Growing up, your mom probably encouraged you to eat a variety of foods—not just Mac & Cheese and chicken nuggets, or Goldfish crackers and Fruit Roll-ups—but maybe things like broccoli and carrots, chicken and pork, sweet potatoes and strawberries. In other words: Variety.
As an adult, the same food philosophy is no different.
Variety is necessary in order to get the biggest bang for your nutrition buck when it comes to fueling your body for performance and function—inside and outside the gym.
And while you may know this in your head, it can be pretty darned easy to fall in a rut—a food rut, when it comes to the foods you choose (or don’t choose) to eat.
After all, humans, by nature are creatures of habit.
Today, in particular, we’re talking about protein—and varying your proteins; the main sources being:
Eggs, meat, chicken, pork, fish, shellfish, even some natural soy (tempeh, miso) and organic dairy products.
I won’t beat a dead horse, but, if you’re within the fitness and wellness realm, you probably know by now that protein is essential—a building block for all other nutrients and your body function in general.
Protein is one of those nutrients that is drilled into our heads that we need to eat—and lots of it if you are training for gains. Here is a ballpark table of the varying protein amounts OPEX advises both our coaches and our clients to refer to as a baseline for just ‘how much’ a person needs according to their level of activity:
sedentary – 0.5g/lb of LBM
light – 0.7g/lb of LBM
moderate – 0.9g/lb of LBM
high – 1.1g/lb of LBM
intensive – 1.3g/lb of LBM
That being stated, if you are training for gains, you need protein and lots of it…and not only plenty of it, but plenty of variety.
Why does varying your proteins even matter?
Isn’t chicken, beef and eggs really all the same?
What if I really just like chicken a lot?
Or I am fine with steak and eggs for most every meal, with some whey protein powder thrown in there?
Or, I am a vegetarian and can only stomach vegetarian friendly sources of protein—like tofu, beans and eggs?
Here’s the nuts and bolts:
Proteins are combinations of amino acids. During digestion, the proteins in food are broken down into separate amino acids, which are then absorbed by the body and used to:
- Build, repair and maintain body tissues;
- Synthesize hormones and enzymes;
- Supply energy, when carbohydrates or fat are not available.
All plant and animal cells contain protein, but the amount, as well as quality, varies widely among foods. Animal sources of protein tend to deliver all the amino acids we need (9 essential ones), while other secondary sources (such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds) lack one or more essential amino acids.
While the body does recognize a whole source (animal) of protein similar to another (i.e. chicken and beef have similar amino acid profiles), the quality of that source of protein, as well as the specific nutrients each different source provides is actually quite different.
Therefore, in order to get the FULL BENEFITS of all 20 amino acids and nutrients in various proteins, it is essential to consume a variety of sources (preferably grass-fed and organic as much as possible).
- A 6-ounce ham steak has only about 2.5 grams of saturated fat, but it’s loaded with sodium—2,000 milligrams worth, or about 500 milligrams more than the daily sodium max.
- Compared to chicken, beef is much higher in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and omega 3s. Omega-3’s provide your body and brain with essential fats necessary for cellular metabolism, digestion and energy, and CLA is associated with positives such as improved cardiovascular health, brain function, the prevention of bone loss and weight gain associated with menopause, and body fat loss.
- Wild-caught fish often pose fewer consumer health problems than most farm-raised seafood, associated with less contamination of chemicals and toxins
- Ground turkey is a great source of lean protein, but if this is your only or primary source of protein, you’re missing out on some of the great essential fatty acids say a nice piece of salmon or grass-fed bison steak provides
Ok. So you get the picture.
But how can you really begin to put this into practice? What could varying your proteins really look like if you are a creature of habit?
Here’s some inspiration from my plate to yours: