Do you ever feel like a slave to meal time? With all the preaching going on (and a lot of it rightfully so), you know you’ve got to take in enough protein and healthy calories to expect any sort of muscular growth or lasting change in your body. But does knowing this have you obsessing over your food choices? Knowing you’ve got to get in X grams of protein each day can become a bit overwhelming. To ensure you’re getting the necessary protein, tons of people load up on ground beef, chicken breasts, steak, and other animal-based products to help them reach their daily goals. Health consequences of this type of diet aside, what if you happen to be one of those people who are less keen on meat products? What if the bulk of your diet is plant-based? (which is totally a good idea, by the way)
Like many, you may find yourself scratching your head about how to get as many calories needed when you have more or less given up on meat. Let me give you a quick personal story, since I know you all love hearing so much about my life – I adopted a mostly plant-based diet about 6 months ago. What this means is, I avoid eating animal products MOST days of the week – typically four or five days a week I’ll eat only fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, with the exception of a little dairy (greek yogurt) before bed. At first, I was concerned about how I could possibly consume enough calories and protein to not only maintain my current muscle mass, but continue to grow! After doing some investigation on my own, and researching unfamiliar foods, it become abundantly clear – you DON’T need to eat tons of animal product to maintain the body you crave.
By understanding there are alternatives for you out there, you’ll realize getting your daily calories and protein intake is easier than ever…and a whole lot healthier! Today we look at these alternatives and show you how to end your over dependence on meat WITHOUT sacrificing the nutritional needs of a fit and healthy body.
Getting Your Protein and Caloric Needs WITHOUT Meat Products
High Protein Veggies
If someone were to ask you, “Which has more protein? 100 calories of broccoli or 100 calories of steak?” What would your answer be? Like most people, you automatically assume the answer would be steak……and you’d be wrong. Calorie for calorie, broccoli contains more protein than even the finest grass-fed beef. Not only does it have more, it has nearly DOUBLE the protein. One hundred calories of broccoli contains nearly 11 grams of protein, versus 6-10 grams of protein for 100 calories of steak (depending on the cut). The point is, there are tons of high-protein vegetables out there, you just have to seek them out. Other high-protein vegetable sources include:
- Brussel sprouts
And unlike animal products, these high-protein veggies are higher in fiber, anti-oxidants, and lower in fat, making them an all-around awesome choice for anyone looking to up their protein intake without eating more animal product.
I admit, I used to hate tofu. Then I learned how to cook tofu. With the ability to take on any flavor profile that it has been marinated/seasoned with, it truly is one of those ultra-versatile foods that can be used in just about anything. Want to turn it into lasagna noodles? No problem. Want to cube, bake, and stir-fry? Easily done. When seasoned properly tofu can fool even the staunchest meat eaters into thinking their biting into a perfectly crispy, yet juicy, piece of chicken. Not only that, one serving of tofu can land you almost 14 grams of protein, making it excellent for anyone wanting to feed their hungry muscles. At a cost of ~$1.25 per pound, you’ll also save big bucks when compared to chicken breast, steak, and hamburger meat…..and lets not even talk about the price of the grass-fed stuff.
Tempeh is an Indonesian staple that has been making a slow and steady rise in popularity here in the States. Similar to tofu, tempeh is able to absorb the marinade/seasonings it is being prepared with, making it an extremely versatile option. Combined with its distinctively nutty taste, it proves to be a great component to many a meal. Clocking in at 5 grams of protein per ounce, it’s easy to close in on your daily protein needs when you’ve learned how to use and cook with tempeh.
This is a handy little food item to have around your house. With its savory, nutty, slightly umami flavor, nutritional yeast is the perfect addition to dishes that you’d like to add a little depth to. Often used in place of cheese, nutritional yeast packs a powerful protein punch all the same. Coming in at 5 grams of protein per tablespoon, a few dashes of this in a dish will not only add flavor and a boost of protein, but will help you stay away from ultra-processed factory cheeses that come in those resealable bags in the grocery store.
The Magical Fruit
We’re talking about beans of course. When prepared correctly, beans are a great substitution for meat products. Whether you’re making a 3 bean chile, black bean burgers, or a quinoa and kidney bean casserole, it’s never been easier to get your daily dose of protein AND calories. Beans are packed with loads of fiber, anti-oxidants, and complex carbohydrates, making them an awesome food choice you’ll want to always have on hand.
Nutrient-Dense Foods for Upping your Caloric Intake
I know, a lot of you girls out there are afraid of packing in the calories for fear of getting fat. It’s an understandable concern. But if you’re wanting to look like the ladies on the covers of fitness magazines, you’ve got to realize they’re eating enough to grow those lean, shapely, and curvy muscles you enviously gaze at while you’re in the check-out line at the grocery store. The main takeaway here is, make sure you’re getting calories from healthy sources that also pack in other vital nutrients. Downing a coke, a burger, and a basket of fries from In-n-Out may give you enough calories for the day…but they’re wasted calories. Choose something like peanut butter on whole wheat toast, avocado added to your salad, or taking a handful of walnuts with you to bump up your total caloric intake. By giving your body the (healthy) fuel it needs, it will reward you by building muscle in places you never thought possible.
Flax seed is a quick, easy, and tasty food item that is easily added to things like oatmeal, greek yogurt, or protein shakes. Only a couple of tablespoons add just over 100 calories, 4 grams of protein, and a healthy serving of good fats that will serve your body well. Literally, drop a couple of tablespoons (or more) of flax seed into your cooking oatmeal and get an instant boost in both protein and calories – it really couldn’t be any easier.
Why Avoid Meat in the First Place?
Now, the purpose of this article wasn’t to slam meat and meat eaters. Hell, I still eat meat, albeit much less than I used to, but I don’t think there will ever be a day where a juicy NY strip doesn’t make my mouth water. The reason I’ve given up meat most days of the week, and only buy grass-fed/organic when I do eat it, is because I truly believe a diet heavy in animal products is detrimental to our health. There are of course many who don’t agree with me…like these people. We’re all entitled to our own opinions, but research into the matter seems to suggest a diet heavy in animal products, even grass-fed/organic can lead to negative health consequences down the road.
In my opinion, you’ll be so much better off getting your protein and calories if they come with a healthy dose of anti-oxidants, fiber, and other vital nutrients that animal products lack. What’s more, I can now avoid the excessive cholesterol and saturated fats that are inherent to animal products.
Before I came to this realization, I felt like I HAD to make that chicken breast each night, or consume a dozen or more eggs each week, or find ways to work some sort of beef into my diet a few days a week. Those days are no more. Once I realized there are so many other, and healthier ways to get my protein and calories, I largely turned my back on meat and have never been healthier, happier, or more fit.