Running is one of the most globally practiced exercises. Last year alone 64 million Americans took up the practice, while 24 percent stated they did so in order to exercise. Runners have overtaken almost every landscape, from rural areas to city sidewalks. Whether you love it, hate it, or tenure a love-hate relationship with it, running is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise. It has been proven to help increase lean muscle, improve heart health, and possibly add years to your lifespan.
Yet, with any exercise, running is hard on your body, therefore it’s important to keep your body well-tuned. One hugely important aspect of healthy running is diet. Keeping up with a running schedule while also staying true to a plant-based diet has its challenges, as well as its benefits.
While there are many reasons why running is a popular exercise, it generally comes down to cost, ease, and mindset.
Pricey gym fees and expensive instructors aren’t required to take up running. Simply, invest in an excellent pair of tennis shoes, some comfortable exercise clothes, and some bomb-proof earbuds for music and your set to hit the track. You can also choose a running route anywhere, from urban landscapes to forest trails. The type of landscape and trail you chose depicts the ease or challenge of the workout.
On top of these advantageous perks, running has also been proven to induce a meditative state in some individuals, which inspires mindfulness, contemplation, and helps reduce stress.
Protein 101: What It Is and What It Does
While most are familiar with protein in conjunction with their diet, many people are unfamiliar with the more complex inner workings of the protein molecule, what it is, and how it works within the body.
To begin, proteins are essential for all living organisms. Protein molecules live and function within cells and are important mechanisms for “structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs.”
In the mainstream health world, protein is usually referenced to as singular — protein — which has led many to believe that it is an individual part of our makeup. There are actually seven different forms of protein that are differentiated by their amino-acid structure: antibodies, contractile, hormonal, structural, enzymes, storage, and transportation. Here’s a breakdown of seven important proteins.
1. Antibody Proteins
Imagine this protein as the bouncer of your body. Antibodies travel via the bloodstream to protect the body from foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. These antibody proteins work in tandem with the immune system, your natural defense system that helps to prevent or reduce the possibility of infection.
2. Contractile Proteins
One of the least acknowledged proteins, and yet incredibly important for any active individual, is the contractile protein. These proteins, referred to as actin and myosin, are the main component of the contraction and movement of your muscles.
3. Hormonal Proteins
A hormonal protein acts as the project coordinator of your body’s activities.
Three of the most prominent hormonal proteins are insulin, which controls blood-sugar concentration, oxytocin, the hormone that ignites contractions during childbirth, and somatotropin, a growth hormone.
4. Structural Proteins
Structural proteins are in every part of the body. The “fibrous and stringy” formation of these proteins make them ideal for structural support. The most well-known structural proteins are keratin, collagen, and elastin which are integral building blocks in your skin, hair, tendons, and ligaments.
5. Enzyme Proteins
Enzyme proteins are more commonly referred to as catalysts. These proteins speed up chemical reactions within the body and are most well-known for their role in breaking down the foods we eat such as fats and carbohydrates. Many of those that suffer from digestive medical conditions, such as carbohydrate intolerance, are lacking these essential enzyme proteins.
6. Storage Proteins
These proteins, found in plant seeds, egg whites, and milk, store metal ions and amino acids for use at a later time. A few of the most important of these storage molecules include ferritin, a protein that stores iron, casein, a protein that stores amino acids, and prolamin gliadin, a component of gluten and one of the most effective storage proteins.
7. Transport Proteins
While proteins are essential worker molecules in almost every function of the body, they also represent the public transport system within the body, making sure that other molecules can make their way around the body in an efficient manner.
Protein and Running
While there are many nutrient-rich foods that enhance endurance and aid in healthy muscle maintenance, protein has always been a highly coveted ingredient. This is due to a few main factors: protecting damaged muscles, building muscle, and fueling the body.
Protein for Protection
Dr. Neal Spruce, founder and CEO of dotFIT Worldwide, elaborates on the importance of protein for exercise stating: “Protein is responsible for rebuilding your muscle tissue after exercise and also plays a minor role in producing energy under more extreme training conditions.”
During any exercise routine, your muscles sustain minor to moderate damage. Protein is a key aid in healing this damage. As muscles rip and heal they grow more resilient. This is where protein plays its second part, muscle growth. Protein works to rebuild muscle tissue with a stronger and more robust outfit to accommodate rigorous exercise, as well as prevent further damage. This is especially important with sustained exercises such as strength training and cardiovascular activities.
Protein for Fuel
There are no simple answers when it comes to the human body. We are complex organisms. With that said, when it comes to energizing for a run, there are three sources of energy: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
The human body favors carbohydrates over fats and proteins for energy. Carbohydrates are basically sugar or glucose, which provides a short-lived burst of energy. Next up on the energy hierarchy are fats. While carbohydrates may be the favorite, fats are generally the best fuel option. Healthy fats provide a longer, more sustained energy source. At the very bottom of the food chain are proteins. This means when your body has used both carbohydrate and fat reserves it turns to proteins. This makes protein an essential component for endurance runners or training. The harder you push your body, the more energy is used, and the more reserves you’ll need.
With that said, while carbohydrates and healthy fats are easier to ingest in larger quantities, protein is used in a higher range of essential bodily functions. Therefore, if your body turns to protein as an energy source, it’s important to make sure you are getting a higher amount of protein.
10 Protein-Rich Vegetables for Your Best Run
Even though you may know that protein is an essential part of an active lifestyle, getting enough protein in a vegan diet proposes some challenges. Yet, the key to overcoming this challenge is expanding your menu to incorporate protein-rich plant-based foods.
