Remember how scary it was to take that first step through the gym doors? I do.
It was shortly after I graduated from university. Newly-independent and recently single, I’d resolved to start exercising and improve my health. I was starting from a pretty good place, but was still intimidated by all the fit, confident gym-goers.
I wasn’t sure where to start, so I did the same as any other nerd in need: went to online forums. There, self-proclaimed fitness experts preached the benefits of protein powder. I followed their advice and added the chalky, tasteless mixture to my pre-workout meal.
Now older and marginally wiser, I’ve realized the supplement was completely useless to me. Despite all the brands that say FUEL on the jar, you don’t really burn protein when you exercise. The process of building muscle does involve protein, since your muscles need it to help rebuild damaged filaments after a tough workout. But your body only really needs a half gram of protein per pound of body weight.
In short, most non-pro athletes don’t need a protein supplement, since they already get enough protein in their diets. All it does it add calories (and expensive ones, too) with no impact on muscle growth.
However, it is still important to get enough protein, and since I want to be fit and strong, I make sure to include lots of protein-rich foods in my diet. Here are some of my favourites:
Lean, fat-free dairy is a good source of protein. My personal favourite is non-fat Greek yogurt. It’s thicker and creamier than regular yogurt, and it does have an acquired taste, but it packs between 17 and 20 grams of protein per serving. You can enhance the taste (or mask it, depending on your perspective) with other healthy foods like fruits, nuts, and hemp hearts.
Hemp hearts are packed with all kinds of good nutrients. There’s fibre, omega-3 fatty acids, and all nine amino acids, plus 14 grams of protein in a serving (three tablespoons). It tastes great on yogurt or cereal, but you can also use it as breadcrumb alternative on chicken or fish.
Who doesn’t love Mexican food? Black beans are one of the best legumes for protein, with 15.9 grams in a cup. It also contains fibre, folate, and iron.
All nuts are a great protein source, but almonds come out on top in terms of both taste and cost. My favourite way to prepare almonds is to toss them in vanilla, sprinkle them with cinnamon and brown sugar, and cook them in the oven for 15 minutes. It’s a really delicious alternative if you’re craving chocolate.
As a backyard chicken coop owner, I can’t say enough about the benefits of eggs. You can prepare them in dozens of ways, all of which are relatively quick and easy. A single egg boasts 6 grams of protein for only 70 calories. Most of the protein is in the egg white, so you can cut out the yolk if you want more protein and less cholesterol or fat.