Nutrition has always been a mystical subject. Amino acids, fatty acids, omega 3s, omega 5s, antioxidants, probiotics, vitamins, minerals, supplements, fiber . . . apparently there is quite a lot to keep track of. Is it really necessary to understand all of these things in order to be healthy?
Several months ago I wrote a post on weight lifting, more importantly, kissing it (Keep it simple stupid!). Combing through many deviations of workouts and training plans, and the whole host of fancy gym equipment can easily overwhelm and intimidate a beginner, to the point of inaction. I am finding that nutrition is the same way. So, a few days ago I set out to keep nutrition simple, and a bit more understandable. As a quasi-vegetarian, I wanted to make sure both Ellie and I were getting everything we needed, while increasing our training more and more.
I decided to ignore all of the buzz words, and look at strictly protein intake. More specifically, I decided to focus my energies at the essential amino acids are bodies can't synthesize naturally. As a brief introduction, amino acids are the building blocks of all the proteins in our bodies. They link together to form peptide chains. In total these twenty different organic compounds make up who we are and play a crucial role in all sorts of cellular activities. Of these twenty, nine of them cannot by synthesized in our body, requiring us to acquire them through our food. An important thing to note is that as a vegetarian, not all foods contain these essential amino acids, as many anti-vegetarianism proponents are quick to point out. To that I say, this is easily overcome by simply eating a variety of healthy foods.
So, to quantify how much we were getting, and how much we needed to eat, I looked to a trust-worthy source, Wikipedia. By following through the references provided, I was pointed to Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements (2006) published by the National Academic Press. In particular, I looked up the tables for protein intake. I worked through their information, and created a nice little summary chart:
It is important to note that I also used a modifier of 1.2 to calculate our daily requirements to account for our training schedules. This is somewhat arbitrary, but I saw several people recommending this alteration for athletes. Now having an approximation of how much we needed to consume, I started to look at common foods that we enjoy, such as eggs, beans, greek yogurt, chia seeds and more. There are a few websites that give estimates of the amino acid profiles found in these common foods, though honestly most of them could use a little bit of work. By computing out an average day of eating (of a serving of beans, an egg, and a greek yogurt with chia seeds), I found that these foods get us fairly close to our baseline requirements without too much trouble.
It is also important to note that we need more protein then this too. Our essential amino acid requirements are between 14 and 22 grams a day, while our total requirements is around the generally suggested 40 to 50 grams of protein a day. We typically achieve this fairly easily through whole grains, leafy greens, cheeses, nuts and other tasty foods, and in general, we feel good after eating all of these things. Through this analysis, I feel more confident that we are eating the right kinds of food to keep us moving forward towards our training goals.
Good nutrition is essential to succeeding in your training goals. Getting enough of the right kinds of foods is pretty important. The information is out there, and it isn't too overwhelming if you break it down into digestible bites. Don't get caught up in all of the health food buzz words, stick with the basics and you'll be alright.