Hunters versus gatherers: Which protein is for you?

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, is a Certified Health Coach and a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. 

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

Do you remember the “good old days”?  The ones before grocery stores? Of course not! Most of us have grown up with the luxury of convenience…and refrigeration. We have become accustomed to having all of our food sources readily available, at our local markets.  However, at one point in our long and illustrious career, this was not always the case; the phrase “right at your fingertips” meant gathering food from the fields or taking a bow and arrow to your soon-to-be dinner.

These days not only do we enjoy abundance, there are also many more choices to offer around the table, and just as many theories about what those choices should include. The notion of limiting red meat consumption (sorry, all you hunters out there) has been around for decades now, as has including more sources of wild fish.  One of the newest, however, is that of plant-based protein as the cornerstone of a healthy meal plan. 

Aside from the benefits that readily come to mind — less fat, cholesterol and calories — one may be surprised to learn of the healthy protein content of “foods without a face”.  Plant-based protein sources may be new to many individuals, who often question their validity, especially as part of a bodybuilding regimen. To address this, one needs to look no further than the Animal Kingdom. Some of the largest and strongest mammals on earth consume a plant-based, alkaline diet – cows, hippos, elephants, gorillas, and rhinos. These are powerful animals with a commanding presence, and they derive all of their protein from plant sources.

If you are not a huge fan of the illustrious kale, relax!  There are many ways to accrue sufficient amounts of protein without necessarily including the curly green (and often bitter) plant. Raw, sprouted legumes such as lentils, beans and seeds are superior sources of proteins, as are chia seeds, hemp seeds or hemp hearts, quinoa, hummus and edamame. All of these foods are easily accessible at most large or specialty grocery stores.

If you are not quite ready to go “cold turkey” and relinquish all control to the gardens, there are many ways to tip the balance of meals toward a more plant-based format.  An excellent example is the post-workout protein shake.  In addition to ice and fruit in your blender, consider adding a plant-based protein powder.  Try almond or soy milk in place of traditional cow’s milk for a fresh twist.  To thicken the shake, toss in a handful of omega-packed hemp seeds or raw quinoa.

Combining food sources is another way to ease your taste buds into the world of plant proteins.  A pre-workout meal is most effective if it contains both lean protein and complex carbohydrates.  This is great news for cereal-lovers!  Take the time to choose wisely when selecting your cereal of choice (translated: do not base your selection on those with fun mazes and puzzles on the back of the box). Spelt is a protein-packed cereal that resembles the average corn flake, with a slightly heartier flavor.  A cup of this with milk of your choice, and a bit of fruit on top, will provide ample energy for your upcoming exercise session.  Quinoa flakes are also available if your preference is a hot breakfast as the weather gets cooler. Once prepared similarly to oatmeal, it takes on a creamy consistency and ramps up the protein considerably.

Go crazy with your ideas!  Sprinkle cooked black beans into salads, top a vegetable casserole with crunchy hemp seeds, or enjoy hummus with raw vegetables as an energizing snack. After a while, you may find that your caveman craving for animal protein actually disappears!