I am closing in on the end of the second week of my 6 week nutrition challenge, and I am happy to report it is going well! For me, ‘going well’ means a few boxes have been checked: I have been sticking to my nutrition plan and, for the most part, hitting my macros. This makes me feel good psychologically because I really WANT to be successful, and knowing that I am doing what I need to do to be successful FEELS GOOD. I also feel good physically. I’m not starving. I do feel hunger, but I am able to acknowledge it and move on, knowing I have a yummy meal coming soon. I can also feel my body changing, if ever so slightly. While the scale hasn’t moved more than a few pounds, I feel leaner, less puffy, and that’s a good feeling! More importantly, I feel strong and fast in the gym. On the heels of back to back competitions, I am back to my ‘regularly scheduled’ training and that feels good, too! I even celebrated a 5 lb PR on my back squat – I’ll take it!
I do weigh myself on a day to day basis, and that is helpful directionally, but also a little challenging because the natural inclination is to want to see numbers move, and when that doesn’t happen, or the numbers don’t move as fast as you want them to, that is FRUSTRATING! So Friday morning, I got on the body comp scale to check in, and found that I’ve put on a couple pounds of lean body mass and lost a few pounds of fat. Those indicators are moving in the right direction. This was a good reminder for me of a couple really important points: 1) the scale at home is absolutely not a good measure of what is going on with your body; better barometers are how you feel day to day, pictures (yes, I am taking weekly pictures, maybe I’ll gather up the courage to share those at the half way mark) or measurements; 2) trust the process. The fact is, if you are following the plan, chances are very high that you will be successful! It is easy to become impatient and want immediate results, but the truth is the slower the numbers move, the more sustainable the change is in the long term.
Sticking to the plan is hard when results are slow, or when you are not used to putting so much focus on what you eat. The single biggest thing I focus on is also the question I get asked most: hitting my protein target – and how to do it. The best answer is to eat real foods and lean protein sources like chicken breasts, turkey breast, fish, and eggs; greek yogurt and cottage cheese are also great sources of protein, if your body can handle dairy. I eat about 2.5 – 3 lbs of chicken breast each week. I also eat a lot of egg whites and low-fat greek yogurt. Realistically though, that IS a lot of food, and to be perfectly honest, I really enjoy my protein (and spinach) smoothie for breakfast! It has been my go to (post- or pre-workout) breakfast for well over a year and I know it works for me. On days when I do 2 training sessions, I may even have a second protein drink along with a rice cake or banana as a post workout meal, simply because it is quick and convenient. In a perfect world, I’d be eating perfectly balanced meals within 30 minutes after my workout, but my world is far from perfect and I’m just doing the best I can. Overall recommendation: eat whole foods when you can; if you are doing that and still missing your protein number (not unusual), try adding a post-workout protein shake, or maybe even one at night to make sure you hit your protein target.
With that being said, the follow-up question is typically which protein powder to use? With so many types (whey, casein, blends. plant proteins…) and brands it is extremely overwhelming. Generally speaking, ‘one serving’ is usually about 23-25 g protein, so don’t worry about the quantity. For me, and this is a bit of an oversimplification, it comes down to a couple of factors: does it taste good and does it blend well. A third factor is the time of day, which influences the protein source. Some protein powders also include carbs, which is a nice perk but since carbs are relatively easy to consume in solid form, I usually stick to powders that are predominantly protein (there may be 2-5g of carbs but those are mostly for flavor). I also like to have control over the number of carbs I take in, so I tend to eat them separately instead of having them incorporated into the powder. As far as flavor goes, I prefer chocolate flavored powders. Vanilla and other fruity flavors taste artificial and overly sweet to me. In terms of blending, I like ones that dissolve nicely in a shaker bottle and don’t REQUIRE a blender to mix well. Lastly, if I am consuming the protein at the end of the day (like after dinner, to round out my protein intake for the day), I will take micellar casein protein, which is slower to absorb, and more gradually releases amino acids, which means it is a good way to feed the muscles overnight.
As for specific brands, I’ve tried lots. Here are several that I would recommend (no incentive for promoting any of these):
- Progenex Recovery, Mocha (hydrolyzed whey protein). Flavor is delicious mixed with water and even more so with coconut water. Mixes really nicely with a 15-30 sec of vigorous shaking. $60 for 30 servings ($2/serving)
- ProJym, Chocolate Cookie Crunch (whey/casein blend). Great flavor (I use this in my spinach smoothie and it tastes like a chocolate milkshake); never tried it blended in a mixer bottle. Reasonably priced at $55 for 46 servings ($1.20/serving).
- Optimum Nutrition Gold Stardard 100% Whey, Extreme Chocolate Milk (Whey). Good flavor, good mixing, good overall product. $57 for 71 servings ($0.80/serving)
- Dymatize Elite Casesin, Cinnamon Bun (casein). Good flavor, I mix 3/4 scoop with a few tablespoons of water plus a tablespoon of nut butter and make a ‘pudding’ out of it. Good way to round out macros for the day and you can kind of think of it as a dessert. $49 for 55 servings ($0.89 per serving)
I’m always looking for recommendations and high protein snack ideas. Please share your favorites here!