Protein Power on a Budget - Eating a High Protein Diet

Protein on a Budget

Proper Weight Training requires Knowledge and Skill

Protein supplements are everywhere and they are expensive. Whether you buy protein drink mixes, or designer protein bars, you'll spend over a dollar per serving - often as much as 3 dollars. That's fine if you can afford it, but what about those of us who can't? Is there a low-cost alternative? You bet there is! How do I know this? It all began in 1995 while attending the University of Oklahoma and discovering the joys of amateur bodybuilding. "One more!" my spotter, Scotty, bellowed. "Last rep of your last set! Push it out. Go! Go! Go! Make it all you!" I thought I reached failure two reps ago, but somehow I dug even deeper. I focused. I squeezed. The weight moved up agonizingly slow and then stopped. I wanted to give up.

"Don't quit now," he whispered fiercely, "don't quit on yourself!" His words struck a nerve and I reached a place that only the truly inspired ever see. The weight almost lifted itself. As Scotty unloaded the bar, my body quivered in the aftermath of the effort.

He smiled and said, "Great job, now let's go get some protein." I blanched at the thought of tuna and hard-boiled eggs again.

I knew that along with intense workouts, proper nutritional supplementation was the most important factor in achieving my fitness goals. Being a dirt-poor college student, expensive nutritional supplements were out of the question. So day after day Scotty and I choked down plain tuna and egg whites and dreamt of the designer protein products that peppered the pages of bodybuilding magazines.

"Mmmmm ... more tun -" was all I could manage before I had to close my mouth to suppress the retching reflex.

"No tuna today," said Scotty. "I've found something much better and much cheaper."

"Wha - ?" I stammered. "Cheaper than eggs and tuna? Impossible! It must taste horrible"

"Nope, it is pretty much tasteless!" Scotty beamed. "It's the essence of good nutrition. I've discovered the food of the gods!"

Scotty had discovered soy grits, which includes: 21 g of soy protein per serving, 0 g of fat, only 13 g of carbohydrates and 7 g of dietary fiber and no sugar. All this, in a 20 serving bag (a total of 420 g of protein), for $2 - that's less than the price of one MET-Rx bar!

The name may sound unappealing because of its similarity to products such as corn or hominy grits, but that's where the likeness ends. Six years after Scotty discovered the product we're both still using it even though we can now afford designer protein supplements.

Soy grits are simple, all natural (made with non-genetically engineered soybeans), and very effective. They are made from cracked, toasted, and defatted soybeans, and contain all the protein, vitamins and health benefits of natural soy products like tofu or soy nuts, but none of the fat. They can be added to any dish, used to make homemade protein bars, blended into shakes, or eaten on their own. But before you throw down this magazine, toss out your designer protein powder and start feeding your protein bars to the dog, there are a few things you should know.

Although soy protein is more easily and efficiently absorbed by the body than animal proteins, and it has the most complete amino acid profile of any vegetable protein, it does not contain all of the essential amino acids (i.e. the amino acids your body cannot synthesize by itself). Soy grits, and all natural, unprocessed soybean products, are missing the amino acid methionine. Most commercial protein bars and powders, however, contain a processed form of soy known as soy protein isolate, which does contain methionine.

Don't give up on soy grits yet. While not present in soybeans, the amino acid methionine is abundant in the protein of starchy foods such as breads, grains, potatoes and pasta, so you can make up the absence in soy easily. Because soy grits are not processed, they contain healthy enzymes known as isoflavones, which are usually discarded during the creation of soy protein isolate. Extensive research into the effects of soy isoflavones has led to the FDAs approval for food manufacturers to tout the many benefits - they reduce cholesterol, the risk of coronary heart disease, and the risk of breast cancer in women.

Here is one final warning for those who have not consumed natural soy products before. During the initial period of frequent use, products such as soy grits, textured vegetable protein, tofu, soy nuts, and tempeh may lead to increased and odoriferous flatulence. In other words, when you start a natural soy protein diet, you might get smelly gas for the first week or so. This condition is temporary, and is not uncomfortable or painful - except maybe to those in close proximity to you.

That said, you now have all the needed information to decide if soy grits are for you. At $2 a bag (that's 1 /20th what you might spend for 20 servings of protein powder) you might as well give them a try. Besides the affordable price tag, they are also the most versatile supplement I have ever found. Over the past six years I've experimented with many different ways to prepare soy grits, and I found they can be added to just about anything. Here are some of my favorites.

