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When I think of protein, the first word that comes to mind is rejuvenation. Nerves, tissues and bones are all made up of protein, so in order for them to grow and repair, we must give our body an adequate amount. Adequate being the keyword.
Protein is a macronutrient made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of the body. There are 22 amino acids that your body requires, but only 13 that your body produces. Therefore we must seek out the other 9 essential amino acids through nutrition.
Your protein intake is a delicate balance that once again, should be determined by your activity level. I personally cycle my protein intake, based on how my body feels. For healthy + active women, following a standard .8g of protein per pound of bodyweight is ideal for rejuvenation, lean muscle development + maintenance. If you are sedentary, you can decrease the number. (If you are also nourishing a For the BRO, they can increase to 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight.)
In my coaching practice, protein is by far the most overused and abused macronutrient. Whether you’re following a high protein/low carb diet, or misinterpreting the Paleo diet – if you’re living on meat (no matter how much your weight is dropping), health problems are right around the corner.
For my carnivorous clients: I highly suggest you consume a wide variety of glow-worthy, humanely raised animal sources, in addition to organic eggs, sea veggies, and dark leafy greens. Your nutritional base should still be vegetables! I also urge you to use the whole animal to improve your amino profile. True Paleo principles incorporate nutrient-rich organ meats, tendons, ribs, and gelatinous bone broths.
Vegetarian or vegan? Organic + sprouted tofu or tempeh, along with legumes and hemp seeds will be your obvious choices. But when sitting down to a large salad or gulping a green smoothie, you’re consuming more protein than you think! It is common practice to focus on grams, but it’s equally important to look at digestibility and assimilation. For example, let’s look at steak vs. spirulina. From the outside looking in, steak would be the obvious choice for protein. However, in order for your body to process protein, the amino acids must be in the proper ratio and fully accessible. Only 15% of a steak’s protein content is digestible to the body. Up to 80% of spirulina’s protein content is digestible to the body.
The Scoop on Protein Powder
(see what I did there?)
Protein powder is part of your morning, FASTing phase and it’s an essential supplement to keep on hand for metabolism, energy and athletic performance. If you train first thing in the morning + in a fasted state, I highly encourage you to purchase a protein powder.
Keep in mind that protein supplements have come a long way from the butt slapping, spandex wearing, mirror flexin’ 80’s. I would never present a food or product that contained any harmful ingredients or chemicals, so you can trust that the suggestions + brands below have been well researched, Jenn tested + approved. Consider me your overly protective, super-foodie fairy godmother.
Organic Hemp Hearts (Vegan)
Hemp hearts are the raw, edible part of the hemp seed. They pack a powerful protein punch, with up to 10 g per serving. They’re also an excellent way to get omega fatty acids, so when using hemp hearts — you do not need to add chia or flax to your smoothie. Don’t you love a money-saving, multi-tasking superfood? Me too!
Hemp is available in the form of an actual processed protein, but I prefer the unprocessed hemp hearts. Better quality (easier to digest) protein, better taste. Not to mention, it gives you diversity. Hemp hearts can be added to salads, yogurt, fruit, etc. * Folks with nut allergies should test first.
- Look for organic hemp hearts.
- The only ingredient(s) on the label: organic hemp hearts
- Brands I trust: Manitoba — lookout folks, the orange package is NOT organic it’s “natural”. The green/blue bag from Manitoba is the organic variety.
Whey protein has come a long way. It’s not just for gym-rats and bodybuilders — more and more brands are realizing that the grass is greener on the grass-fed side.
Depending on where you do your shopping, whey protein may come with an abundance of options — most being unhealthy and toxic. Here are the keywords you absolutely need when whey shopping:
Grass fed or pasture raised. This makes a huge difference in your nutrition, omega ratios and in the humane treatment of the animal.
Hormone free (rBGH-free). The obvious. This is pretty standard with most whey proteins these days, but it should still be on the label.
Micro-filtered. This is really important! Whey protein is a by-product of the cheese making process. Filtration is everything. The micro-filtration is where the casein is filtered out and the majority of lactose, cholesterol and fat is filtered too. Most whey proteins will contain trace amounts of lactose, but a high-quality brand should be suitable for even those who are dairy-intolerant.
Cold-processed. Low temps = the enzymes + amino acids are still kickin’!
Un-denatured or Non-denatured. So important! This means that the structure of the protein is intact, giving it the highest level of bioavailability.
Whey Protein Concentrate (NOT isolate). Whey Protein Concentrate is the least processed and contains the highest amounts of minerals and vitamins.
Brands I trust: Reserveage Whey, Tera’s Whey, Grass-Fed Whey, Source Organic, Upgraded Self (Bulletproof)
In my humble opinion, collagen protein is absolutely essential for athletes or anyone aging. Unless you’re Cindy Crawford (seriously, does she age?) that probably means you. Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the body and is crucial for healthy connective tissue.
