Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Am I eating enough protein?

The last week or two I have been craving and subsequently eating a lot of ham. 

This has led to me wondering whether or not its a great thing for me to be eating as I try to clean out my diet ahead of my marathon in August and whether or not its a good source of protein for me as a runner. This then led me on to thinking about my protein consumption generally as well and if I consume enough. 

My diet

I have been trying to cut down on my carbohydrate consumption as a snack and looking for protein based alternatives. Ham seemed to git the bill as its cheap, easy to eat as a snack and low fat, not to mention a tasty treat.

When people talk about a good protein source to have as post workout or as a snack chicken is always towards the top of the list. Chicken has a few drawbacks though as it is more expensive and requires cooking and preparation if you choose to buy it uncooked. Ham then seemed like a decent alternative for someone like myself operating on a budget.

I know ham doesn't really fit in with a clean eating approach as it is processed and somewhat artificial especially in comparison to freshly cooked chicken straight off the bone. 

So how do they compare nutritionally?

Chicken as taken from myfitnesspal
A snapshot from the back of my packet of ham

Here is a breakdown of my usual sources of protein that I try to include in my diet to increase my protein intake, listed below in order of the amount of protein they provide.  

Per 100g:

Chicken:                                                             165 calories               31g protein
Whey protein shake (pro start):                       120 calories               20g protein
Ham:                                                                   124 calories               17g protein
Whey protein shake (Holland and Barrett):       83 calories               16.6g protein
Chickpeas:                                                         125 calories               6.4g protein
Pinto beans:                                                         86 calories               4.9g protein
Milk (semi Skimmed):                                         47 calories               3.6g protein
Peanut butter:                                                       90 calories               3.5g protein 
Nuts:                                                       approx 500 calories   approx 20g protein
Eggs:                                                                   155 calories            12.6g protein
Mackerel:                                                            206 calories             18.8g protein

All nutritional information in this article is taken from either using a generic description for the mentioned food or the specific brand or type that I would regularly eat. 

which I use to track and monitor my diet when I fell like keeping a closer eye on what I am eating or when I want to make my self feel really bad about the large amounts of calories I have consumed. 

I would recommend using it especially in its app form as its a clever little resource that can provide a lot of useful information. 

As we all know protein is an important part of a runners diet as we need plenty of the stuff to repair our muscles and keep us strong and healthy through regular training. 

Research tells us that the best sources of protein are those that contain the best balance of amino acids the so called 'building blocks' of protein. Some of the top protein sources that fall into this category include: 

Almonds:                                               578 calories        21.3g protein
Tuna:                                                      126 calories           30g protein
Chocolate skimmed milk:                      76 calories          3.4g protein
Eggs:                                                     155 calories        12.6g protein
Beef:                                                    1200 calories        81.5g protein
Low fat yogurt:                                         63 calories          5.2g protein
Turkey:                                                   104 calories        17.1g protein
Soy Protein:                           approx   400 calories            90g protein
Whey protein:                         approx   400 calories            90g protein  
Salmon:                                                  200 calories            20g protein

Again these figures above are based on Per 100g:

Only three of these 'best' source are listed in my list of my regular sources of protein so I obviously need to change my diet a little to try and incorporate these better sources of protein.

As you can see some of these items are very rich in protein and certainly a lot higher in protein than most of the items on my list. 

How much protein should I be eating? 
Its all well and good knowing all this information but what affect does it have on me? How much protein should I be eating? 

A Runnersworld article suggests a regular runner will need 0.6g of protein per pound of weight. 

So I weight somewhere around 11 stone which works out as around 154 pounds which works out as around 92g per day as a minimum, maybe more when I am training more or on an intensive training day. 

What I need to work out now is how close do I come to meeting this require of 92g+ of protein per day? Unfortunately I haven't been keeping a food diary for ages and my diet is quite different to what it was last time I kept a record so I will try and figure out my protein intake myself. 

Looking at just food that is a good/high protein source my protein intake would look a bit like this if I was on a typical day to eat these protein sources: 

Milk on my cereal:                                                      3g protein
Whey protein shake after training:                         20g protein
Chickpeas with my lunch:                                     12.8g protein
Mackerel with my lunch:                                        17.4g protein
Some almonds as an afternoon snack:                    8g protein
Ham as an evening snack:                                      17g protein
Some peanut butter on toast for my tea:               1.3g protein
                                                                   Total = 79.5g protein

These figures are based on actual serving sizes of what I would actually eat. 

So looking at just the protein rich foods I am not very far off and am pretty impressed with the amount of protein my diet could contain. 


Do I need to eat more protein? Strategies for eating more protein 

I think I need to be more conscious of always trying to include protein whenever possible into every meal. I already do this by including bean into my pasta or rice dishes for lunch and I need to keep this up as well as regularly snacking on protein rich foods like nuts. Buying and eating more chicken is a definite as well as treating myself to eggs for breakfast a lot more often. 

I definitely need to substitute some of my food choices for options higher in protein such as chicken and beef. This brings me back to my original question about the ham, ham seems to be all well and good but it isn't as protein rich as other meat sources and as discussed isn't that healthy as it is processed and not fresh. 

In an ideal world my perfect protein rich diet would look something like this and would provide me with more than enough protein;

2 eggs                                                      156 calories     10.8g protein
200g baked beans                                 156 calories       9.6g protein
Mushrooms & tomatoes                           56 calories       7.8g protein

Brown rice                                               216 calories       5g protein
Chicken                                                   102 calories      22.1g protein 
Chickpeas                                              125 calories       6.4g protein
Peppers 39 1.5g protein 

Homemade potato wedges                  414 calories      12.9g protein
Ham                                                           62 calories       8.5g protein
Salad                                                         16 calories       0.6g protein  

Almonds                                                  137 calories    5g protein
Bananas                                                  100 calories    1.2g protein
Whey protein shake                               120 calories     20g protein
Apple                                                         65 calories     0.3g protein 

                                                  Totals: 1725 calories      110.2g protein

Wow! That is a lot more protein than I was anticipating! This is far from a typical day but is potentially a 'normal' day if you like in terms that although I don't do this every day it is achievable on any given day. 

I know my diet is far from perfect and could be improved in a lot of areas and even the diet scenario outlined above could be improved a lot but I know I am moving in the right direction and my diet has steadily and consistently improved over the last few years. 

So going back to the start of my article I have certainly learnt a lot about protein and my own protein consumption just from thinking about the healthiness of a bit of ham! 

I hope this article was interesting and useful for you to think about your own diet and protein consumption.