I like to refer to my diet as plant-based pescatarian, meaning most days I am 100% plant based but there are occasions where I choose to consume pasture raised local eggs or wild caught local salmon for the health benefits, to maintain a level of ease when I go out for food and because I generally feel good eating like this. When I made the switch from eating meat and dairy to eating a plant based diet I started to notice my energy levels improve first and for someone who is doing intense physical activity daily that was HUGE for me. The thing is that for a lot of people not eating meat and increased performance don't exactly go hand in hand in their brain, in fact they are usually on opposite ends of the spectrum mentally and the common "where do you get your protein?" or "how do you build muscle?" questions come up A LOT.
It makes sense that the majority of people don't understand how you can possibly be an athlete but not consume meat, after all the meat and dairy industry has brainwashed us all into thinking that the only sources of protein on the planet are the ones that come from animal sources. With campaigns like "Got Milk?" and famous athletes claiming to eat insane amounts of animal protein in order to put on muscle and perform it would be strange not to believe it really.
What if I told you that animal protein is not essential for athletic performance?
Protein is an essential nutrient that is crucial to our health, it is the building block of muscle, provides energy when our glucose stores get too low, helps to repair muscle and is involved in almost every single biological process that goes on in our bodies every day. Protein is made up of 20 different amino acids, 9 of which are essential meaning they have to be consumed in the diet because our body cannot synthesize (make) them. So when you hear people say that we need protein for our health they actually mean that we need the amino acids in protein, not the protein itself.
Most animal protein generally contains all of the essential amino acids, not because they are naturally occurring in animal foods but because the animals have consumed the amino acids in their lifetime and have stored them in their tissues (aka the meat you eat). The real kicker is the fact that animals can't synthesize the 9 essential amino acids either and the foods that the animals have consumed in order to store all of the essential amino acids in their tissues are plants. Plants synthesize all of the essential amino acids just in different amounts, so humans can get all of the essential amino acids from eating a variety of plant foods (just like animals do).
Something that has really taken a front seat in the plant based protein movement is the idea of protein combining. Protein combining is the concept that we need to eat complementary proteins together in order to get all of the essential amino acids from the diet.
The truth though is that all vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and plant foods in general contain all of the nonessential and essential amino acids we need. Our bodies also store pools of all of the amino acids to be used if our levels ever get low (which is rare) and our body is constantly recycling protein to be reabsorbed by our body.
So becoming protein deficient is almost as impossible as walking off the edge of the earth.
The most common (and uneducated) recommendation floating around the dieting and nutrition world is that we should be eating 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, if you have ever looked into diets that promote weight loss or muscle building then you have probably seen that equation once or twice (try hundreds of times). Well not only is that not accurate AT ALL it is more than double the actual Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) which is 0.8 grams per pound of body weight in kilograms per day (1 kg = 2.2 lbs). I know, it's shocking right?
The funny thing is not only do people who eat a completely plant based diet get enough protein daily, but they are actually averaging twice the average requirement for protein (nutrition facts.org) and meeting all of their essential amino acids needs.
There has also never been a study (ever) that has shown that eating above the RDA let alone an excessive amount of protein is beneficial to muscle growth or repair in any way. But because of the media and big corporations the bulk of North Americans consume more than 3 times the RDA of protein every single day almost entirely from animal protein sources and most of them aren't even athletes, in fact most of them get little to no daily physical activity at all.
The thing that most people don't know is that not only are they doing themselves no good by consuming so much excess animal protein, they are actually putting themselves at serious risk.
THE RISKS OF ANIMAL PROTEIN
Conventional animal protein is high in hormones, chemicals and antibiotics all of which are put directly into our bodies when we choose to eat that burger, chicken breast, steak, etc. The animals are raised in dirty, cramped conditions that breed bacteria so in order for the animals not to get sick or become infected chemicals and antibiotics have to be added to their feed and to ensure that the animals grow as large as possible and as quickly as possible to increase profit, hormones are either added to the feed or given to the animals via injection. Animal protein is also high in cholesterol, saturated fat and trans fat all of which contribute to cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer risk. Cholesterol is actually found exclusively in animal foods, not even the highest fat plant foods like nuts, avocados or coconuts contain even the smallest amount of cholesterol and we as humans have ZERO dietary need for cholesterol whatsoever. Animal foods also contain absolutely no fiber and very low levels of any of the essential vitamins or nutrients making them a high calorie, high fat and low nutritional value food.
To put it simply, excess animal protein paired with a low activity (sedentary) lifestyle creates a major risk of health complications, disease and even early death. I could go on and on about what animal protein does to our health but instead of make this post a thousand paragraphs long I have decided to write a second post all about protein excess and exactly how it is contributing to the current obesity and disease epidemic so stay tuned for that early next week - I'l announce it on my instagram!
I also wanted to note that this may seem like I am totally bashing meat, but honestly I'm not. I believe that there is no perfect diet for everyone and that the best diet is the one you feel good eating. That being said, animal rights and the impact that animal agriculture has on our environment are things that I am extremely passionate about so I am just trying to shed some light on the fact that we NOT need to eat excessive amounts of animal protein in order to sustain life, lose weight, build muscle or perform.