There are two types of collagen: Collagen Protein + Collagen Peptides. While both have the same amino acid profile, they are designed for two very different purposes.
Collagen protein is a traditional beef gelatin, useful for recipes such as mousses, jello, or for mixing into hot liquids (perfect for blending into coffee or tea).
Collagen Peptides are a unique formula that are able to dissolve in cold liquids, making them ideal as a supplement that can be mixed with liquids such as juice or milk (perfect for your morning grab + go routine).
- It’s tough to find certified organic, so look for pasture-raised or grass-fed collagen.
- The only ingredient(s) on the label: 100% pasture-raised collagen peptides or proteins
- Brands I trust: Vital Proteins, Upgraded Self
Organic Spirulina (Vegan)
Spirulina (technically Spirulina platensis), is a spiral shaped multicellular blue-green microalgae. Spirulina grows in the water – both fresh water and sea water. The blue-green color of Spirulina comes from the high concentration of something called phycocyanin. Spirulina is believed to be one of the planet’s most ancient forms of plant life. It is 65-80% protein, instantly available for your body to assimilate.
Spirulina powder should be purchased + stored in dark glass jars. Anything else = probably went rancid in transit.
Spirulina is an algae, so its nutritional content is directly related to the environment it’s grown in. Certified organic is a must!
- The only ingredient(s) on the label: Organic Spirulina
- Brands I trust: Sunfood, Organic SpiruZan, Healthforce Nutritionals, Nutrex (Nutrex is NOT organic, but the source is clean. It’s probably the only exception)
Organic Sacha Inchi (Vegan)
Grown in the Amazon Rainforest and the high Andes Mountains of Peru, Sacha Inchi has been part of the Inca diet for 3000 years. Sacha Inchi is technically a seed, and one that contains every amino acid. Studies have shown that Sacha Inchi’s perfect balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can reduce the risk of heart disease. (And oh hey — Dr. Oz said it’s a miracle weight loss tool, so you can’t go wrong.)
Sacha Inchi is available as a powder or oil. Powder is my preference. * Not suitable for those with nut allergies.
- Look for organic, non-gmo sacha inchi.
- The only ingredient(s) on the label: Organic, non-gmo sacha inchi
- Brands I trust: Sunfood, Live Superfoods
Pea Protein (Vegan)
Pea Protein is another plant-based protein source that is gluten-free. One of the wonderful perks of plant-based pea protein (say that 10x fast) is that pea crops are rarely fertilized with harsh chemicals — meaning, even the non-organic brands can be safe. Pea protein is minimally processed, extremely bioavailable (your body recognizes it + absorbs it) and high in essential branch chain amino acids isoleucine, valine, arginine and lysine. Depending on the brand, it can be up to 80% protein. For this reason, I recommend it over rice-based protein choices.
You don’t necessarily need organic, but make sure your label says NON-GMO; if it is “raw” it should also be sprouted. Unless you like a gurgly and bloated tummy!
- The only ingredient(s) on the label: Pea Protein
- Brands I trust: Golden Ratio, Sun Warrior
Organic Rice Protein (Vegan)
Rice Protein is usually derived from sprouted brown rice. It is naturally gluten-free, hypoallergenic, vegan and generally mild in terms of digestion. In fact, that would be the one + only reason I would recommend it over pea protein or a spirulina supplement. If you have a sensitive tummy and are vegan — rice protein is your answer!
- Look for organic, non-gmo, sprouted brown rice protein
- The only ingredient(s) on the label: Organic, non-gmo sprouted brown rice protein
- You should also look for a brand (such as Sun Warrior) that uses cold-temps to process, in the efforts to keep the enzymes active.
- Brands I trust: Sun Warrior, Garden of Life
Label Look Outs
The information presented has been based on “plain” varieties of protein. Of course, if you opt for a flavor — your ingredient list is going to grow. We want to steer clear of artificial/natural flavors, chemical sweeteners, and unnecessary ingredients. Also with the introduction of sunflower lecithin, you no longer need soy lecithin. High-quality products that are from brands who keep on top of nutritional research will have swapped the soy for the sunflower! Those are the names you can trust!
Thumbs up to:
Sunflower Lecithin. Used in protein powders as an emulsifier.
Stevia. A natural sweetener that is a-okay
Coconut Sugar or Nectar. Another natural sweetener that is glow-approved
Organic Vanilla, Organic Vanilla Extract
Organic Cacao, Cocoa, Carob or Dark Chocolate
Thumbs down to:
Sucralose and other chemical sweeteners, no matter how far down the label they are.
Milk Protein, Protein Blends, Isolates
Corn (you’d be surprised how many companies add non-organic corn bran or corn starch!)
“Artificial or natural flavors”
Guar Gum. While it can be naturally derived, but is very harmful to the digestive system
Carrageenan. Again, can be naturally derived, but is very harmful to digestion.