Today we’re talking about plant-based diets and running with a snippet from the new book, No Meat Athlete, by ultramarathon runner Matt Frazier. Matt is on a book tour across the United States right now, so if you love what you read below, be sure to click here to find out when Matt will be in your city next.
And enter below for your chance to win the book and some great No Meat Athlete swag. Good luck!
Protein: Building Muscles with Plant Foods by Matt Ruscigno
Excerpted from the book No Meat Athlete by Matt Frazier
Oh, protein. It’s the topic many amateur athletes think they are experts in, and one of the first targets of criticism in any discussion involving plant-based diets and sports.
Many people believe a plant-based diet doesn’t provide enough protein, but this isn’t true. Protein is easy enough to obtain without eating meat. Let’s start with understanding the science behind protein.
When we talk about protein, what we are really discussing are amino acids. These amino acids have specific roles in metabolism, muscle development, and wound healing. Nine of them can’t be created by our bodies or from other amino acids and are therefore called “essential” amino acids. When you hear about one protein source being better than another, it’s in reference to the amino acid makeup.
Some animal foods contain all of the amino acids in the amounts we need. If you ate only eggs and nothing else for months and months, for example, you would not develop an amino acid deficiency (but probably a host of other deficiencies!). Do the same with only lentils, however, and you may not get enough of the amino acid methionine.
Fortunately, no one eats like this. When we eat a variety of foods, most of which have some protein, at the end of the day we get all of the amino acids we need. The measure by which animal and vegetable proteins are usually compared is inadequate and outdated.
If you’re eating enough for your activity level and consuming a variety of whole foods, you will get all the protein you need. For example, lentils and soymilk are made up of more than 30 percent protein. Even some foods we usually think of as purely carbohydrate sources contain a fair amount of protein—15 percent of the calories in whole wheat pasta are from protein, and even brown rice is about 8 percent protein.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Between 10 and 20 percent of your total daily calories need to come from protein. High protein foods include beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. There are a few different ways to make protein recommendations. One is by grams based on your body weight. The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI), for example, recommends consuming 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight (or 0.8 grams per
kilogram of body weight). This is useful for calculating out the number of grams of protein you need for each day. For example, if I weigh 175 pounds and need 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight, my daily protein need is sixty-three grams.
Another way to calculate protein requirements is as a percentage of the calories you eat each day, aiming for 10 to 20 percent of your total calories to come from protein. For example, if the calculations in the “Calculating Your Daily Calories” box on page 67 of my book No Meat Athlete tell you that you need 2,400 calories per day to meet your protein needs, then you should shoot to get 240 to 480 of those calories from protein. Every gram of protein is four calories (each gram of carbohydrate is also four calories; a gram of fat is nine calories), so this equates to between 60 and 120 grams of protein each day. This range, of course, will vary depending on your particular daily total caloric needs.
Why the Advice That Athletes Need More Protein Is Misleading
Sure, athletes need more protein than non-athletes. But we also need more carbohydrates and fat. In fact, our overall caloric needs are much higher because we burn so much energy in our training.
Because we’re eating more calories, we’re automatically consuming more protein if we stay at 10 to 20 percent of our total. Let that sink in for a minute: as your caloric needs increase from the exercise you are doing, your intake of protein increases as well.
For example, I weigh about 175 pounds, and I need 2,500 calories most days. If I’m striving for 10 percent, then 250 of those calories need to be from protein. Dividing by four (the number of calories per gram of protein), this amounts to about sixty-three grams of protein as my recommended daily intake.
When I’m training hard, I need more energy to fuel my longer, tougher workouts, and my total caloric needs can easily double (see how to calculate your daily caloric needs on page 67). Therefore, in order to maintain the proper protein/calorie ratio, so does my protein consumption.
Because athletes burn more calories than sedentary people and therefore require more calories, I tell the vegan athletes I consult to shoot for 0.45 to 0.55 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight).
For more great information on vegan athletes and training for marathons and ultramarathons as a vegan, be sure to check out No Meat Athlete today!