What’s the Deal with Protein?

Protein has been the buzzword in health for the last few years, emblazoned on packages, advertisements and media, it seems protein is the macronutrient that can do no wrong. Fat was previously deemed as the ‘evil’ macronutrient and now it’s carbs, but protein remains untouchable. Is there no such thing as good protein/bad protein, or having too much protein?

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It’s interesting how we’ve become so obsessed with needing to take in more and more protein, and also how the first question most people will ask you when they find out you are Vegan is “where do you get your protein?”. Protein deficiency in a diet that provides enough calories doesn’t exist. Simply put if we are getting enough calories, we are getting enough protein, any reasonable balanced diet will provide this, so why do people believe they need to consume massive doses of this macro-nutrient? There are rafts of people  following their “macros” with astronomically high protein amounts, those who are forcing down chicken six times a day at the request of their PT or bro-science suggestions, and there is the ever increasing market of truly bizarre protein products. Protein is a key selling point for marketing, and we lap it up. Even the “clean eaters” who avoid anything ‘processed’ and ‘refined’ tend to regularly use protein powders, which when you think about it, are actually one of the most processed foods out there. We are bombarded with messages that we need more protein, but isn’t this simply disinformation spread by those with big interests at stake?

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I’ve certainly been guilty in the past of eating way beyond my protein needs, trying to get as much as possible naturally and then filling it up with protein powders/bars. Is all this protein doing us any good though, or is it causing harm? I’ve just finished reading Dr. Garth Davis book ‘Proteinaholic‘ , which is an incredibly well researched and scientifically grounded look at our obsession with protein. It’s so interesting reading about how the world got gripped on protein (hello Atkins, and it’s current spin off anti-grain, low carb and Paleo movements), and debunking a lot of the dodgy and misleading information out there about protein. It’s fairly heavy on the research and science and if you want to read further into this topic I would wholly recommend it.

If we look at the RNI (reference nutrient intake) for protein, it is actually much lower than most people are aware- 0.75g of protein per kg of bodyweight – my recommended intake would be 44g of protein daily, yet I see women who are trying to get 130g+ to ‘hit their macros’. Obviously the amount for each individual would vary slightly based on age, activity etc, but not to the extent of getting over three times the RNI. There’s this belief that you can’t get too much protein, compared to the horror of horrors eating too much fat/carbs. However, there is absolutely no science to back up the view that eating high protein diets is beneficial for health. A search on Pubmed will bring up plenty of studies which suggest that high protein intake is not optimal, and in particular high animal protein intake is linked to increased cardiovascular disease risk, and risk of type 2 diabetes, amongst other chronic conditions.

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Protein, like fat and yes carbohydrates, is an essential macronutrient, we need it for so many things including growth and repair, and overall health maintenance, but we probably don’t need as much as we think we do. If you look at the Blue Zones- Dan Buettner’s term for his discovery of the longest lived cultures on earth- the diets of the people in these areas are the total opposite of high protein. In Okinawa for instance the majority of their traditional diet is based around purple sweet potato, making up to 60% of their caloric intake. Some of the longest lived people on earth, are surviving, and actually thriving into old age, without resorting to having to ‘get their protein’ in, or counting their macros.

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I’ve definitely been guilty of “needing” to use protein powders,  and I feel like it’s almost a placebo effect. I can fully understand why people like to include higher amounts of protein in their diets, it’s just where do we draw the line between optimal and detrimental. I think as long as we are eating a balanced whole foods diet, we are getting more than enough protein-yes even Vegans!- and if we start to sacrifice including things in our diet that are rich in vital nutrients like fibre and antioxidants at the expense of choking down several shakes a day, then I think that is not going to beneficial for health at all.

I’m not going to stop using protein powder/bars on occasion as I find them convenient when I’m in a rush, but I am going to be more mindful of my protein consumption, and try and keep it to whole foods as much as possible. Eat a balanced diet, and don’t worry about ‘getting enough protein’ because you more than likely already are. Don’t fall into the marketing trap of needing all those extra protein products in your life. One macronutrient isn’t the enemy, carbs aren’t the enemy, fat isn’t the enemy, and protein isn’t the enemy- but moderation is key, and it seems with protein we just might need less than we think.

