Let’s start with some nutrition science:
Protein is made up of amino acids. Unlike fat and carbs, these amino groups contain nitrogen which is essential for optimal health. These little soldiers are responsible for building muscle, building hormones (specifically the non-steroid hormones), building enzymes, building immune chemicals (immunoglobulins and antibodies), and building neurotransmitters in the brain. Lots of construction.
We have a relatively limited supply of amino acids in our body right now called the nitrogen pool and we’re constantly withdrawing from that pool to, you know, build stuff.
Now our bodies are remarkable little creatures so we constantly break down these amino acids and restructure them into exactly what we need. The body has the ability to make 12 amino acids and so we’ve named these 12 non-essential amino acids (because we can make them.) But that leaves 8 amino acids that can only be supplied by the diet and are thus termed essential amino acids.
Bottom line…if we don’t consume enough essential amino acids, out body isn’t happy. And if we don’t consume enough total amino acids, our body isn’t happy. Both the type and the amount of protein in our diet is muy importante for a happy body.
Complete protein sources:
- Organic, free-range/cage-free eggs
- Free-range/cage-free chicken
- Grass fed beef
- Heritage Breed Pork
- Anything gamey
- Wild Alaskan Salmon
- Any wild fish
- Full-fat Greek yogurt (plain)
- Sprouted Tofu
- Protein supplements (post-workout only)
With the rise of factors farms and the polluting of our oceans, we need to be consciences of our animal protein sources. The healthier and happier the animal, the healthier and happier the meat. If you have access to a farmer’s market or farm-to-table restaurants, we suggest you take advantage. Save a horse, ride a cowboy sure. But also support your local farmers. As an added bonus, they’re generally incredibly wonderful people.
We also use a service called Butcher Box, which delivers 100% grass-fed and grass-finished beef, organic free-range chicken, and heritage breed pork to your doorstep. You can tailor the box to fit your needs and it ends up more affordable than the meat we would get from the grocery store. You can get some free stuff by using this link: Butcher Box.
Okay. Let’s chat for a second about soy.
If you scan the media reports on the interwebz, you’re bound to come across scary claims that might lead you to believe EATING SOY WILL KILL YOU!
You may have heard:
Soy will give you breast cancer.
Soy formula is dangerous to babies.
Genetically modified soy foods might genetically modify YOU.
Soy impairs thyroid function.
Soy prevents the absorption of minerals and interferes with digestion.
(Mel) I can assure you, I have reviewed an extensive amount of research. Based on the quality of evidence that exists today, here’s what you should know:
First, you should be aware that the amount of soy used in many studies is much higher than what we normally consume. The average dose of soy used is equivalent to about one pound of tofu or three soy protein shakes a day. That’s a lot of soy – far more than we’d recommend. So when you read negative things about soy, remember that many of those claims are based on poorly designed studies that don’t apply to real-world consumption.
As a bit of an aside, nutrition science is filled with contradictions. Some studies show that kale contains natural pesticides. Other studies show that spinach is high in toxins. While pesticides and toxins are not on our recommended eating list, to make the leap that we shouldn’t eat kale or spinach is overreaching. You could apply this same logic to many of the anti-soy studies.
One claim that does have some basis in fact is this: Fermented soy is BETTER than non-fermented soy.
That’s because soybeans (along with other beans, nuts, and seeds) contain compounds called phytates, which bind to minerals inside your body and contain some potentially harmful compounds.
Eastern cultures have traditionally consumed fermented soy. The fermentation process breaks down soy and makes it easier to digest. Fermentation also adds additional nutrients and probiotics (“good” bacteria) to soy. For these reasons, I prefer fermented soy foods, like miso, natto, tempeh, and sprouted tofu.
So, should you eat soy? YES — but with two very important considerations:
1) Choose whole, real soy (as mentioned directly above.) One to two servings a day of any of these foods are fine.
2) Avoid processed soy. That includes soy protein isolate and concentrates, genetically engineered soy foods (typically made from Monsanto’s Roundup Soybeans), soy supplements, and soy junk foods like soy cheese, soy ice cream, soy oil, and soy burgers. These foods are heavily processed and often contain added ingredients that are not good for us.
In truth, I’m eager to see more research on the effects of soy and our health. As nutrition science continues to explore these complexities, there’s no need to pass up this healthful and delicious food with literally thousands of years of evidence in support of its benefit.
So we know what KIND of protein to consumer, now the question is how much?
A excellent way to manage protein intake is to use your palm. For men, at each feeding, you should be consuming 1.5-2 palms of protein. For woman, at each feeding, you should be consuming 1-1.5 palms of protein. (A palm is the thickness and width of your actual palm.)
Q: I’m a vegetarian / vegan. Do you have any recommendations?
A: (Mel) This can be an emotional topic which I’m happy to discuss at length on a more personal level. For now, I’d like to stick to the nutrition science.
Many dietitians, myself included, have noticed not only macronutrient deficiencies in vegetarians, but also micronutrient deficiencies. They tend to be deficient in overall protein, creatine, zinc, magnesium, Vit-D, Omega-3’s, carnitine, glycine, taurine, and carnosine. These animal-derived nutrients contribute to strength, power, recovery, endurance, work capacity – pretty much everything athletic, so diligent supplementation is necessary.
(Rob) There also seems to be “something about meat” that leads to better athletic performance and an improved physique. Even when amino acids are presented in the same ratio AND quantity in a vegetarian diet as compared to an omnivores diet, our bodies are better at digesting and utilizing the meat to create the necessary amino acid derivatives. Kinda wild right? Bottom line. The more restricted your diet, the greater chance we’re not able to reach your athletic potential. Can you have success on a vegetarian/vegan diet? ABSOLUTELY. But I suggest you work with a registered dietitian who specializes in vegetarian/vegan plans.
Q: What about stuff like The China Study and Forks Over Knives that condemn meat as the source of all evil?
A: We don’t have to spend too much time dispelling their myth. Plenty of people have done that already (very effectively.) We will say, we get angry watching food documentary. Literally angry. The research they choose to present is heavily biased and looks at science through a straw. A half-truth can be just as dangerous as a lie. That said, NOT ALL MEAT IS CREATED EQUALLY. How we PRODUCE meat in this country continues to be a massive problem. Factory farming and animal cruelty are legitimate concerns and we have a responsibility to be mindful of this as consumers. Don’t underestimate your purchasing power as an agent for change.
The research is clear – a higher protein diet is not only safe, but important for achieving ideal health, body comp, and performance. Most of the time our meal should be based around a high quality, complete source of protein.
Love & muscles,
Rob & Mel