Protein, whether plant based or animal, is a vital part of the human diet—especially if you are active. Protein is a chain of amino acids that are bound together by peptide bonds, like a string of beads. When we consume protein, our bodies break it down into the individual amino acids. Our bodies need 20 different amino acids to grow, function, and recover properly, but there are nine that we can only get from food: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. These are the “essential” amino acids and are important for things like muscle growth, energy production, immune function, metabolism, appetite regulation, digestion, and sleep-wake cycles.
Animal-based proteins like eggs, dairy, seafood, and meat provide a balance of all nine of the essential amino acids. Plant-based proteins, like grains, beans, nuts and seeds tend to vary in their levels of the nine essentials. Soy, however, has all nine in adequate amounts, but also contains plant-based estrogen, which, if consumed in large quantities, can impact human hormones.
Whatever protein you eat as you venture outside, choose local and organic as often as possible, and be sure to add a colorful vegetable or two to your meal for nutrient diversity and fiber. As we get in those last days on the mountain and begin to anticipate spring rolling around the corner, it is important to make sure our diet is balanced and optimized for pursuing the outdoor adventures that await us.