Plant-Based Protein: Tips and Tricks

**Written June 5th, 2018**

 

Three.

That’s how many protein bars I used to eat a day.

Three!

Two years ago, I was terribly misinformed. I didn’t challenge the information the diet industry put forward. Young and impressionable, I believed anything that a shredded spokesperson posted on their Instagram feed. So it’s not surprising that my relationship with protein has ran quite a varying course.

From what I understood, too much fat would make me fat, too many carbs would make me fat…but protein was safe. How did I know? I was mesmerised by body builders and bikini competitors, always insisting that the key to their desirable physiques was protein protein protein. Too much protein simply didn’t exist. The more, the better!

On top of adding protein powder to nearly everything, I was also eating large amounts of meat with lunch and dinner. Let’s break it down. On a daily basis, I was consuming heaping scoops of protein powder, greek yogurt, eggs, deli meat, chicken breasts, and protein bars. Most days two bars, some days three. To me, the bars were simply tasty snacks and nothing more. I never considered exactly how much protein I was eating. Not once did it cross my mind that maybe protein wasn’t as pure as the fitness gods painted it to be. It was only a matter of time before I realized that protein was more than just Quest bars that somehow tasted like a brownie but also helped me grow muscles without the fat and carbs I was taught to fear. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.

Eventually I began to move away from being fitness-obsessed and dove into the world of plant-based eating. After endless amounts of research, I was finally developed a stable relationship with food. I learned that not all protein is the same; that the source matters. And the amount is not a free-for-all like I had thought.

Now that I have been (mostly) plant-based for over a year, I feel comfortable sharing my experience with this diet change. The hardest obstacle is getting enough protein, but after trial and error I’ve found what works for me!

Before, I was depending on protein bars and powders as my main sources of protein. More often than not, these products contain added sugars, sugar alcohols, artificial flavors, and animal products. I was under the impression that these other ingredients didn’t matter because all that was important was getting as much protein as possible. Clearly I was ignorant to the fact that long-term consumption of these additives on a daily basis would NOT work in my body’s favor.

Diet culture is heavily influential on today’s youth, especially those who are new to health and wellness. It’s far too easy to fall victim to the myth that people need heaping amounts of protein. There’s barely any chatter pertaining to the sources of our protein. Instead, we’re encouraged to worry solely about what protein can do for our outward appearance while neglecting its impact on our body’s functionality.

My story is just that; one personal account. I’m not here to provide nutritional advice as I’m not qualified to do so. However, sharing my experience may prove insightful for those inclined to revamp their own lifestyle decisions.

For the past year, I’ve been *mostly* plant-based. My biggest concern is finding balance, and balance is subjective. At first I tried to go vegan because I thought this was the best route for me. I barely lasted two weeks before my egg cravings went wild. Since then, I make the conscious effort to simply eat whole, real foods. Think of eating ingredients themselves, not foods with ingredient lists. Aside from eggs and salmon, everything else I eat comes from plants. These two foods are major protein sources for me, so I don’t plan on getting rid of them anytime soon!

I used to depend heavily on meat as my protein source. Sandwiches overflowing with deli turkey, huge stir fry dishes with two chicken breasts, you get the picture. Now that these aren’t options, I’m left to seek out plant-based sources of protein. Some of my favorites include:

  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Lentils (steamed, cooked)
  • Lentil or chickpea pasta
  • Hemp hearts
  • Quinoa
  • Black beans
  • Vegan protein powder (Nuzest is the only one I use! Discount code: “healthful_radiance” to save!)
  • Chia seeds
  • Nuts! (Nearly everything I eat is nut-based)
  • Almond milk greek yogurt (Kite Hill brand)

After removing animal products from my diet, and specifically changing all of my protein sources, I’ve noticed significant increases in my energy and mood. It’s hard to pinpoint one specific cause for one effect, especially since a lifestyle is made of many influential aspects, but I do feel that my protein sources and intake has contributed to these benefits. I feel stronger and more energized. I’m also not eating nearly as much protein as I had in the past. Less is more in this case! What’s hard is finding the perfect balance. Once I decreased the amount of protein I was having, I began to feel better overall. Naturally, I took this and ran with it. I thought this meant that cutting my protein down even further was the way to go.

No enough protein is just as bad too much protein. How did I know I wasn’t getting enough? Everyone’s body is different, but for me I experienced:

  • Low energy
  • Bad mood swings
  • Waking up lightheaded
  • Headaches

When these symptoms began to arise, I knew what to do: amp the protein up! I did this slowly and incrementally which helped me find a balance that left my body and mind at peace.

Life is all about getting to know yourself, and this is a process that’s constantly in flux. Everyday is another chance to learn. I often get asked exactly how much protein I eat in a day. My past with numbers has led me to choose not to know. I have spent years trapped between ranges of grams far too low, far from healthy. I’ve found my greatest success in listening to my body as opposed to a recommended value. However, I do recognize that for some people having a range or a set number is the best way to reach their goals and feel their best. All bodies are different. I can’t speak to any other body aside from my own. All I can do is provide my experience and hope it sheds some light on someone else’s situation. I’m not a professional, or even a student of nutrition (hopefully one day!) so I’m not comfortable giving direct advice or numbers.

If that’s the case, what do I want you to walk away with? This: you are not the next person. What works for them may not work for you. In all areas of life, trial and error are crucial. Nothing is fixed, permanent. Be willing to test new waters, new habits, new experiences. When it comes to health and wellness, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. We hear about “superfoods” all of the time, but not every single one works for every single person.

For example, you probably noticed that “collagen” isn’t listed on here. Why? It’s not because it’s an animal product (as you already know I’m very flexible about that). Instead, I don’t use it because I’ve tried it in the past and it simply doesn’t work in sync with my own body. After using collagen for about two months, I was experiencing extreme bloat and my digestion was off. I used up my supply, let it run out and didn’t restock. When I stopped adding collagen to my smoothies/drinks/etc., these symptoms were alleviated. This process of experimentation was so important for me. At first I felt guilty that this magic health wonder wasn’t working for me. I felt bad. I suddenly wasn’t healthy. But then I realized: I’m healthy for listening to my body and removing what was hurting it, not because I wasn’t conforming to the wellness world’s ways.

If collagen works for you, go for it! If you’re not sure, try it out. You are in control of your own wellbeing, to a greater extent than we tend to believe. I encourage you to experiment in a safe and fun way. Make sure you’re eating enough! Other than that, it’s free from here. The best part about food is that we need it all day, every day, for our entire lives…so you might as well have fun with it!

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