The Daily Beet

06 Dec Plant-strong Q&A with fitness expert, Lani!

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It’s Tuesday and that means that Lani is dropping by to answer some of your questions! If you want to learn a little bit more about Lani, or check out her helpful advice in the comments check out this introduction post.

Today, Lani tackles the protein question!

jrhicks asks “Why are many fitness coaches bent on pushing high-protein meatbased diets; what can be done to undo their powerful influence?”

Lani: Thanks jrhicks, I get the protein question a lot and I never tire of answering it.

One of my pet peeves in the fitness world is how everyone seems to be quoting eachother. Perpetuating the ‘pound down protein to build muscle’ is at the top of that list. Ihave a colleague who used to work in the supplement industry and one of the reasonshe got out is because even though there was no scientific basis to massive amountsof protein every day. It was being promoted strongly by the food supplement industry. How else is someone going to get all the grams they need according to the guidelinesthey are all too willing to perpetuate? To him it was clearly a dollar-signs-in-their-eyesissue.

The truth about human dietary protein requirements is that we only need 10% or less of our daily calories from protein, which you can easily get with a plant-based diet. The World Health Organization puts it even lower at a minimum daily requirement of 5%: The topic of protein is heavily hit in the T. Colin Campbell Plant-based CertificationCourse.

“The initial experiments are done to determine how much protein must beconsumed to match the amount being lost in the urine. That’s done by comparinghow much nitrogen we consume to how much nitrogen we lose. Nitrogen is unique to protein, so we’re actually measuring nitrogen as an index of protein intake. Protein is turning over all the time as we synthesize new protein andget rid of old protein, so we need to replace it on a daily basis. According to these nitrogen balance experiments, the amount of protein required fora normal human being to meet the losses that normally occur is called the
minimum daily requirement. The amount of protein we need is 5%–6% of total calories. Researchers add to that number two standard deviations, or statistical adjustments if you will, to assure that the larger population with its varyingneed for proteins will get enough. That’s how they come up with the RDA,the recommended daily allowance. It comes out to 8%, 9%, or 10%, which is considered adequate theoretically and statistically speaking for 98% of a larger population. So at 10%, most people are already getting enough protein…”~T. Colin Campbell Foundation and TILS, 2009, Plant-based Nutrition Certification, Cornell University

For simplicity’s sake, let’s be generous and say that 10% of a person’s daily calories as protein is sufficient. That means that someone eating 2,000 calories a day would get sufficient protein in 10% of those calories, which equals 200. Every gram of protein has 4 calories. 200 divided by 4 = 50 grams.

One can easily score 50 grams of protein in one day by eating simply:
1 1/2 cups of oatmeal (9 grams protein)1 cup of black beans (15 grams of protein)2 cups of raw spinach (1 gram protein)1 cup of brown rice (5 grams protein) a large stalk of broccoli (7 grams protein)one medium potato (3 grams protein)1 cup kale (2 grams protein), andone cup of lentil soup (10 grams protein)

….Oops! I’ve overshot my 50 grams protein by 2 grams at 52.
Yet the calorie count is modest: lentil soup (185 calories), 1 1/2 cups oatmeal (300 calories), 1 cup black beans (227 calories), 1 cup brown rice (215 calories), 2 cups spinach (7 calories), large stalk broccoli (98 calories), and one medium potato (128 calories) = 1160 calories.

The 52 grams of protein calculated with the food list above equals a caloric load of 208(52 x 4 calories per gram). 208 divided by 1160 = .17, which for our purposes means that actually protein comprises 17% of the calories from these food choices. Filling in the rest of the day’s calorie requirements with fruits, vegetables, possibly more starchy vegetables and whole grains, nuts, and seeds easily tips one into the balance of more protein than required. The point is, see how easy it is to get adequate protein on a diet that includes none from meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products?

Most proteins from vegetables also contain all 9 essential amino acids, but 1 or 2 maybe low in one particular amino acid or another. This is not a bad thing, and simply means that by eating a variety of plant foods over the course of our days brings thiseasily into balance. Beans are rich sources of all essential amino acids.

Understanding the basic simplicity of this goes a long way toward giving you confidence in the face of protein pushers.

As always, thank you to Lani for todays Q&A! Do you have a question for Lani? Please leave a comment!

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Engine 2 Team
Engine 2 Team

The Engine 2 Team is dedicated to helping you become plant-strong! Each of us are on the plant-strong journey right along side of you!

  • Lisa
    Posted at 11:32h, 06 December

    I still don’t get carbs, are carbs bad? Are grains bad? So many people think grains are bad.

  • Katie S.
    Posted at 12:42h, 06 December

    That seems like a lot of food just to reach 50 grams of protein.

    • Lani Muelrath
      Posted at 15:16h, 06 December

      Katie, that’s one of the beauties of eating this way – you get to eat a lot. And I do!

  • Martha
    Posted at 14:23h, 06 December

    I work out, I follow E2 , I never cheat and I can not lose weight no matter what I do. I’m happy about the health benefits but I can’t lose weight for the life of me! I’m really burnt out about it all. What can I do? Is this just not for everyone?

    • Lani Muelrath
      Posted at 14:41h, 06 December

      Martha, usually this can be sorted out with a simple food diary – for one,2, or even 4 weeks best.

  • Kim
    Posted at 14:24h, 06 December

    My question is about LDL mine has gone up since starting Engine 2, any reason why? I follow it pretty well, no oil, very little fats.

    • Lani Muelrath
      Posted at 15:16h, 06 December

      Kim, check to see if everything in your cholesterol category has gone up. What can seem like it is in isolation perhaps isn’t? And not knowing where you are in your cycles, post-menopause cholesterol levels commonly rise.

  • Laurie
    Posted at 16:10h, 06 December

    I’m really freaking out about the holidays. I have 3 work parties, 4 friends parties, a cookie exchange and an all dessert Christmas party! I already messed up for Thanksgiving. How do I got to all of these events and not mess up?

    • Lani Muelrath
      Posted at 17:24h, 06 December

      Laurie, perfect timing!

      I’m dong a 10 day “Holiday Food & Fitness Survival Guide” on the blog – a tip every day. Today was day 2, so you can get started now:

      Holiday food & fitness survival guide #1/10: Be choosy!

      Holiday food & fitness survival guide #2/10: How eating keeps you thin

      You can come by each day, or just sign up at the bottom of Day 2 to get an email broadcast every time something new goes up.

      The important thing is to brush yourself off NOW and get going with using these tips. Eliminate junk from your immediate environment – completely – and don’t bring it in the house.

      And get over thinking that you’ll never see another Russian Tea Cake or Christmas fluffernutter cookie again. Honestly, each year we act like it’s never coming around again and better grab it now. Nuh uh.

      Thanks for posting! You’re not alone!


  • Patti
    Posted at 21:47h, 06 December

    hi lani,

    thanks for doing these q&a’s. i’ve been learning a lot every tuesday! my question is about my kids, they don’t need to lose weight, but they eat pretty bad. i feel like a bad mom if i take away the food they like, mostly chicken nuggets, gogurt, poptarts, mcdonalds. i know it’s really bad, but i don’t know how to change their eating habits. they also watch a lot of tv and play video games. i don’t want them getting sick, but don’t know where to begin since i started them out so bad.

  • Lani Muelrath
    Posted at 09:40h, 07 December

    Patti, I’m not going to pretend to be naive. I taught 6th grade for years and know all about kid addiction to sugars and parental challenges.

    Yet let’s not forget who the parent is here. YOU control what is IN the house and what you feed your kids at your table. You can’t always control what goes on when they are in other locations, but I know a great deal is possible because I have many clients who face these same challenges and have gone to the trouble to create positive eating expectations and patterns in their homes, and even in their schools.

    That’s one part of the challenge. The other is creating tasty alternatives at home. What you have is what you’ll eat, so be prepared for your kids to have nutritious foods when they are hungry.

    Here is an inspiration from Samantha, who makes it a point to have veggies, fruits, potatoes and other items ready for her kids at all times:


    Yet there is a broader problem here, if there are behaviors that are looped together: junk food, tv, and video games. Start with creating an abundance of foods that will be alternatives to what they are hooked on. A tray of fruit and veggies can be a start yet you’ll also need the more robust stuff for them:

    Veggie burgers in buns with all the fixin’s.
    Spaghetti with marinara sauce and garlic bread
    Burritos with savory beans, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa
    Baked fries

    You need to do major inner shift at even seeing yourself as at all the ‘bad mom’ by feeding your kids right. They’ll pick up on this – kids always sniff it out – and work it to get what they are after. Be prepared internally for that. Decide what you want, and what you want for them. Consistency is key.

  • Lani Muelrath
    Posted at 10:04h, 07 December

    Hey Team E2: Holiday Survival Kit Part 3 is up!

    Holiday food & fitness survival guide #3/10: Eat BEFORE you arrive

    You can catch up with parts 1 and 2 there, too.


  • Lani Muelrath
    Posted at 12:39h, 09 December

    Ready for more Holiday Food & Fitness Survival Tips?

    Parts 4 is now up:

    Holiday food & fitness survival guide #4/10: What you have is what you’ll eat! (so be prepared!)



  • 21 Day Body Makeover
    Posted at 06:41h, 02 December

    For weight lose, you can take advice from George DiGianni, a fitness expert & celebrity trainer.

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