Nearly all athletes today know that they need protein in their diet. Proteins, in their most basic form of amino acids, are the the building blocks for many vital functions in our body, including what many athletes are most concerned about: building lean muscle mass. There are, however, some misconceptions about protein digestion and athletic performance, especially when it comes to how to consume protein.
When athletes, especially those at the amateur levels, begin a strength training program, they will oftentimes make a trip to the local supplement/vitamin store and purchase whatever protein supplement is most appealing to them – whether it be in the form of powder, pudding, bars, or RTD’s (Ready-To-Drink), shoveling out $30-60 (or more) each visit. Then, like clockwork, you can expect to see many of these athletes putting away 2-6 scoops of protein powder, or multiple bars, each day – in the morning, pre-workout, post-workout, before bed…
It can sometimes be forgotten that the whole goal of a supplement is to complete/enhance a wholesome and healthy eating habits for athletes, not to replace entire portions of a diet.
Some athletes need to supplement their existing diet because, due to travel or other lifestyle/sporting demands, they are not taking in adequate protein. Still, many others lean on the powders and bars – at about $2-4 per serving – to get the majority of their protein. Aside from a few lean meat sources (e.g. chicken, steak) during the day – like at dinner time – the athlete may go much of the day with minimal amounts of protein, save for their post-workout shake.
Instead of then deciding to pound 2 scoops of post-workout protein (at about 40-60g) and hoping that this will cover their daily protein needs, the athlete should be striving to have 20-30g of protein every 3-4 hours. This can include a protein shake, especially when the athlete needs their amino acids to be quickly digested on the go – like after a resistance training session. But, imagine having one scoop of protein powder every 3-4 hours. Not only will the athlete be missing out on a ton of other nutrients that are more readily found in whole foods, but they will also break the bank. Oftentimes, too, it is forgotten that to build lean muscle mass and to recovery from intense training sessions (which athletes encounter on a daily basis) copious amounts of carbohydrates must be consumed as well, and many protein powders come with little to no carbs.
Luckily there are many wholesome, real-food sources of protein that can be easily found, bought, and packed each day, and that won’t break the bank in the way that protein supplements will.
For all of the times that you don’t need your protein to be consumed and digested rapidly, give these cheaper, real-food options a try to not only save some money, but also meet your other important nutrient needs, besides just protein:
Two hard-boiled eggs are a great way to get your protein on the go and in a hurry. The convenience of hard-boiled eggs begins with the prepping process, which take about 15 minutes. In that time you can boil as many eggs as you’d like – a whole week’s worth even – and have them ready to go whenever you need them. They can be peeled and ate alone, or chopped up and added to a meal, such as a salad. Either way, you’re packing a nice wholesome protein punch with healthy fats included as well:
(2) Hard-Boiled Eggs:
- Protein: 12-15g
- Cost: ~$.33
Who doesn’t love peanut butter (aside from those with nut allergies)? Not only do nut butters taste great, they are also relatively cheap, convenient, and can be put-on or mixed-with just about anything, making them a great way to complete a meal or snack with added protein and healthy fats:
(2 Tablespoons) Peanut Butter:
- Protein: 5-7g
- Cost: ~$.18
Unlike peanut butter, not everyone is thrilled by the mention of cottage cheese. But, if you can stomach the taste and find a palate for the texture, you’ll be sure to get an easily packed high-protein source, which also brings you about 10% of your daily need for calcium. Mix it with some add-ins, like nut butters, nuts/seeds, or fruits and you will be sure to add even more great nutrients to this already-great snack:
(1/2 cup) Low-Fat Cottage Cheese:
- Protein: ~13g
- Cost: ~$.50
Greek yogurt is another love it or hate it snack food, much like cottage cheese. While some don’t like its thickness or bitterness as compared to regular yogurt, it certainly has some noteworthy benefits, such as low sugar content, good calcium (~15% of your daily need), and a whole lot of protein per serving. To make Greek yogurt more appealing, try mixing in seeds, nuts, peanut butter, fruits, or honey. Or, you can use it as a base for your smoothie. Either way you are sure to get great bang-for-your buck protein-wise, as well as nutrient-wise if paired with other great fueling sources:
(1) Prepackaged 5.3oz Cup
- Protein: ~15g
- Cost: ~$.88