Fruit juice smoothie: Simply add 16 oz. of your favorite fruit juice, 1/4 cup of soy grits, and a handful of ice to the blender. Blend until smooth. The texture might take a minute to get used to, but it tastes great.

Protein / fruit breakfast: Add up to 1/4 cup of soy grits to a can of pineapple chunks, sliced peaches or mixed fruit. The soy grits will soak up the fruit syrup and give you lots of extra protein.

Pastas and Rice: When cooking pastas, mix soy grits into the sauce, right before you serve it. You won't even be able to taste it. When cooking rice, use 1/4 to 1/2 cup extra water. Once rice is cooked, add soy grits to soak up the extra water. Remember for every 1/4 cup of soy grits you add you get 21 g of protein.

Soups: Easy! Just add as much soy grits as you want to hot soup right before you eat it. It takes on the flavor of the soup, and makes simple broths much heartier and more nutritious.

Brownies, Cakes and Cookies: For a low-fat, nutritious treat I began adding soy grits to my batter whenever I made desserts. If you are using a cake or brownie mix, prepare according to the package's low-fat directions (usually using only egg whites, and substituting oil with applesauce and water). Then stir in 1/2 cup soy grits, and a few tbsp. applesauce (if needed). Bake time will be a few minutes less.

For cookies, substitute 1 cup soy grits for 3/4 cup flour. Again, add applesauce to moisten if needed. Bake as normal.

Travel Snack: Wash and dry an old vitamin bottle. Fill it 1/2 full with soy grits, and then add brown sugar until it is 3/4 full (granulated brown sugar works best). Shake vigorously to mix. Pour into your mouth to eat. Have water handy to wash it down, although I often find this unnecessary when I am well hydrated.

No-bake honey peanut bars: Ingredients: Honey, reduced-fat peanut butter, soy grits, and vanilla. Mix equal parts (8 oz. of each for an 8" x 12" pan) of honey and reduced-fat peanut butter until creamy. The honey and peanut butter can be heated in the microwave to speed up the mixing process. Add 1 to 2 tsp. of vanilla extract. Pour into pan. Slowly stir in soy grits, folding until there are no dry grits left (about 2 cups for an 8" x 12" pan). 1 to 2 tbsp. of water or applesauce can be added while mixing if you accidentally add too many grits. Smooth out into pan. Chill in refrigerator or freezer. Cut into bars and serve.

Each bar contains 210 calories, 5 g of fat, 27 g of carbohydrates (16 g of sugar, 4 g of fiber), and 14 g of protein (12 g soy protein).

Options: Add raisins, quick oats, or dried cereal for an added crunch. Flavor with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and/or imitation almond extract (before adding soy grits).

Oven-baked chocolate almond brownie bars


1 cup whole wheat flour

2 cups soy grits

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup quick oats or 1 cup cooked brown

rice (optional)

1/2 cup reduced-fat chocolate chips (optional)

3 heaping tbsp. reduced-fat peanut butter.

4 oz. honey

1 tbsp. almond extract

1 cup natural applesauce

2 egg whites

Heat oven to 350°F and spray an 8" x 12" pan with nonfat cooking spray. Mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients (including peanut butter) in separate bowls. Slowly stir dry ingredients into wet ones. If you find the mixture too dry, add a few tbsp. of water or applesauce. Spread butter into pan and smooth out evenly. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, or until a fork stuck in the center comes out clean. Makes 14 to 16 bars. Each bar contains approximately 280 calories, 4 g of fat, 42 g of carbohydrates (18 g of sugar, 5 g of fiber) and 18 g of protein (12 g of soy protein). The oven-baked bars contain all of the essential amino acids.

Using the basic recipe above, it's possible to make a wide variety of protein bars by changing only a few ingredients. Add ground coffee to create a mocha bar. Omit the almond extract and add frozen or fresh strawberries for a chocolate J, covered strawberry bar. Substitute a j few tbsp. of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger for the cocoa, add shredded carrot, dried cranberries and raisins for a carrot cake bar. Omit the cocoa and add 3 or 4 overly ripe bananas and 1/2 cup of nuts or granola for banana nut bars. Use your imagination and create your own ultimate bar.

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