Only 50 percent of the smaller building blocks of proteins — the amino acids — are created by the body, while the other half is obtained through the food you eat. Therefore, it stands to reason that eating protein-rich foods helps the body become protein-efficient. For plant-based eaters, it’s important to know which vegetables offer the most protein. We’ve even included some recipes from the Food Monster App for you to start cooking.
While broccoli is a powerhouse of vitamins and fiber, one cup of this cruciferous and meaty veggie provides 2.57 grams of protein. Use broccoli in higher quantities as a filler ingredient in recipes such as Crunchy Cheesy Broccoli, Charred Broccoli Falafel With Charred Lemon Tahini (pictured above), Truffled Cream of Broccoli Soup With Croutons, Mashed Potato Casserole With Broccoli and Cauliflower Gravy, or Fat-Free Spinach Broccoli Patties.
Just one large, white-skinned potato offers 6.20 grams of protein, making this filling ingredient a must have for a rigorous exercise routine. In its plain form, potatoes can be an overpowering ingredient in many recipes, therefore try diluting its power in soups and stews such as this Tomato and Potato Stew, Hearty Potato and Mushroom Stew, Green Bean, Carrot, and Potato Stew, or this Earthy Potato Chive Soup (pictured above).
When it comes to protein content, the lentil puts almost all other vegetables to shame. One cup of raw lentils provides on average 47 grams of protein. Lentils are also an incredibly diverse ingredient that can be used in soups, salads, and as a grain or meat substitute. Try a few of these lentil-based, protein-packed recipes: Red Lentil and Butternut Squash Burgers (pictured above), Chili Lime Lentil Tacos With Spicy Grilled Pineapple Salsa, Sloppy Lentil Joes, Masala Lentils, or Kitchari Patties.
While asparagus is a good source of protein — offering over 2 grams for every cooked cup — it is also a tricky vegetable to coax appetizing qualities from. For those on a vegetarian diet, obtaining the crispy appeal of sautéed or baked asparagus is a challenge without butter. With that said, there are other tricks of the trade to incorporate this delightful and earthy ingredient. Try a few of these recipes that incorporate asparagus in creative ways: Asparagus Potato Pizza With Kale Pesto (pictured above), Early Summer Veggie Sauté, Skillet Asparagus and Tomato Medley, or Raw Asparagus Soup.
While brussels sprouts provide a lower dose of protein — a little under 2 grams per cooked cup — this vegetable is easier to eat in larger quantities. The heart offers a meaty texture and the outer leaflets are easy to crisp and absorb flavor. Incorporate this veggie into your diet with one or more of these brussels sprouts favorite recipes: Rosemary Brussels Sprouts Quinoa Salad, Potato Tacos With Brussels Sprouts Slaw and Quinoa Tortillas, BBQ Brussels Sprouts (pictured above), Brussels Sprouts Pasta Casserole, or Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Grilled Pear Pizza.
This creamy and fresh fruit is an easy ingredient to incorporate into almost any recipe. It is a common staple in vegan diets, from desserts to dips to full meals, and offers almost 3 grams of protein in its raw and sliced form. Step outside the traditional avocado dishes with recipes such as Avocado Brownies, Avocado Soup, Mexican Refried Bean Pizza, Stuffed Avocado Boats (pictured above), or Wood Fired Beet Salad With Avocado-Citrus Vinaigrette.
Next in line to lentils, lima beans are an incredibly great source of protein. In their raw form, lima beans offer 38.2 grams of protein in every cup and are a great option to diversify your pantry and diet. Start out your lima bean experience with a few easy and tasty meals such as Mediterranean Baked Lima Beans, Wheat Berries, Kale, and Butter Beans Stew, Baby Lima Beans and Oats Dosa (pictured above), or Garlic and Onion Cashew Cheese and Lima Bean Toast.
To get the full protein potential of the mushroom, it’s best to eat them in their raw state. With that said, when cooked mushrooms release moisture which can add creamy and meaty textures, as well as a delightful earthy taste to many recipes. One tablespoon of cooked white mushrooms offers on average .21 grams of protein. Therefore, try sticking to mushroom-heavy recipes such as Savory Mushroom Oats, Creamy Mushroom and Dumpling Soup, Tofu Tikka Masala with Mushroom and Spinach, Portobello Lentil Shepherd’s Pie or Wild Mushroom and Kale Lasagna Rolls (pictured above).
While this veggie is rarely used outside of restaurants and pre-packaged meals, it provides a great source of essential vitamins and protein. Originally from West Africa, Southeast Asia, and Ethiopia, the seed pods offer a great way to diversify your pantry. One cup of cooked okra offers a little below 2 grams of protein. Try a few of these okra-based recipes: Oven-Fried Okra With Sunflower Cider Dip, Spicy Greek Baked Okra (pictured above), Harissa Roasted Potato, Okra, and Broccoli, Okra and Corn Stuffed Squash Blossoms, Creole Okra Corn Soup, or Briam: Greek Oven-Baked Roasted, Herbed Vegetables.
While beets are a main staple of the vegan diet, their potato-like meat offering a great filler ingredient from desserts to dinners, most of the protein content is found within the beet greens. Offering 3.70 grams of protein for every cup, these greens are great additions to salads, soups, stews, or sautés. Explore the world of beet greens with this Beet Greens With Garlic and Toasted Almonds recipe or try this Sautéed Beet Red Greens (pictured above).
Protein is an essential ingredient for a body in motion. The Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook, offers over 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes. Subscribers not only access an archive of recipes, but they gain access to new recipes on a daily basis. Check it out!
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