Every once in a while when thinking up topics for No Meat Athlete posts, I hit on one that’s so obvious, it’s a joke that I haven’t already written it. We’ve had protein posts before, like the primer from vegan R.D. Matt Ruscigno. And I’ve written a few articles about protein myself, but the main one wasn’t a blog post; it’s a lesson in my e-course for newsletter subscribers (join here if you haven’t yet).
But have I really not written a post about where to get your protein? The question that vegetarians get asked more than any other? Apparently, not yet. So here it is. First, my standard answer to the question, Where do you get your protein?: You don’t need as much protein as most people think, and it’s easy to get what you do need from beans, nuts, seeds, grains, soy, and even greens. So how much protein do you really need? Not as much as people would have you believe.
Somehow, everyone got the idea that we need exorbitant amounts of protein, way more than is even recommended. I know, it’s fun to blame government agencies and cry conspiracy, but if you actually look at the recommendations, they’re not that high at all. For example, the U.S. recommended daily allowance of protein is .8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight (.36 grams per pound) for the general population.
Athletes need more than that, mostly due to greater tissue-repair needs. But how much more protein do we need as athletes? Several sources I looked at cited a study which concluded that endurance athletes benefit most from 1.2 to 1.4 daily grams per kilogram of bodyweight, while strength athletes do best with 1.4 to 1.8 grams per kilogram. In pounds, that’s .54 to .63 grams per pound for endurance athletes, .
63 to .81 grams per pound for strength athletes. A simple example Let’s take a typical No Meat Athlete reader and see what this means for her, let’s a say a 140-pound runner. We’ll split the daily protein range for endurance athletes in the middle and aim for .59 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight: 140 pounds * .59 grams/pound = 83 grams of protein per day Keep in mind that’s for a 140-pound endurance athlete, so you’ll need to plug in your own weight and, if you do a strength sport, use a different protein figure.
But really, only 83 grams? All of this protein fuss — the incessant inquisition about where we get protein — is about 83 grams per day, even after adjusting for being an athlete? (And if our 140-pound woman weren’t an athlete, she’d need only 50 grams to hit the RDA number!) What the pros say Before we move onto good vegan and vegetarian protein sources for getting this amount, let’s take a look at what some well-known and credentialed vegans say about protein.
In the documentary Forks Over Knives, China Study author Dr. T. Colin Campbell says that you need 8 to 10 percent of your calories to come from protein. (Keep in mind he’s not necessarily talking about athletes.) Vegan Ironman Brendan Brazier, in his appearance on No Meat Athlete radio (which is coming back soon, by the way!), says he eats about 15 percent protein when training for short events, and close to 20 percent protein during periods of heavy training (several hours per day) for long endurance events.
Tim Ferriss writes in The 4-Hour Body that ultrarunner Scott Jurek gets 15 to 20 percent of his calories from protein. Matt Ruscigno, in the post he wrote for No Meat Athlete about vegetarian protein, says he recommends that his athlete clients get 10 to 15 percent of their calories from protein. Notice that everybody expresses things in percentages rather than grams. How does our 83 grams of protein, for a 140-pound female endurance athlete stack up in terms of percentage of total calories? Well, the first thing to note is that a gram of protein contains four calories.
(Yay for paying attention in health class!) So: 83 grams * 4 calories/gram = 332 calories of protein We’ll need to divide this figure by total daily calories to get the percentage we’re after. I plugged my imaginary friend’s stats (5’3″, 140 lbs, female, very active) into this basal metabolic rate calculator to approximate her total daily calories at 2375. Drumroll, please … 322 calories of protein / 2375 total calories = 13.
6% of calories from protein Not far off from the 15 percent that most of our experts mentioned! Based on all of this, aiming to get 15 percent of your calories from protein seems like a pretty good rule of thumb. (And by the way, I find using percentages to be a much easier way to evaluate a food’s protein content than grams. See a post I wrote about using protein percentages.) Where do vegetarians get their protein? There’s no shortage of lists of high-protein vegan foods floating around.
As you might expect, they’re topped by soy products (tempeh is much higher in protein than tofu), seitan, and legumes. My personal favorite vegan foods for protein, in rough, descending order of how often I eat them, are: Lentils (red are my favorites), 18 grams of protein per cup Chickpeas, 12 grams/cup Tempeh (locally made in Asheville!), 41 grams per cup Black beans, 15 grams per cup Nuts and nut butters (I eat a good mix, usually without peanuts), varied Tofu, 11 grams per 4 ounces Quinoa, 9 grams per cup Other legumes, varied Grains, varied These protein content numbers come from the Vegetarian Resource Group’s excellent article on vegetarian protein.
I also add a protein supplement to my smoothie each morning, which gets me about 20 grams to start the day, before you consider the protein from flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and almond butter that I sometimes throw in there. I like the Vega Sport protein blend of hemp, rice, and pea, but often to save money I use this one, which also includes protein from chia seeds. (These links are both affiliate links, meaning No Meat Athlete earns a small commission if you use them to buy anything).
Don’t ignore amino acids! All protein is not created equally. Protein is made up of amino acids, and there are certain ones, called “essential,” which your body cannot produce on its own and must get through food. As long as you’re eating a wide variety of whole foods — a good practice to follow for many reasons — you’re probably getting a nice mix of amino acids. One, though, that’s particularly tough for vegetarians to get, is lysine, as explained in this article on protein from Vegan Health.
Only a few vegan foods contain lysine in large amounts, but fortunately, they’re staples in many of our diets: tempeh, tofu, and legumes. If you don’t eat beans or soy, because of allergies or some other reason, you’ll need to pay special attention to lysine, and it might be worth considering an amino acid supplement. See an old No Meat Athlete article for a breakdown of which foods contain which amino acids.
My easy way to get enough protein every day As it turns out, I weigh around 140 pounds, so the 83 grams of protein mentioned above is right about what I aim for. (I’m fairly certain I’m not female, but sex only entered the conversation when we were estimating total calories.) So how do I get my 83 grams of protein per day? My approach to getting enough protein is very simple: Make sure you include a decent protein source, even if just a little bit, in every meal or snack.
Mainly, this just keeps you mindful and prevents you from slipping into junk-food-vegan, carbohydrate-only mode. It’s as easy as adding nuts or beans to your salad, protein powder to your smoothie, almond butter on your bagel, or beans to your pasta dish (actually not an inauthentic thing to do in Italy). For snacks, eat a handful of nuts, spread some sunflower butter on your apple, make roasted chickpeas, dip a pita in some hummus … all of these add just a little bit of protein, but if you eat two or three snacks a day, it adds up.
So the next time someone asks … You won’t have to tell them it’s complicated, or argue to no avail that broccoli would be a good protein source if only you could eat five pounds of it in a sitting. Instead, you can just explain that we don’t need all that much protein, and it’s easy to get what we do need from a half dozen, common foods, eaten just a little bit at a time throughout the day.
No big deal.See Also: Can Cats Drink Milk From Cows
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Last year I raised two pigs. This year other people I know are interested in having a freezer full of pork, too, and I’m raising a total of 5-6 pigs. I can’t legally sell the meat, but I can raise the pigs and then my friends pay for the meat at the processor’s. I’m so excited about having pigs around The Wallow again! I’ve been busily putting together all the information that everyone needs to make a decision about having me raise a pig for them.
One of the questions that I want to answer is how much meat you actually get from a pig and what cuts make up that meat. I’ve looked at lots of different sites to get a good idea of the answer, so I’m putting all that information together here. The Terms There are several different terms you’ll run across when talking about how much pig there is. First, there’s the live weight, which, like it sounds, is how much the pig weighs when it’s alive.
Since I don’t have a scale, when I judge the live weight, it’s based on a tape measure and a mathematical formula, which gets me in the neighborhood but isn’t exact. This is also sometimes referred to as “on the hoof”. Another term is market weight. Market weight is a target weight for when the pigs go to the processor. Market weight for pigs is in the 225-300 pound range. Any more or less than that and the ratio of how much meat you get versus how much money you put in isn’t as ideal.
I’m aiming for 300 pound pigs this year. The hanging weight is the weight of the carcass after slaughter but before butchering. The blood has been drained, the intestines removed, and parts like the head and feet cut off. This is the weight that the processor charges by, and the weight that I’m using for charging people this year. Other words used to describe the hanging weight are dressed weight and “on the rail”.
Cuts are the products you get from the pig. This includes meat cuts, like sausage and pork chops, plus bones and fat. Since it’s not all meat that you take home to your freezer, it’s more accurate to say cuts than to say meat when talking about what you get from a pig. The Math I’m aiming for 300 pound pigs, but the price to the customer is based on the hanging weight, so some math gets involved in predicting how much people will owe.
Then there’s the weight of what goes into your freezer, which is another number. It’s also important to keep in mind that all these numbers are just estimates. Different breeds of pigs turn out different numbers, each particular pig is different, and the style of the processor also matters in the final number. It’s common for sites to give the hanging weight as a percentage of live weight and then the cuts as a percentage of hanging weight.
If you’re trying to figure out how much you’re going to have in your freezer based on my estimate of 300 pound pigs, this can get confusing. Amongst the sites I’ve looked at, hanging weight is given as anywhere from 64-85% of live weight and cuts given as 68-90% of hanging weight. That’s a lot of numbers and quite a range. For my goal of 300 pound pigs, these numbers give a hanging weight of 192-255 and the cuts weighing in at 130-230.
This would make the cuts 43-76% of the live weight. But 76% is way too high there. Most sites quote cuts as 48-65% of live weight. Besides, I’d like to give my customers a bit more certainty on what they’re getting for their 300 pound pig. Instead of looking all over and combining everyone’s numbers, I’ll go straight to my two favorite authorities on this topic on the web. One is the The Meatman.
I recommend checking out his site since it’s just a lot of fun to browse around. The Meatman has processed a lot of meat, and he gives an average of 104 pounds of cuts from a 215 pound live weight pig, which makes the cuts about 48% of live weight. Then I head over to Sugar Mountain Farm to hear from Walter Jefferies. Between the Sugar Mountain Farm site and Walter’s contributions on a pig-related email list I’m on, Walter is my online pig guru.
Walter says hanging weight is about 72% of live weight and the commercial cuts 66% of hanging weight or 48% of live weight. Since Walter and The Meatman agree, that’s definitely the number I’m going with! So, from my 300 pound pig, I can expect about 216 hanging weight and about 144 pounds in the freezer. The Cuts The next question everyone wants to know is exactly what they’ll end up with in their freezer.
Again, this is inexact, since breed, individual pig, and processing choices will affect the end result. Here are some examples I found of what you might get from a whole pig: 18 lbs pork chops, 4 lbs spare ribs, 12 lbs sausage, 24 lbs ham, 20 lbs bacon, 12 lbs shoulder butt roasts, 14 lbs shoulder picnic, 16 lbs bone/trimmings, 30 lbs fat = 150 lbs 7 lbs pork chops, 8 lbs sausage, 24 lbs ham, 20 lbs bacon, 17 lbs pork roast, 16 lbs picnic and shoulder butts, 7 lbs misc cuts, 5 lbs salt pork, 31 lbs fat = 135 lbs 23 lbs pork chops, 6 lbs spare ribs, 18 lbs ground sausage, 30 lbs ham, 16 lbs bacon, 20 lbs shoulder roast, 8 lbs butt roast, 10 lbs stew bones, 16 lbs fat = 147 lbs 23 lbs pork chops, 6 lbs spare ribs, 9 lbs sausage, 28 lbs ham, 23 lbs bacon, 9 lbs boston butt, 12 lbs picnic roast, 23 lbs fat = 133 lbs I’m sorry to say I didn’t record the cuts we got from our pigs last year.
I know we got a lot more sausage than these examples give, and we got more ham. We did not get nearly that much fat, and we got less bacon. I can never keep the shoulder/butt/picnic roasts straight, so I’m not sure what we got of those or in what kinds of amounts. I’ll try to record what I get this year so I have a better idea of what comes out of our particular pigs and our particular processor.
Space Needs The final thing I want to cover here is how much space you need in order to have a whole pig on hand. The first consideration is the coolers needed to pick your cuts up from the processor. Walter provides this photo of a half-pig share: A full pig would need twice as much space, of course The second consideration is your freezer space at home. You need a chest freezer if you’re getting a whole pig.
If you only got a half pig, you might be able to fit it into your regular freezer, but not much else would fit in there. The Meatman estimates that you need one cubic foot of freezer space for 30 pounds of pig. That means I expect people who have me raise their pig this year will need about 5 cubic feet of cooler space and freezer space. In the end, all numbers aside, you get a lot out of a pig, and it’s all really yummy! It’s hard to go wrong, and I’m really excited to get started this year.
For more information on raising pigs, these two books are both excellent sources – How to Raise Pigs and Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs. I used both of them when I was getting started. Whether you’re raising pigs for pets, getting started raising a 4H pig, or going purely for yummy pork, either of these books will help you out in getting started. Issa is a wild and rebellious mama who wants to live a carefree life where that little anxious voice is put on mute.
How about you? As a writer she feels successful if just one other parent feels any comfort or inspiration from what she's written. You can find more of her at Parenting With Abandon. Share this: