Protein: Getting Enough Without Busting the Budget

Today we have a guest post by Andi Singer, who works with the folks over at ihmonline. She is way more of a badass than Crabby, and describes herself as: "a fitness and nutrition blogger and athlete based in the Boise area. She can deadlift 265lbs, run 5 miles, do the splits in all three directions, and kick a grown man through the wall."

Her nutritional advice is therefore more interesting than mine is, as I have no need to propel humans through walls--I find it much easier to bore them to death.

And some might even find some of Andi's suggestions controversial... which is not a bad thing! Cranky Fitness is a great place for spirited discussion of divergent nutritional theories 'cause unlike participants at other forums, Cranketeers tend to be polite and respectful when expressing themselves.

Anyway, I'll let Andi take it from here, enjoy!  --Crabby

How Much Protein Do You Need?

As athletes and fitness-y people, we all know that we need protein. Building blocks for muscle, more energy, blah blah blah. The actual amount of protein needed is widely debated, ranging from about 40% of your body weight in grams, to 200% of your body weight in grams. One protein calculator tells me I need 84g of protein, while another nutritional calculator wants me to get 225g.

As a powerlifter and competitive fighter, I try to aim for around 100% of my body weight in grams (so 150g or so.) The real question is, how does one actually get that much protein-- especially on a $30 a week budget?

Top Animal-Derived Protein Sources

My overall top picks for protein sources are eggs, chicken, and whey protein powder. I spend around $5 a week for 5 dozen eggs, and usually $6-$8 on chicken breast (which costs $1.99/lb for natural, no hormone chicken at my grocery store-- yay for living in Idaho, the land of the cheap!)

Animal proteins contain all of the amino acids that our bodies don’t naturally produce, and they are absorbed at a higher rate than plant-derived proteins. Beef and most pork is out of my price range, but chicken, eggs, and dairy products like Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are high in protein and relatively inexpensive.

Still, it can be difficult to eat enough meat and dairy to meet your daily protein needs. I am not a huge fan of most meats, so in a normal meal (like a pasta dish), I will have about 4oz of chicken and a couple of eggs.

An entire chicken quarter, 5 eggs, and 2c pasta with mixed frozen veggies.
 (I only eat like this on deadlift day!)

Veggies and Legumes Count as Protein!

The worst nutritional advice I ever received was to discount plant-based proteins (I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian at the time, so it put me in a bit of a panic!) Most foods have at least a little bit of protein, including fruits and vegetables. They do not contain all of the amino acids we need, and they are less readily absorbed, but they are proteins nonetheless and can help you reach your nutritional needs.

In all honesty, at this point in my life I don’t eat a ton of vegetables. I prioritize it last in my food budget, so I usually wind up with a couple of bags of frozen veggies, a zucchini, and maybe a couple of onions.

I go for peas a lot because they are extremely high in protein as far as vegetables go. Technically they are in the legume family, but they are also higher in protein than most beans and lentils. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, dried or fresh peas are a great way to get a lot of protein, and they can be used as a vegetable fresh, or as a traditional legume dried.

Crock pot split pea soup with ham bone.

Use Bars and Shakes as a Last Resort

I normally use 1½ scoops of whey protein powder every day, getting me about 45g of protein. Protein powder and nutritional bars can be a good supplement if you have trouble reaching your goals, but it should not be your main source of protein.

It’s important to remember that most protein shakes and bars are highly processed, and to treat them accordingly. For my post-workout meal every morning I eat ¾ cups of oats, 1½ scoops of protein powder, and about 1 tbs of carob chips. I get my fast and slow-burning carbs as well as a hefty dose of protein.

However protein powder, pasta, and tortillas are basically the only processed foods that I eat. I try to keep about 80% of my foods single-ingredient, and so I fit the protein powder into the other 20%.

Nutritional bars can also be a great way to supplement protein, or a good alternative to fast food when you don’t have time to cook. If I am stuck between errands I will stop by the grocery store and pick up a piece of fruit and a protein bar which will hold me over for an extra hour or two. You can also purchase bars in bulk or in some grocery stores to carry around in your purse or backpack (I’m a grown woman who carries a backpack, okay??) should the need for a healthy, high-protein snack arise.

Talking to a dietitian is a great way to learn about your nutritional needs, but you can also do research online for yourself and make an informed decision based on your goals and activities. Half of the battle is figuring out how much protein you need, and the other half is figuring out how the heck to get it.

How do you guys approach protein and getting "enough?"

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