“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook”~ Julia Child
“So if I can’t eat this and I can’t eat that, what the HELL am I supposed to eat???”
This USED to be my reaction to food and eating. I always felt like I was at a loss when it came to eating and eating “right.” I like food. I like to eat. I like to chew. I like salt, fat and sugar. And over the years, I have learned to have all of those things…without going overboard. HOW? I learned to create better habits with my eating. I learned to see food as my friend, not my enemy. I have learned to EAT. When I have a beer, I drink a good one. And I enjoy it. When I eat those barbeque chicken bacon nachos from Annabel Lee Tavern, I eat them ALL. And I enjoy them. I enjoy my beer and my nachos because I can. Because 95% of the time, I am eating vegetables, fruit, lean meats, eggs, making protein shakes, drinking water, tea and yes, diet soda. (I LOVE my diet Mountain Dew so please, do not go hatin’ on my diet Mountain Dew. I drink it. I like it. And I will continue to drink it.
In fact, a study just came out about diet soda and weight loss.Do I bathe in diet soda? No, I don’t. But I like it. So I drink it. If you don’t like it, don’t drink it. I don’t like wine. So I don’t drink it. Glad we got that out of the way.)
But I digress. This post is about food, more importantly, about protein. I know many people who are very strong, active individuals, strength train on a regular basis and have considerable discipline when it comes to their training. However, when it comes to their eating, they don’t have a clue about what to eat, how much or how often. This happen less so with mwn than with the women, most of whom are also eating considerably less than they should for their activity level. When they do eat, they are eating too little protein and wondering why their having difficulty with their lifts and/or struggling with their weight. For women who are trying to build muscle and/or lose fat, protein is a must. Protein feeds muscle and for women who strength train regularly, this is a necessity. In order to build muscle and then protect that muscle, protein is needed…and a lot more than you think. Protein helps you recover from your workouts, helps you digest your food better and helps keep you satiated longer.
Dr. John Berardi of Precision Nutrition put out a great video about protein and how much you should be getting. Watch it here:
What is great about this video is 1. It was short. Win. 2. It was to the point. However, after watching the video, do people really know how much protein they should be eating each day? Berardi does not necessarily believe in measuring or counting calories. And true, calorie counting is a little bit like guessing. But measurements are measurements. And honestly, if you are not measuring your protein, you really do not know how much you are actually getting. Once you have measured enough, then you will have a better idea of how much you are getting each day. You can try “guessing” but I really don’t believe in this. I believe in measuring cups, scales, tablespoons. I believe in looking at the package and reading labels. If you are guessing, I guarantee that you are getting too little protein and then over eating other foods because you are still hungry.
So how much protein do you need? For a very in depth article about this subject, you can check out Eirik Garnas’s post How Much Protein Do You Really Need? over on Bret Contreras’s site. Another great article just came out on T-Nation about the 10 mistakes that many women make when eating and wouldn’t you know, number 7 is not getting enough protein. You can read the article here.
For very active individuals, like those of us who strength training regularly, should aim for at least 1 gram of protein for every 1 pound of bodyweight. So if you weigh 135 pounds, you should aim for 135 grams of protein. Weigh 155 pounds? 155 grams of protein. One of my lifters who trains regularly is struggling with this right now. When asked about her protein intake, she said “Oh, I eat like a pound and half of meat every day!” We asked if she wanted to take a bet on that. She said no and a few days later came back and said “Okay, so I said this but it was nowhere near that much.” I asked how much she really was getting and she said, “I am lucky if I get 50 grams.” That is not nearly enough for someone who is squatting, benching and deadlifting heavy. She should be consuming more to help her with her weight and her workouts. She should be getting at least to 140-150 grams. “I get 40 grams just in my breakfast,” I told her. “We have some work to do.” And she’s not alone.
Okay, Emily, so if I am supposed to get X amount of protein a day, then tell me what does 150 grams of protein look like???
Great question. I have broken down my day here for you so you can see what a typical day of eating looks like for ME. Everyone is different but this works for me and my needs and I am a creature of habit so I pretty much eat the same thing EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. It makes it easy to keep me on track with my food. Generally, my Monday – Friday eating pretty much looks like this:
Breakfast #1: Egg scramble (2 eggs) w/ham, cottage cheese, vegetables, fruit and two Wasa crackers.
