and other thoughts...

and other thoughts...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Plants, Protein and Building Muscle

This is not a post on how to eat a plant-based diet that includes plenty of protein so one can build muscle.

It is a post questioning how to do that.

I am vegetarian for the most part. I do occasionally eat fish, but I eat no land animals. I am not vegan, although I do try to limit my intake of dairy. I drink almond milk (sometimes soy) instead of cow's milk. I do eat cheese, yogurt and butter, though certainly not daily. I don't eat whey protein powder. I don't eat anything that includes gelatin.

My reason for being mostly vegetarian has to do with my love of all animals. It's fairly straight-forward. I love cows, goats, pigs, chicken and ducks, and so I choose not to eat them.  I'm disturbed, also, by the arbitrariness around which animals we (as nation) eat as opposed to which animals we care for guardedly. Pigs can make wonderful pets, for example. They are intelligent, bond with each other, bond with humans and care deeply for their young. So it makes no sense to me that we eat them--and in doing so support a system that abuses and slaughters them inhumanely and en masse--and yet we do not eat dogs. At any rate, I don't want this post to become a diatribe against eating meat. I've done my research in terms of the ways in which animals are bred, abused and slaughtered-- so you don't need to enlighten me about how it's perfectly justifiable to eat meat or fowl, or drink cow's or goat's milk etc. I know where I stand.
And I will now stop trying to enlighten you.
There. Done with that.

What I do want to write about is how I can work toward eating a (mostly) vegetarian diet that is rich in protein and hence supports the building of muscle.

To be frank, I've always poo-pooed the idea that one needs to eat protein in order to support her health, fitness and muscle growth. I've always believed that one should try to eat a balanced diet and the protein intake will take care of itself. Also, I've never wanted to become particularly muscular; I've just wanted to be strong "enough."Being a woman who grew up in the late 70's and 80's, I am a person who covets a slender, sleek, too-thin body as opposed to one which appears strong and buff. I'm relatively small, I've worked hard to stay small, and I've enjoyed being small.

But I'm getting older, and I've noticed that I am having an increasingly hard time maintaining my weight. This is partly a consequence of not working out as much as I used to. Lately I have been working out more, however--and then more still, and the weight isn't coming off as it has in the past. Also, I am pooling more fat in my belly. My arms and legs seem to get smaller, but my belly stays the same--very fleshy and round. At times I think I actually look pregnant. I have small legs, arms and butt, but my stomach is just so round and large. Some of these changes, I know, have to do with the wildly fluctuating hormonal levels that accompany the wonderful process of moving toward menopause.  But I know there are women my age who DO NOT have this belly, so it can't be all that! Also of note, my cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels are higher than they were just a few years ago. (My cholesterol ratio is still very good, and my blood pressure isn't worrisome. It's just HIGHER than it was.)

So speak to me.
Are you 40-50+ women experiencing this, too?

The articles I read continually point to eating more protein in order to build muscle mass and avoid the accumulation of this belly fat.  I understand that I need to limit my intake of grains because, when consumed, they cause sugar spikes in my blood which in turn cause countervailing rises in insulin--which will, eventually, contribute to insulin resistance. Truthfully I don't eat a lot of grains, but I also eat very little protein. I eat mostly... well, fruits and vegetables. And I'm starting to wonder if in doing so, and not eating enough in terms of beans, vegetarian protein powder, eggs and cheese, I'm suffering from lack of protein.
What are your thoughts on this? How many grams of protein do you eat per day and in what form?

I'm also starting to think about strength work.
I hate doing strength work. I mean it. I really hate it. I want to run, swim and bike. I have a hard enough time getting in those workouts! But I think my performance in all three disciplines has plateaued substantially, and I'm wondering if really focusing on strength work as opposed to focusing so much on the swim/bike/run will help? Of course I've been told by my coach that it will help, but I want some of your personal experiences to fuel my willingness to change my strength training habits. In short, I want feedback from you. I want to know it's helped your PERFORMANCE in addition to your looks.

What do you swear by?
What is the best use of my time in terms of very specific strength work?

I just bought three books. I read about one on uber runner Laura's blog. (Laura has the most amazing runner's body I have ever seen, in addition to simply being an amazing runner. Of course, she is much, much younger than me, but I've never had a body like hers!) Anyway, this is the book I read about on her blog:

And these two books are books I found when reading about Stronger Curves on Amazon. 

Has anyone read anything by this man--Michael Matthews?

I plan to start doing strength work next week. I've already started to add more protein to my diet. (I find this hard because I AM worried about putting on weight. I need to lose weight right now, not gain it.)

I'm eager for feedback.


  1. hey Mary, glad you are blogging again. I am your age or close to it and I do think that the peri-menopause has something to do with it. I Also know women who have had kids and have a 6 pack and well defined thru and 1 day after giving birth; its genes and body type. So for me i just accept what i was born with and try to go with it, but i do focus alot more on protein ( animal and plant) and also not skipping breakfast. Hope that helps.

  2. I have nothing to offer on this topic, except that I am in more or less the opposite camp- I was all about protein, protein, protein, and then I recently did the Conscious Cleanse (which I do recommend!)... It however takes the emphasis off of protein and places it on veggies. I don't think it's designed with endurance athletes in mind, but doing it for 2 weeks (which is recommended) helped me get a bit leaner, and allowed me, for the first time in the 8 mo since having my 2nd baby, leave the house without undereye concealer, which is HUGE for me. I did the cleanse mainly to shed the last few pounds of baby weight... it had the added bonus of helping my skin and helping my sugar addiction. I am in the (long, drawn out) process of writing a blog post detailing my experience with the cleanse... Glad to see you are back in the blogosphere.