Additional Resources

The Myth of High Protein Diets

Havard’s Meat & Mortality Studies

Adventist Health Study

Blue Zones

Are you concerned about the amount of protein you eat? Do you think it’s enough/not enough?

Month 1 of Training: Rest is Best.

I felt good coming into January, off the back of a solid Marcothon, albeit a little weary. I didn’t realise when I went out for 5 miles on the 2nd January that it was the week I was supposed to be starting my training plan- luckily I had done the miles on the plan anyway so was up and running on the road to my goal race for 2017.

Running has been flowing nicely after the Marcothon, there’s been a lot more desire to get out there- with being fitter-and my comfortable pace and endurance are improving. My target has been 5 runs a week, with one hill session, and sometimes some speed work or a parkrun thrown in, but I’m more concerned about hillier runs than trying to run faster right now. I’m really pleased with my progress on my hilly runs, I’m feeling stronger week by week, and looking forward to getting out on some hilly trail runs over the coming months.

Most of my runs are at a very easy comfortable pace, which can fluctuate from day to day, dependent on how many runs into the week I am, my health, or if I trained legs at the gym the day before! The long runs have been increasing (up to 12 miles now), and I’ve been doing back to back long runs at the weekend. I find training on tired legs really beneficial for ultras, though it’s tough on that second day mentally and physically. Last week was my highest mileage week in a very long time, and it should have been followed by a bigger one this week but alas stomach flu has gripped me, I haven’t been this ill since I had something similar in university 6 years ago, so it’s really knocked me out.

I have cut my gym sessions down to three a week-push, pull, legs-though some weeks I’ve only made it twice. I’m certainly missing training so hard in the gym, but it’s just not wise or viable when I’m doing so much running. I have only gone to one yoga session this month, which I’m a bit disappointed with, but the dates just haven’t worked out this month and I keep forgetting to book in and it fills up as soon as the dates are available a week in advance. I’ve also been shoddy with foam rolling and stretching too, which is likely to come back to haunt me so I should probably address this!

The main issue I’m having to deal with this training cycle is my health, I know that I’m going to lose sessions along the way due to my period pain and related symptoms each month, and also that sessions before my period are likely to feel dreadful, so I just need to focus on hitting the sessions I can when I can, and not get too worried about it. The stomach virus at the end of this month has laid me out for an entire week, and seen me become one with my sofa. I’ve barely eaten all week, and where previously I may have dragged myself out for a run towards the end of the illness, here I just feel it’s better to get back to full health before returning to training. I’ve been embracing rest, and glad I built a spare week for this kind of eventuality into my plan, also hoping it doesn’t go on for much longer as I miss food! There would have been times previously where I would have really panicked about missing sessions, and entire weeks of training like this, but I feel much more chilled out about it this time around, need to look after the body for the long haul after all.

It’s not going to be easy to get out running again whenever that may be, I feel weak, like I’ve lost strength and have been knocked off my routine somewhat, I will just need to ease back into it gently and not stress too much if I don’t hit the ground running so to speak.

Training Month One

Week 1: 26m
Week 2: 26m
Week 3: 37m
Week 4: Glued to the sofa watching the tennis (stomach flu).

 

Building the base

I haven’t updated here in ages, I wasn’t sure whether to let the blog go, as I am currently in the process of setting up a site for my nutritional therapy business and planning on a much more nutrition focused blog over there. I haven’t felt like writing here for a while, I think perhaps I’ll keep this blog and just focus on my training (when there is any), without any pressure to blog to a schedule or hammer out a certain amount of content per week.

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I haven’t run a race since the SDW50 last April, which feels kind of insane to me. I’ve been through a few years of  signing up for and running a lot of races, so last year was definitely on the sparse side. I have a few dates in the diary for some ‘training’ races in Feb/March so I’m looking forward to being part of that race environment again. I do miss the feeling of race day, and even pre-race day excitement, and I’m going to be properly nervous come end of Feb when it’s time for my first race in around 10 months.

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I worked pretty hard through December on my running. I completed my third Advent Running challenge and fourth Marcothon, and achieved my goal of starting Jan with a solid base of training behind me. I started December running wise at somewhat of a low ebb, I had spent the previous 8 months falling in love with strength training again and running just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I think the love waned and as my cardiovascular fitness also took a nosedive, it became really difficult for me to want to get out and run. It was hard, so I wasn’t enjoying it, and I wasn’t willing to put the work in at the time to improve the situation. I felt like a beginner again, and it’s easy when you are regularly running higher mileage and longer runs to forget exactly how hard it can be to get out the door sometimes.

December streaking has been amazing for me for rediscovering my running love and improving my fitness. I ended December having run more miles than the previous 3 months combined, I felt fitness and running strength come back and day by day running became easier, breathing became easier, and just putting my trainers on and getting out the door became easier, I had found my running mojo again, I just had to put some work in to locate it.

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January has seen me following a training plan (currently on week 3) for the first time since April, it’s nice to add some loose structure to my running and it does force you to get out there whatever the weather may be. I still have motivation highs and lows, but I know that every session I put in, I’m getting stronger, I’m building the foundations for the next few months and I’m going to be increasing likely to want to get out there next time. It’s all about keeping on with routine and keeping the momentum going.

I’m still trying to maintain some strength work, and trying to get to the gym for 3 sessions a week (has dropped to two lately though), as well as following Kinetic Revolutions 30 day program which I just completed and will be repeating for some pre-hab.

2017 so far: The mileage is increasing, the hill-work is increasing, the endurance is increasing and most importantly the running love is increasing. Time to continue building the base.

 

Periods suck.

It’s not OK to plan your life around your period, it’s not OK to have to go home from work or cancel plans because of it, and it’s definitely not OK to throw up because your period cramps are that painful. If you aren’t interested in reading about periods then I’d probably stop reading now.

If you’ve followed here for a while you might have heard me mention some issues with my period before. I’ve always had painful periods since I first started them. I did go through a time in university when I developed amenorrhoea, and it was actually a relief to not have periods for a while so I didn’t have to deal with the pain on a monthly basis. However, once my cycle settled down again the pain unfortunately returned, at first it was every few months or so, but it’s now got to the stage where it’s every single month, and the pain is so severe that I can’t function at all, it has woken me up at night, brought me to tears, and I have been sick due to the pain being so extreme, and I have a really high pain tolerance.

It’s pretty frustrating that I can’t figure out what has caused this, and have tried so many things to improve it, but it just doesn’t seem to be getting any better. I did go to my GP a few months back, who wanted to either prescribe really strong painkillers, or give me hormonal medication (not a route I want to go down, due to too many side effects and longer term issues), and she also told me that my pain would likely go away if I had a baby (actual facepalm) so that was the end of that. I’m pretty convinced due to the whole host of other symptoms I have alongside the chronic pain that I have endometriosis, but getting a diagnosis for that can take years and years, and it’s pretty poorly understood.

Although I previously mentioned how happy I was with how balanced my diet is, and how free I felt around food these days, I don’t think my diet currently is helping me to manage the pain and inflammation. I want to take it a bit more back to basics, reduce my intake of processed foods, sugar and gluten, and omega-6 rich nuts/seeds just to see if it makes any difference in my symptoms. It’s really not something I want to do, but I can’t continue to deal with the chronic pain and other symptoms so it’s worth giving it a shot if it provides some relief. I feel that the symptoms weren’t as bad when my diet was a bit tighter, so we shall see if it helps.

The other issue is exercise, I recently did an adrenal stress test, which shows my cortisol is very dysregulated and considerably higher than in should be in the morning and afternoon. I believe long term endurance exercise has led to this dysregulation. Obviously exercise isn’t something I want to budge on, but I just need to strike more of a balance, so I’ve started going to yoga once a week and I’m going to pick back up my daily meditation practice to help lower my cortisol levels. The link here with periods, is that when the body is under stress, and cortisol levels are increased then more progesterone is used to make cortisol, this can subsequently throw out the balance of progesterone/oestrogen and lead to low progesterone levels which can cause PMS and make endometriosis symptoms worse. I know running has caused my cortisol levels to be out of whack, and ultimately long term it might be something I have to reconsider, which would be pretty devastating, hence why I am trying to get on top of this now, and trying anything possible to see if I can gain any benefits.

