I reintroduced animal protein into my diet three years ago, after being vegan for three years and vegetarian for about 10 years before that. Learning to cook these foods again felt foreign to me. Let’s just say that there were many ups and downs in the kitchen, from burning eggs on my stovetop to having zero idea how long to cook a chicken breast in the oven. After a bit of time, though, I’ve come a long way.

Even though I eat animal protein, I still eat a lot of plant protein. I’m a huge fan of black beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, plant-based protein powders, and leafy greens (one cup of spinach packs about 7 grams of protein!), just to name a few. But I find that my body responds best to variety.

While I’ll eat plant-based at least half of the week, I also incorporate fish, eggs, poultry, and red meat when my body is craving it. But that doesn’t mean I go crazy. I’m still smart about how I eat, and focus on eating nutritious foods. Needless to say, though, it’s been an adjustment.

Livin’ a label-free life

What I’ve learned the most from transitioning away from the vegan label and incorporating more variety is that the label keeps a lot of us from listening to our internal cues. Our body knows when it’s hungry and what it needs for fuel. It also knows when it’s had enough.

The issue I had with attaching myself to a label is that I was disconnecting myself from my hunger cues. I’d gotten myself to the point where I could no longer tell what I needed and when I needed it.

Once I switched over to the “label-free life,” as I like to call it, it took me a while to get used to having food freedom again and learning to listen to my body. Now I’m in a place where I pretty much always know how much protein my body needs and what type. I’m an active person, so sweating bullets in a hot yoga class is a daily staple for me. And that means that on most days I need a lot of protein!

Thanks to all that I’ve learned from reincorporating animal protein back into my life, living label-free, and food blogging for years, I’ve put together a guide to getting your protein — the nutritious and balanced way.  

A simple guide to packing in protein

1. Figure out how many grams of protein your body thrives off of consuming in a day

The standard rule of thumb is 0.36 grams per pound for a (mostly sedentary) person. But I don’t like to go by these “standards” because we all have different activity levels and body types. It also depends on whether you’re trying to build muscle, gain weight, or lose weight.

Either listen to your body’s internal cues and play around with different grams of protein to see what feels good to you, or consult a nutritionist or functional medicine doctor to get an expert’s advice on what will be best for YOU. Just remember, all of our bodies are different!

2. Start each day with a loaded, low-glycemic smoothie

I love packing in the protein in my morning smoothie. The problem is that they can often be filled with fruits or sweetened nut milks to the point where they’re no longer healthy.

I like to keep mine nice and simple. I blend a scoop of plant-based protein powder (my favorite brand right now is Ancient Nutrition by Dr. Axe, and I also love Vega’s protein powders), a handful of greens, a tablespoon of nut butter, a cup of nut milk, and lots of ice. Sometimes I add 1/4 cup of blueberries if I’m in the mood for fruit.

3. Once or twice a week, go for the red meat… only if you like it

I don’t usually tell people how much or how little red meat to eat, because in many ways, our body’s assimilation of red meat depends on our blood type, activity level, and even our taste buds.

Speaking for myself, I do my best when I’m eating red meat once or twice a week. My blood type is O-negative, and us O blood types are made to thrive off of red meat! Right after I stopped being vegan, I went full throttle on the red meat, but these days I’ve found that a small amount — about 4 ounces — once or twice a week gives my body that jolt and fuel it needs.

4. Switch it up and have fun with the variety!

I love getting a portion of my protein intake from plant-based sources and another portion from animal-based sources. I love having the variety. Sometimes I lean more toward plant-based proteins, and other times I know when my body is giving me signals to go for the meat, poultry, or eggs.

Takeaway

Whatever you choose to eat and fuel your body with, my top tip is to ENJOY it! Enjoying what we put into our mouths is the most important thing we can do for our health and the biggest gift we can give ourselves. If you ever feel like you need more fuel for your active life, never stop pursuing the protein options. There are so many, and so much room to find the ones you love.


Jordan Younger

Jordan Younger is the blogger behind the #realness-based wellness and lifestyle blog The Balanced Blonde. Beyond the blog, she’s the creator of the “Soul on Fire” podcast, where real conversations meet wellness, spirituality, high vibes, and authenticity. Jordan is also the author of the eating disorder recovery memoir “Breaking Vegan” and the “Soul on Fire Yoga” e-book. Find her on Instagram.