When the Connected EC teams begins working with a new client, addressing protein is often the first place we can make a big win with very simple and small dietary changes. Women often aren’t getting enough protein. Men often are eating too much protein, and not always an ideal mix. There’s a lot of confusion about what the best sources for protein are.
This article outlines the why, what and how of protein for leaders.
Protein for Leaders
Protein is one of the main macronutrients and it impacts our entire body. It is important for maintaining strong energy levels, mood stability and brain function. Being a leader requires strength and protein gives us this foundation of strength.
As busy leaders, we often skip meals or eat on the run which leaves us protein deficient. We turn to sugar and caffeine, which gives us quick energy and then a big crash. At meals, we tend to overload on carbohydrates, which feed our appetite, but do not give us the nutrients we need to sustain our energy.
Why is Protein a Big Deal?
Protein functions sort of like a SWAT team for the body. When you eat protein, you get an immediate injection of special forces that do powerful work in your body.
Protein offers powerful boost to the essential systems. For example:
Endocrine System: Protein helps us regulate mood, energy and brain function. To motivate others, you need to be able to manage your energy and moods. What you are feeling and projecting can either inspire others to action or demotivate them. Sleep, mood regulation and having a steady stream of energy rather than peaks and valleys are critical for good leadership.
Musculoskeletal System: Protein helps with the development, maintenance and repair of muscles. Leaders don’t need to bench press double their weight, but they need to strong muscles to maintain good posture and avoid injuries (such as back pain) that can interfere with life and work.
Digestive System: Protein slows down how fast sugar goes into the body. This is essential for energy regulation and helps prevent energy crashes during the day by stabilizing blood sugar.
Immune system: Protein helps produce antibodies. It’s fundamental to keeping leaders healthy and well.
Cardiovascular System: Protein keeps oxygen moving through the body and our organs. It’s essential for all body functions, but especially for the brain and keeps leaders thinking clearly, sharply and quickly.
Animal Protein vs. Plant Protein
Protein is found in animal meats, dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds (e.g. walnuts, almonds, chia seeds) and certain vegetables.
Meats are considered a complete protein: they give your body what it needs in one package. With a few exceptions, plant foods are incomplete proteins—you need to combine multiple sources to fill in the gaps. We recommend that vegetarians consider supplements to ensure optimal nutrition.
The protein levels in meat are also significantly higher than plant-based sources (e.g. 22 grams for a serving of fish vs. 8 grams for a cup of quinoa).
One of the biggest misconceptions that we come across regularly in our practice is the idea that animal protein is bad. People are typically concerned about ingesting toxins and bad fat. These are valid concerns. Animals in the typical factory farms are fed hormones, antibiotics and an unnatural diet which results in unhealthy food. However, food that is produced from animals that are raised humanely and naturally provides some of the most efficient ways to get all the essential amino acids that our bodies need.
Trickle Down Nutrition
There’s a big difference in the nutritional value of grass-fed, organic beef vs. factory farmed meat. When you eat an animal product, you are eating what the animal ate. If the animal ate a nutrient-rich diet that is natural to its species and lived a happy, healthy life, it will pass on loads of good nutrients, vitamins and minerals to you.
If the animal was given growth hormones and antibiotics, guess what? You are consuming those. And if the animal was fed soy, corn or genetically modified (GMO) food that was treated with pesticides, you’re eating that too.
It’s not just what the animal ate. It’s also how the animal lived. When an animal is stressed (for example, because it is confined in unclean, overcrowded conditions), its body produces stress hormones which can create inflammation in the animal and subsequently in you.
Organic Really Is Better
Our bodies are designed to digest foods that are natural. By eating the foods that carry necessary nutrition and nothing extra, we allow our system to get what it needs most efficiently. We don't disturb the equilibrium of our endocrine system with additional hormones. We don't kill off the good bacteria in our systems by ingesting antibiotics. As a result our digestive system works more effectively, allowing us to extract the maximum nutritional benefit from our food.
A variety of studies have shown that organic animal products are more nutritious than non-organic:
- Organic animal products have significantly higher levels of the “good” omega-3 fats which are linked to reductions in cardiovascular disease, improved neurological development and function and better immune function. The European Food Safety Authority recommends doubling our intake of omega-3s. Just eating organic meat and dairy helps move us closer.
- Organic meat and dairy have less “bad” fat that promote heart disease and other chronic disease. Non-organic meat has 50 times the ideal amount of this fat.
- Organic meat has significantly higher levels of antioxidants that boost our immune system and fight cancer.
- Organic meat carries lower risk of food borne illness.
We recommend that our clients choose organic meats and dairy from animals that have been raised humanely and fed non-GMO, natural diets. If you read nothing else in this article, that’s the key take-away.
The Importance of Diversity
To be your healthiest, it’s important to get your protein from a mix of sources. Like your stock portfolio, diversity is key to a healthy future. Different sources of proteins have different nutritional profiles. For example:
- Chicken is rich in B3, B6 and B12, which have a huge positive effect on energy. If you are low in the B-vitamins, you’ll suffer fatigue, moodiness and muscle weakness.
- Beef is rich in iron, which is important for transporting oxygen in the blood (note: it’s hard for body to absorb iron from vegetables). It is also high in zinc, which is needed for efficient and effective digestion of protein and also boosts immune systems.
- Pork is high in B1/Thymine which provides mental clarity and energy. It also provides long term benefits to the heart.
- Salmon is high in Omega 3, which is linked to reductions in cardiovascular disease, improved neurological development and function and better immune function.
How Much Protein is Enough?
It’s important that you get some form of protein in every meal. A good serving size of chicken, fish, beef and other meats is one that would fit in the palm of your hand. For fish, it’s the full hand (palm and fingers). Two eggs will give you enough protein for the meal.
Practical Protein Tips For Busy Executives
Select fruit and vegetable bars with at least 7 grams of protein and simple ingredients that you understand. Look for organic, gluten-free and non-GMO labels. Evaluate the sugar content and its source. Honey is world’s best sweeter and much better than high fructose corn syrup. For example Perfect Bar makes a meal-replacement bar that can be found in the refrigerated section and is sweetened with organic honey. It has 9 grams of protein and is made with organic fruits and vegetables. Other brands to look for include Evo Hemp, Chia Bar, Raw Revolution and the organic line of Larabar.
Trail mix offers handfuls of quick, healthy energy. Create a mix of raw nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts and sunflower seeds.
It’s very hard to know where the meat served in a restaurant is from and how it was raised. As a result, unless you are eating at a farm-to-table restaurant, wild-caught fish is a safer choice.
When on the road, consider packing a small cooler that includes a mix of protein bars, nuts and seeds, hummus and veggies. I always pack some travel guacamole, which isn’t protein, but is full of a good fat and is delicious.
Smoothies are a great way to get quick nutrition. Consider adding protein powder to your smoothies. Whey is a good choice if you are able to tolerate lactose, but choose one that is organic and produced from grass-fed cows. Other good sources include organic plant-based protein powders such as pea, hemp and brown rice. Soy is not a good choice for reasons we will detail in another article.
We recommend eating organic meats and dairy from animals that have been raised humanely and fed natural, non-GMO diets.
We also recommend that you eat at least one serving of protein at every meal and you vary the sources of your protein.
Ready to take the next step?
If you are a leader who wants to help rebooting your wellness to that you can lead better, we'd love to talk to you.