Tanya Agarwal is a Runner and a Yoga practitioner who blogs on her love for fitness, running, yoga, nutrition and life on her blog called WellthyFit.com. Through her blog, she constantly seeks to remind everyone – You aren’t wealthy enough till you have Empowered Yourself with strength in body and passion in mind. Professionally, Tanya holds a post graduation degree in Business Management from India’s premier institute – NMINS, Bombay. She is a freelance marketing consultant.

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This article is a part of the series on Weight loss for Runners from the book – Run to Lose written by Experts from Runner’s World. My first two articles on weight loss from the same book are on Sugar and Carbohydrates.

This one is all about Weight Loss and Protein. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

Protein is important for weight loss. And as a runner, you need more protein than what’s recommended for sedentary people. That’s because as you log miles, you’ll need to replace the protein you break down during intense and long workouts in order to build lean muscle tissue.

But not all high protein foods are healthy. Often proteins are added to the processed packaged foods along with artificial additives, calories, sugar, fat, and sodium to make the products taste good. So you’ve got to carefully inspect the Nutrition Facts Panel. A 1 ¼ cup serving of a cereal with added protein has 7 gms of protein – more than the 4 grams of protein in the original variety. But it also has 100 more calories and 16 additional grams of sugar per serving compared to the original. Another example is the high protein bar which contains 20 grams of protein, but it also has other candy bar ingredients like 290 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 22 grams of sugar.

Given all of this – how as a runner with an extra need of protein are you supposed to lose weight? If your protein intake is low, you may start to feel fatigued, lose muscle mass, become run down and increase your risk of illness and injury.

The book has made some great recommendations but not all work for many reasons – some of the stuff is hard to find in India and even if you do – they turn out very expensive. Some stuff is available only in metro cities and is still hard on the pocket. I’ve taken the Indian variant of some of the options given in the book which are also easily available. The list is a mix of non-veg and veg sources of proteins.

1. Eggs

Eggs are a great source of protein and are rich in healthy fats

Trusted, cheap, high carriers of high-quality protein but also vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants! Very easy on the pocket. One whole egg will not let you gain any weight! But let’s break this down:

Egg Whole: Rich in protein and choline – a nutrient not found in many foods that is vital for brain health. Chose Omega 3 –enhanced eggs (these are slightly expensive) to increase your intake of healthy foods. 1 whole egg has 6 grams of protein.

Egg White: Especially for runners looking to shed kilos and still not wanting to compromise on protein intake this is great. One egg white offers a good amount of protein for very few calories. 1 egg white has 3.6 grams of protein.

2. Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is loaded with more protein than regular store-bought curd.

This is slightly expensive and may not be available in all stores. Do not aim for full-fat Greek yogurt. The thing is that greek yoghurt contains much more protein, calcium and vitamin D than the regular curd we have at home. 5.3 oz of greek yogurt is 17 grams of protein. That’s a lot! But do go for the low-fat or fat-free version. However, I am not stuck on this. I still don’t indulge a lot in greek yoghurt and I have my own ghar ka dahi (homemade curd). Whatever protein it gives, am fine with it because I do eat a lot of beans in my regular diet.

3. Chicken Breast

If chicken is your main source of protein, buy skinless chicken breast

For the non-vegetarians in India – there isn’t a cheaper and more easily available source of protein. Please remember to buy skinless chicken as it has way less fat. Chicken contains niacin which helps regulate fat during a run. Protein per 100g (with bone): 15-20g. Protein per 100g (boneless):27-31g

4. Milk

Skimmed milk makes a great source of protein.

This power pack of protein can’t be more easily available. They have got all types of milk lined up in the stores these days. The book particularly mentions that for weight loss you have to go for low-fat milk. A special tip from me is to stay away from flavoured milk. It does contain a huge amount of sugar in it. Skimmed milk makes a great source of protein. I usually have mine just before sleeping! I cup of milk is 8 grams of protein. Protein per 100g:4g

5. Cottage cheese or paneer

The best part is, in a country like India paneer is easily available.

Every vegetarian knows the importance of paneer in their lives. Cottage Cheese is to vegetarians what chicken is to meat-lovers. And as it turns out, it is quite healthy too. A 100 grams of paneer contains 11 grams of protein. Choose paneer made from low-fat milk for weight loss purposes. The best part is, in a country like India paneer is easily available. I make mine at home.

6. Peas

Besides being low in cost, you can add peas to any of your meals.

I depend a lot on peas! Easy to buy, easy to boil and eat when you like. Pea protein is a good alternative, especially for people who are lactose intolerant. In addition to this, pea protein is free from fat, cholesterol and gluten and thus an ideal cheap protein option for vegetarians and vegans. Besides being low in cost, you can add peas to any of your meals. However, there are certain dietary conditions that may restrict your intake of peas once in a while. Green peas are a very good source of vitamin K, manganese, dietary fibre and vitamin B1. A cup of peas can contain up to 10 grams of plant-based protein. They are ideal for weight loss and act as a filler for high-calorie foods. Protein per 100g of peas is 5g.

7. Beans

Chickpeas promote bone health and help regulate blood sugar.

This includes all the different types of beans like chickpeas, moong beans, kidney beans, lentils, etc. Out of all the beans, raw kidney beans and moong beans contain the highest proportion of protein followed by chickpeas and lentils. Talking about the prices, chickpeas are priced highest followed by kidney beans. Both moong beans and lentils are priced comparatively lower. The book, however, recommends two kinds of beans:

Chickpeas: Chickpeas promote bone health and help regulate blood sugar. Which is exactly what we want! Protein without gaining weight. 1 cup of chickpeas is 12-15 grams of protein. I eat them boiled as a salad and of course, rice-chole is great. But be mindful of the portions.

Kidney Beans: Rich in iron (which we runners need a lot) and also in fibre. 1 cup of rajmah, as we call them, are 13 grams of protein.

Black Beans: Warning – they are expensive and not available at every general store. The book does recommend them because of 1 cup of black beans has 15 grams of protein. These beans play a very important role in heart health and circulation!

8. Almonds

Almonds contain Vitamin E, an antioxidant that boosts circulation; which many runners fall short on

I am a fan of Almonds and rarely a day goes by without them. They feature in my oats, in my shakes, and sometimes just a handful of them are great to munch on! The book says almonds contain Vitamin E, an antioxidant that boosts circulation; many runners fall short on it because there are few good food sources for this. They are rich in protein as well. Almonds have lower proportions of carbs and contain very few calories. ¼ cup of almonds is about 8 grams of protein.

Other Sources

  • Salmon is another recommended source of protein but we all know how expensive it can get.
  • Tofu for vegetarians is another great source of protein since half a cup of tofu has 20 grams of protein. But again how easily is the fresh variant available?
  • Peanut Butter is not mentioned in the book but I know of many many people who eat it as a source of protein. But you have to be careful of the extra sugar that is added to make it sweet. It does have good fats but either you make a jar of your own at home or best is to get an unsweetened peanut butter which is expensive.
  • The book makes a mention of the fact that it’s not that vegetarians need more protein than the meat-eating runners. But you need to be diligent about meeting your needs.

Add The Right Variety

Some proteins are considered incomplete because they don’t contain all 9 amino acids. For example – Kidney beans (Rajmah) are best eaten with rice as the combination provides the amino acids you need to repair tissue and stave off an injury! So accumulate a variety of proteins through the day. Try as much as you can to stay away from processed proteins like bars and powders. However because protein is so critical to muscle repair and appetite regulation, it’s better to grab a protein shake than to skip it altogether!

Hope the above is useful to every runner out there and especially to runners trying to lose weight!

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