2 eggs – 12 grams
2 ounces of ham – 9 grams
1/2 cup of cottage cheese – 13 grams
Vegetables: handful of spinach, sliced cherry tomatoes, handful of red/green peppers, red onion – (a little protein)
1 cup of strawberries – 1.1 gram
1/2 cup of melon – 0.7 grams
Grand total: 38.6 grams
Breakfast #2: Strawberry/Banana Omelet (1 egg, egg whites, cottage cheese, Siggis skyr (yogurt with tons of protein), strawberries, banana)
1 egg – 6 grams
3/4 cup egg whites – 18 grams
1/2 cup of 2% cottage cheese – 13 grams
Siggis Plain skry (1 serving) – 15 grams
1 cup strawberries – 1.1 gram
1/4 banana – 0.3 grams
Grand total: 53.4 grams
This is just breakfast.
Egg scramble – Wasa crackers not shown
Lunch: Turkey burger w/large salad and rice
5 ounces of turkey burger – 30 grams
Large salad – 3.3 grams
1/2 cup of rice – 2.3 grams
Grand total: 34.5 grams
Now I am up between 73 grams and 87.9 grams, depending on which breakfast I have eaten.
I still have a protein shake, dinner and another snack to go as needed.
I train in the afternoon, right before my classes. After my session, I need food because I am running classes up until 8:30 at night. I typically drink a protein shake or eat a protein bar, usually around 6-6:30 or so and this will get me through until dinner at about 9pm. I eat late, but we have always eaten late, every since we have been together (10 years).
Snack: Protein shake or protein bar (Quest protein bar has 20 grams of protein)
1 scoop of Casein protein powder – 24 grams
1 tablespoon of peanut butter
1/2 cup of almond milk (with protein)
Grand Total: 32.5 grams
After training shake
105 – 120.4 grams of protein and dinner still to come.
Dinner: On Monday and Tuesday night, it’s chicken sausages. Wednesday, we eat at the diner and I’ll get a large salad with grilled chicken. Thursday is salmon and large salad and Friday is typically chicken kebob night.
Dinner: Wednesday: Large Greek salad w/grilled chicken
8 ounces of grilled chicken – 50.7 grams
Large salad – 3.3 grams
Pita bread (May or may not eat this…depends on if I need the extra starch. The salads are HUGE at our diner.)
Grilled chicken and salad
Grand total: 54 grams
Target hit. 159 – 174.4 grams of protein. Boom.
During the week, I average between 150 to 170 grams of protein. And as you can see, just breakfast and lunch alone provided me with more than half of my protein intake.
But remember, with everything in life, you have to experiment. You have to start off slowly. If you can’t stomach whey or casein protein powder, don’t use it. Try a soy or rice protein powder. Or skip the protein powders altogether and instead of a protein shake for a snack, have Greek yogurt w/fruit or nuts or two hardboiled eggs w/vegetable slices, hummus with carrot sticks or an apple with cheese. All of these snacks are protein packed snacks. Protein shakes are quick and easy for me and I love them. They work for ME. Find a good protein filled snack that works for you. The key is to start of SLOWLY. It’s taken me a long time to learn to eat more protein. The goal is to shoot for 20-30 grams per meal. If you are not getting that right now, don’t stress. Start with one meal a day and then slowly build up to two meals a day. Your best bets are lean meats, beans, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, eggs, fortified Almond milk, whey or other protein supplements (as needed). Cheese and nut butters are more fat than protein so go easy here. Nuts too.
Keep in mind, I did not always eat like this. You can read about my food history here. Seriously. I never even ate a real breakfast until the summer of 2008 when I had had enough and sought out help from a trainer at my gym. While her workouts were complete bullshit, her nutrition advice was somewhat sound. Yes, she did put me on a typical body builder diet – the whole chicken and broccoli and rice deal – BUT what she really did was wake me up the the fact that 1. I was not eating enough 2. I was not eating enough protein 3. I was eating low fat and eating too much of that junk. I stopped eating my little sugary yogurt for breakfast, my frozen burrito for lunch and my soy cheese for a snack and I started eating eggs and spinach and brie and oatmeal and lean meats and Greek yogurt and over the past 6 years, I adjusted this and adjusted that until I found the right combinations of food that fueled me, helped me build muscle, lose fat and feel great. And I am STILL adjusting my meals. It’s a work in progress. I keep things simple. I eat mindfully, watch how much I eat and I stop when I am full (although there are times when I eat more than I should and I pay for it later. Oh well!) Finding what works for you takes time and it takes patience. The only “diet” philosophy I subscribe to is EATING REAL FOOD. Although sometimes Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal calls my name and well, hey, I buy it. And I enjoy it.