5 best sources of protein and why they are important for everyone

To be able to participate in an endurance event, the first thing that comes to mind is a training programme to prepare the body for the physical performance. Nutrition it appears, is least as important as this cardio and muscular training aspect. A nutritional plan plays a key role in developing and maintaining metabolic efficiency: being able to burn fat for longer. After discussing how the metabolic efficiency can be developed, we’re looking at protein as it plays such a key role in performance. 



Lisa is OmniBlend’s Sales & Marketing manager, and avid runner. In this series she’s sharing what she learned about training for an endurance event, specifically in terms of nutrition.


To see where I could improve my running efficiency, I first had to establish my baseline. My Fat Max test revealed that I’m on the right track: I’m able to burn a relative high ratio of fat versus carbohydrates up to relatively high intensities. It basically means that my crossover point lies at a relatively high intensity, where consumption of carbs for fuel (vs fat) to dominate. My food log however revealed that I was not consuming sufficient protein.

As women, I think we view protein mostly as essential for guys, or for women heavily into fitness and body building. That appears to be a misconception. Registered dietician Adrian Penzhorn reviewed my food log and pointed out that as part of my training program I should be consuming 1.6 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day. The bare minimum intake for a sedentary woman is 0.8 gper kg of body weight.  So an inactive woman weighing 65kg would have to consume 52 grams of protein per day, and an active woman with the same weight requires 104 grams.

I’ve become a so-called flexitarian a few years ago, when I decided to cut out meat a few days a week, and only consume free-range meat. I’ve been oblivious about what that meant in terms of my protein intake. Probably also because I’ve never fully grasped the importance of protein as part of all body functions, not only the muscles. Protein is one of the so called ‘macronutrients’ along with carbohydrates and fat. Aside from building muscle, different types of proteins play a key role in the body’s:

  • Digestive system
  • Immune system
  • Cell regulation
  • Muscle contractions
  • Body structure (connective tissues)
  • Hormone production
  • Oxygen transportation

Once you delve into these levels of understanding your body’s functioning you truly appreciate the intrinsic complexities! It made it clear to me that protein is so important not just for building muscle, but for overall well-being and long-term health. We usually talk about vitamins and minerals for maintaining good health, and it was an eye-opener for me to consider protein too. For this health aspect, it’s believed that it’s not just the quantity, but the package in which proteins are delivered to the body that is important. Some foods are good sources of protein, however are high in sodium too, or they’re a good source of protein, but very high in fat. On the extreme side of the spectrum, a high protein powder or supplement shake may miss out on other important micronutrients. So it’s worthwhile understanding which wholefoods are good sources of protein, not just for performance, but for overall health too.

With my activity levels being high, Adrian recommends me to consume about 100 grams of protein a day, spread over the 3 main meals: “It’s beneficial to add equal amounts of protein to breakfast, lunch and dinner versus leaning on dinner mostly. You want to give each meal enough substance as it makes sure you feel full for longer, and prevents that you start snacking in between. It also helps to maintain and build muscle.”

Adrian’s take on healthy nutrition is everything in moderation, and mostly plants to avoid high rates of saturated fat. The body can create 11 amino acids itself, and  needs to get the other 9 from food. Protein from animal food sources are complete proteins (meaning that they contain all of the 9 amino acids that the body cant produce itself). Only some plant proteins are complete (like buckwheat, soy, and quinoa), however eating a variety of plant-based proteins delivers all different amino acids that the body uses to create the complete package it needs. Aside from protein, plants also add fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are essential in a diet.

Adrian recommends the following top 5 for protein:

  1. Dairy
  2. Lean meat and fish (chicken, salmon, tuna)
  3. Egg
  4. Beans and legumes (Edamame beans, lentils, chickpeas, broccoli, spinach)
  5. Nuts and seeds (chia, hemp seeds, almonds, peanuts)

For the meal plans that Adrian develops for The Performance Kitchen, it’s these sources of protein (depending on dietary preferences) that are combined with sources of carbohydrates in the right ratio for the stage of the training plan and personal goals (with the aim to improve metabolic efficiency for health & performance). The Performance Kitchen really offers the perfect and convenient ready-made meal package for athletes:

  • freshly cooked using quality ingredients
  • customised for your training programme and dietary requirements
  • lunch and/or dinner Monday to Friday
  • optional breakfast & snacks
  • delivery to your home/work address 3x a week
  • using durable & reusable containers to avoid plastic waste
  • nifty app to track & monitor intake and progress, with meal menu
  • additional coaching & nutrition planning and monitoring via the app

Breakfast can be a tricky meal to add sufficient protein. A poached egg served with smoked salmon and spinach is sadly not on my menu every day, and even though a bowl of yoghurt, granola and fruit is nutritious, it still adds only about 12 grams of protein. I took Adrian’s advice on optimising my breakfast smoothies, creating balanced and filling smoothies, as post- or pre-workout meal, typically aiming for a minimum 20 grams of protein per meal.

 Next: How to build the perfect protein breakfast smoothie

Previous posts:

What I didn't know about training for an endurance event

The role of nutrition in endurance sports

The Fat Max Test and relevance of keeping a food diary


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