I’ve got to the stage, where I now have to plan in advance around the day my period is due, which is ridiculous really, I feel like I’ve suffered for so long with this, and just thought oh it’s only one day a month, or most women suffer from cramps- but it’s become apparent to me, that what I am dealing with is far from normal. The other symptoms I suffer from have got so bad, that it pretty much means for 7-10 days every month, I’m suffering from various things ranging from pain, extreme fatigue, insomnia and bloating amongst others, leaving me feeling wiped out, frustrated, shattered and not myself. Basically the situation at the moment is pretty crappy, but I’m fully aware that it could be much much worse, and I’ll keep trying things to see if I can get some improvement or management of symptoms. It’s been really frustrating because I feel like my lifestyle, diet etc should of been enough to combat this, but actually when I look at it perhaps if I didn’t look after myself as well, then my symptoms would be even worse. I’ll keep posted here on my journey with this, and do let me know if any of you have similar issues and have found anything beneficial.

Sept/Oct Update

I have no idea where this year is going, we’ve just got back from an ultra chilled week in Fuerteventura and it’s apparently mid-winter, I’m usually pretty good with the cold, but I am really suffering with going from high 20’s, to it being not many degrees above 0. Brrrr. I love winter training, but my body is just not ready for it yet!

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Sweatbox holiday gym

I thought I’d just do a little round up of the last few weeks, as I didn’t get round to doing a September or October update. I continued with the heavy weight training, and saw some really good progress in the last few weeks, I can see a difference in my back and shoulders, and more importantly I managed to do my first unassisted chin ups, which is something I’ve been working on for the last few months. I’ve continued to increase the weights I’m using, and have noticed big strength differences between May when I turned my focus to weights from running and now. The only issue I’m having is I am massively in love with weight training, and my love for running seems to have died a sad death! I’m going to change my focus now, and start to increase my running and decrease my weight sessions, hopefully I will still be able to maintain my strength though, I just need to somehow rediscover the love for it.

I’m not following a plan with running yet, which is probably why I’m struggling to get out the door. I am trying to get back into running 4-5 times a week, and running 20+ miles a week, as I’ve pretty much taken the last 6 months off, so I’m going to need to gradually build back up to where I want to be before starting my training plan for 2017. Running was fairly non-existent in the last few months, weekly mileage has fluctuated from 2 miles to 20 last week, but mostly has been closer to the lower end of that spectrum. I’ve found running a real grind over the last few months, I think due to the heavy weight sessions which have left me drained and sore and unable to feel comfortable when running, hopefully once I tip the balance in favour of running this will sort it self out. I’ve taken a week completely off the gym this week- probably not the best timing, as I’ve felt a bit down and angry with all that’s been going on in the world this week and should of channeled that in the gym, instead of moping round the house! I’m going to start dropping my sessions down now, and probably only training 3-4 times a week in the gym for the next few months.

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I took a trip back to Wales with Baxter early in October, and it was nice to have some absolute chill time, and spend time with my family. Nick was in San Fran again for another work trip, and he treated us to another whole foods Vegan junk haul- guess the theme?! The Clif nut butter filled bars are amazing.

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The second holiday of the month, was Fuerteventura, it was a much needed holiday, as I felt really drained and run down for a few weeks before this and needed a recharge. We did a lot of walking, and running along the beautiful beaches there, and it was so nice to get some winter sun, I think holidays are wasted in summer time, this is totally the time of year when we need the sun. I was totally spoilt for Vegan options there, as well as a number of solely Vegan restaurants and cafes, there was also loads of Vegan friendly places, so we ate really well over the course of the week.

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Oh we also had an amazing time at London Vegfest, checking out lots of the booths, and cool new Vegan products, we ate a lot of chocolate and cake, and bought even more Vegan treats, plus some peanut butter doggy treats, Baxter is as obsessed with it as I am.

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Now that holidays are over, it’s time to settle back into my regular routine, and I am looking forward to lots of warming soups, stews and curries, because it’s just too damn cold for smoothies right now!

I’ve finally got my diploma in nutritional therapy, I handed in my portfolio in September, but had to wait a while for it to be marked and everything else to be signed off. I will spend the next few months working on my nutrition business, so busy times ahead, I’m not sure whether I will keep this blog going, or set up a new one that’s solely nutrition focused via my business website, something to think about for future, as I’m not really that motivated to blog here of late, but we shall see what happens.