Lesson 1, Topic 1
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Lesson & Week 3 Goal

Week 3: Capitalize on Plant Protein

Challenge: Make dinners meat-free this week

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past year, you’ve seen plant proteins soar in popularity. Many families have adopted “Meatless Mondays” or some have adopted a “flexitarian” eating style to promote more plant-based eating. Vegetarian and vegan athletes are more and more common, and even some bodybuilders have been vocal about their new plant-powered lifestyle.

So what’s the big deal? Why are people using plants to help them get their daily protein requirements, are they even getting enough? We will discuss answers to these questions and more and introduce you to a few strategies for getting maximum proteins from plants.

First, it is important to know why protein is important and how much of it you need each day.

Protein is made of amino acids linked together in a chain. These amino acids are building blocks that your body uses to create tissues (think muscles), some hormones, and neurotransmitters, among other things.

Your body takes these amino acids from protein-containing foods and shuttles them around to the areas of your body that need them. How much you need each day depends on how active you are.

The more you are working out your muscles, the more building blocks, or amino acids, you will need. To determine your daily needs in grams, take your current weight in pounds and multiply it by the factors below (1), this will give you the amount you should aim to eat each day:

Sedentary:0.4-0.5 per lb 
Active, Endurance Training:0.55-0.65 per lb 
Active, Strength Training:0.7-0.8 per lb
Body Building, Bulking0.8-.10 per lb

For example, a 180lb person who lifts weights most days would need 180(.7) to 180(.8) which would be between 126-144 grams per day.  Sedentary individuals don’t need as much protein because they aren’t needing to rebuild muscle structures like an active person.

Extreme bodybuilders or competitors can benefit from about a gram of protein per pound they weigh. This is far less than people think! With a little planning and menu creativity, it is easy to reach your protein goals using plants.

This leads us to our next topic of why we should use plant sources of protein over animal sources? There are many reasons why we should go “plant-based,” but here are a few I find compelling.

Plants are cleaner. By cleaner I mean, free of hormones, antibiotics, and nasty preservatives like added salt and nitrates that are used in our meat supply. Some even contain processed stabilizers, food coloring, artificial flavors, and other unnatural ingredients.

As a bonus, plants are never forced into confinement operations and pumped full of processed diets they weren’t evolutionarily meant to eat either (think corn or soy) to fatten them up.

Plants are more sustainable. Many of earth’s resources are dedicated to providing food for our world’s inhabitants, this is not something that is just going to change.

However, our food choices can definitely have an impact on just how many resources are used. It takes a lot more water, food, and energy to raise a cow than to grow rice and beans. The carbon footprint associated with vegetarian diets is much lower than diets which include meat.

Plants are cheaper, twice. Organic chicken, grass-fed beef, and bacon are some of the most expensive items in the store while legumes, peanut butter, brown rice, and celery are all relatively cheap!

What’s more, is a whole food, plant-based eating can help prevent you from developing many diseases of westernized culture which saves you money down the road. In fact, according to the most recent study on this topic (published October of 2016), people who get more of their protein from plant sources are less likely to develop heart disease, certain cancers, and live longer(2)!

 Plants provide more than just protein. My favorite reason to maximize plant intake is that you are getting more nutrition! There are far more nutrients per calorie in plants than in most animal products.

A diverse diet of plants is rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, healthy fats, slow digesting carbs, phytochemicals, and plant pigments that repair, restore, and protect your body. Plants do much more than just provide protein, as you learned last week. They are protecting our skin, promoting longevity, even helping to detoxify our bodies naturally. Amazing stuff, and all at a lower calorie cost.

To ease you into a more plant-centered way of thinking, the goal this week is to make your dinners meatless. Dinners tend to be the most meat-heavy meal of the day. Trying to upgrade them by using plant protein sources for one week will help you think creatively about dinner.

If you are having a hard time replacing the meat (for instance using tofu in stir-fries, or black bean burgers in place of beef…) try completely new recipes that don’t require meat as the main focus of the dish.

Asian (especially Thai, Japanese, Indian) cuisines are really good at using alternative protein sources such as soy, peanuts, or chickpeas. Get creative in the kitchen and branch out of your usual meals of meatloaf and barbeque chicken. Here are some delicious dishes that can help you make the transition!

  1. Phillips SM, Van Loon LJ. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. J Sports Sci. 2011;29 (Suppl 1):S29-38. 

Units have been converted from metric to imperial units for the ease of working with pounds.

  1. Song M, Fung TT, Hu FB, Willett WC, Longo VD, Chan AT, Giovannucci EL. Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(10):1453-1463.