of some good options, both meat and plant sources, and where you can find a high quality supplement.
Nutrition can get confusing. If you feel overwhelmed when thinking about it, and need help, I would LOVE to work with you! Call or email me and we can discuss your best option!