BIG Nutrition: Plant eaters vs. meat eaters, part 2


BIG Nutrition: Plant eaters vs. meat eaters, part 2

This week’s blog is a continuation of the plant vs meat eater debate, which got a lot more heated with the release of a review analyzing the impact of red and processed meat on health. The focus last week was on including an abundance of colorful vegetables in one’s intake. When combined with fruits, whole grains, low fat dairy, and lean proteins, individuals can achieve the nutrients needed to support health and athletic goals.

The review released this week that caused a stir placed into question the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) to consume less red and processed meat. The authors’ conclusion is that there is “weak evidence” supporting the recommendations in the DGAs. Criticism of the researchers for excluding certain studies and ignoring environmental and animal welfare considerations abound.  Well known experts in the field feel that the analysis is incomplete without these additional studies and factors. Generally, nutrition research is considered weaker than other research due to the limited ability to conduct it using the gold standard, double blind placebo controlled trials (since there is no way to blind the bacon vs. vegetable groups!).  

This brings the conversation back to last week’s premise—why must people be forced to choose plants vs. meat? Can people achieve muscle gain using plant protein and/or animal protein? Can people include more plant foods and moderate animal protein consumption? The answer is yes. Here is how:

How much protein is enough to see gains?

Depending on an athlete’s goals and the type of training engaged in protein needs range from 0.6-1 gram/pound (1.2-2.0 g/kilogram) with higher amounts generally for those who do more strength training. The most effective approach is to spread the protein throughout the day as in this example  where the amounts per meal are 2-4 ounces of protein per meal and snack for a total 120 grams of protein per day (0.75 grams/pound) for a 180 lb person. A 4 ounce portion of lean meat is approximately the size and thickness of a smart phone.

What is the protein content of typical foods?

Food Protein Food Protein
Egg (1) 6 grams Vegetables (1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked) 2 grams
Quinoa (1 cup) 8 grams Cow or soy milk (1 cup) 8 grams
Meat (eg, chicken, fish, lean beef, lamb, pork) (4 ounces) 28 grams Tofu (1/2 cup) 10 grams
Lentils (1/2 cup cooked) 9 grams Plant or whey protein supplement powder (1 scoop) 20-30 grams
Pumpkin seeds (1/4 cup) 3 grams Yogurt (5-6 ounces) 8-20 grams

So, don’t let the headline focused media distract you! The recommendations remain that it is overall eating pattern that matters. Abundant whole minimally processed plant foods should be the central focus of meals with high quality protein sources that are low in fat.

Happy and healthful eating,

Donna G. Pertel, MEd, RD, LDN

Questions about recovery during the CrossFit Open? Contact me at [email protected].

Nutrition Services are available for BIG Members (@ 30% discount) and the Community. More information is listed here.