Pop quiz! It’s 4.30pm — your workday is winding down, and you’re counting the minutes to your evening workout. To bolster your flagging energy for bench presses and squat jumps to come, do you: a) eat a meal that has plenty of carbs or b) grab yourself a protein shake?
Seems like an easy enough question to answer. You probably know that carbohydrates are the premier source of energy because they raise your blood glucose levels. When you have a fresh supply of glucose in your body, you get a burst of energy.
So it would make sense to grab a carbohydrate-laden pick-me-up before a gym session, right?
Not quite! The problem is that when glucose is no longer available in the bloodstream, a “crash” sets in, causing you to feel sluggish again. But when you opt for a protein-rich snack instead, glucose is removed from the bloodstream at a much slower rate, making you feel fuller for longer.
Protein’s primary role isn’t to create energy from food but rather to build and repair tissues, including muscles, bones, and skin. But it also slows down the absorption of glucose in your blood, helping to prevent crashing and making sure you have sustained energy (( University of Cambridge has found that proteins boosts us up when our energy levels begin to dip: https://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273(11)00782-3)).
Proteins are, however, different from other macronutrients. Our bodies don’t store excess of it as we do with carbohydrates and fat. When cells require protein, there is no reserve to draw from. That’s why it’s so important to have enough protein in your diet. If you want to stay energetic throughout the day — and avoid an energy crash — keep protein as the mainstay in your diet at meals and snack time.
We’ve put together this cheat sheet of 8 high-protein foods that give you a steady and sustained source of energy:
Eggs are the breakfast, lunch, and dinner of champions. They are not only rich in protein but also quite low in calories (a single one has 70 calories and 6 grams of protein), which makes them an ideal base for so many healthy meals or snacks.
Eggs are also rich in Choline, an essential nutrient in the B vitamin family. Choline not only helps in metabolism but also assists the central nervous system to function.
2. Greek Yogurt
Plain Greek Yogurt made with low-fat milk has lots of protein in it that provide long-lasting energy (Greek yoghurt has more protein than regular yoghurt).
It can also easily be combined with high-fibre and high-antioxidant foods for some extra carbohydrates and vitamins. Throw in some berries, muesli and few almonds for a fantastic snack with lots of staying power.
3. Lean Meats
Clinical studies have consistently shown that lean meats are super high in proteins and can keep you satiated for hours. They are also full of nutrients like iron, which helps transport blood cells throughout the body and keeps our energy levels high, as well as magnesium (for strong bones) and B Vitamins (for keeping us mentally and physically alert).
Choose lean cuts of grass-fed steak, chicken breast, turkey breast or venison (one of the best sources of animal protein out there) – and pair with leafy greens for a full-rounded meal.
4. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish – like mackerel and salmon – are high in both protein and healthy Omega 3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that diets high in Omega 3 can reduce inflammation which helps keep both mental and physical energy levels high.
The fatty acids also boost the mood making you feel happier and be more productive. A can of tuna for lunch or salmon for dinner is simple to prepare and can be ready in under ten minutes. Please remember to choose sustainably sourced fish at all times.
Plant-based protein is not as easily absorbed as animal protein by our bodies, so it’s vital that you pick high-quality substitutes that fulfil your dietary requirements. Beans like black beans, kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas are a fantastic meatless option with lots of protein.
When cooking legumes, include some kind of high vitamin C food such as citrus or tomato to increase iron absorption. You can also have them with a complex grain such as brown rice or quinoa. All kinds of beans make quick and delicious hummus in your blender, with lemon juice and garlic.
6. Cottage Cheese and Tofu
Cottage cheese has casein – a protein that is known for being slow-acting. Casein can provide long-lasting energy and additionally keep you feeling full throughout the day. A half-a-cup serving of cottage cheese can have as much as 14g of protein! A great pre-bed snack.
Another option is Tofu which besides being rich in protein, is a great meat replacement for vegans. With 12g of protein in a three-ounce serving, it is nutritious and filling. Tofu can also pair up with nearly any type of sauce or seasoning since it’s so versatile.
Edamame is fantastic because, like eggs, they are low in calories, but offer significant amounts of protein. Here’s what a single cup of edamame can pack:
- 17 grams of protein
- 16 grams of carbs
- 8 grams of fibre
They also have plenty of vitamins and minerals. A cup of edamame provides close to 80% of the RDI for manganese and 121% of the RDI for Vitamin B9. Vitamin B9 works with iron to promote energy and fight off fatigue and anaemia, while Manganese assists in the breakdown of carbs and protein.
Lastly, edamame contain lots of molybdenum, which acts as a stimulus for enzymes and assists in the breakdown of nutrients for energy
8. Protein Powder
In nutritional terms, there isn’t a more complete form of protein than whey. It is packed with all essential amino acids, providing a complete package of building blocks that our body requires to repair and strengthen muscles, and replenish lost energy stores.
The protein from whey is also super easy for your body to absorb. It’s also the only food that scores a 101 out of 100 on the bioavailability scale.
There are a lot of options out there, but you should stick to the one that comes from the purest source possible. That means whey that is completely organic – sourced from the milk of grass-fed and free-range cows. Our Classic Whey Protein is made from the milk produced by European grass-fed cows and is an all-natural and organic source of protein that provides a complete amino acid profile for optimum muscle growth and repair. This is 100% pure organic whey protein – free from gluten, soy and sweeteners.
If you are sensitive to dairy, try organic vegan proteins instead.
If carbohydrates are the kindling of your metabolism, protein is the slow-burning old-growth wood that keeps you going. Starting your day right with protein-rich foods can provide enough energy to get you through the day feeling productive, balanced and sharp. When energy starts to dip, eat a protein-rich food and pair it with a complex carbohydrate. Protein will keep you strong, mentally alert and motivated for a fantastic day ahead.