Eating for Performance

It all began when I started feeling nauseous during my workouts. Initially, I thought it was because I pushed myself too hard. It was a tough workout after all. So was the next one. And the next. And the next. After a while, nausea was becoming the standard for every workout.

My first thought was: “Am I eating enough?”


Well, a typical breakfast for me would be half an avocado with peanut butter (plus/minus caramel jam) on sour dough toast, a banana, and a double shot coffee with milk and sugar. It sounds enough.

My second thought was: “Am I eating too close to my workout?”

I generally have breakfast before sending the kids to school. By the time I get to my workout class, it is about three hours after breakfast. That sounds okay, too.

And then I had a chat with Eat It Real who told me, “It sounds like you’re low on protein.”


When I thought about everything I typically eat in a day, I realised she was right. The only protein I have for breakfast is peanut butter and the milk I add to my coffee. I love pasta or sandwiches for lunch and fruit for snack (or chocolate and cake). Dinner is also pretty light on protein because I generally opt for veggies and only a few pieces of meat in a Chinese stir-fry. When we go out to eat, I order stuff like clay pot loh shu fun.


Carbs, carbs and more carbs.

How Much Protein Do We Need?

According to Harvard Health, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. However, this is only the minimum required to prevent deficiency. For optimal health, we should be eating more than the RDA. How much more you require depends on your age, activity level, body composition, what your goals are, and your general health.

There is a protein intake calculator on Body Building that will help you calculate how much protein you need on a daily basis. Using the calculator, I need 123 grams to maintain my current state. If I want build muscle, I need to increase it to 161 grams. Based on a regular day, using My Fitness Pal to calculate, I eat about 80 to 90 grams of protein. That’s more than the RDA but definitely under for optimal maintenance.

Adding Protein to the Diet

Assuming I’m on a good day, I need to add at least another 30 grams of protein to my diet for maintenance, and 70 grams if I’m trying to build muscle. That’s a lot of protein. Especially because I don’t really fancy eating meat. At least, not a lot of it.

Besides adding meat to my diet – since I’m already eating about as much of it as I can tolerate – what else is high in protein? The following infographic from Daily Burn shows what 25 grams of protein looks like from different sources (although I am contesting the 17 cashews because most sources I’ve checked, including My Fitness Pal, states that one serve only gives you about 5 grams of protein):

25 grams of protein

So far, I’ve added:

  • an egg to my breakfast – 6 grams.
  • a serve of nuts – 5 grams.
  • protein powder – 16 grams.

It is still under the maintenance requirement, but it has helped bring the nausea under control when I work out.

This is the point where I should mention that there are plenty of other reasons why you might experience nausea during a workout. The answer isn’t always protein. In my case, increasing the protein content of my breakfast has made a noticeable difference to my workout. Do I even need to get it all the way up? Possibly not.

For more about exercise-induced nausea, you can check out these articles:

Protein Powders

Yes, I know, the best way to get your protein it to eat naturally through protein-rich foods. Personally, I struggle with that because I find it hard to consume a lot of high-protein foods. The food I like to eat don’t contain a lot of protein so it’s very hard to hit the protein count.

This is where protein powders can help. But how do you choose a good one? Not all protein powders are equal, so here are a few things to think about when selecting one.

Animal or Plant Source

Where does it come from – animal or plant?

Plant base are often incomplete protein sources and do not contain all the nine essential amino acids. Because of this, different plant sources need to be combined together to create a complete amino acid profile. There are a few plant sources that do provide all nine essential amino acids – pea protein is one example.

Whey is a common animal based protein source used in protein powders. Being an animal protein, it does provide all the essential amino acids. The thing to consider with whey is where it comes from. If it is from commercially raised dairy, it often contains hormones which have been shown to increase risk of type 2 diabetes and aggravate type 1 diabetes.

Flavours and Sweeteners

In an effort to make protein powders tastier to consume, many manufacturers have added flavours and sweeteners. To keep the calories down, they use artificial sweeteners. The one I see most often on ingredient labels is sucralose, but there are others, like aspartame and saccharin.

The problem with artificial sweeteners is the growing body of evidence linking negative effects with their use. In fact, there are studies that link them to the very diseases they were meant to protect us against.

accumulating evidence suggests that frequent consumers of these sugar substitutes (high-intensity sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin) may also be at increased risk of excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Swithers, SE – Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism

daily consumption of diet drinks was associated with a 36% greater risk for metabolic syndrome and a 67% increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

Nettleton, JA et al. – Diabetes Care

To understand more about the issues with artificial sweeteners, check out the article on Harvard Health.

Unsweetened Protein Powders

Unfortunately, that leaves us with the unsweetened protein powders that don’t taste so great but are better for us. The one that was recommended to me was Soluxe. They have a few variants, but the only one I’ve tried so far is the Coffee & Cacao flavour.


Soluxe is a plant-based protein powder that uses pea protein so it provides all nine essential amino acids. It is also free from artificial sweeteners so you don’t have to worry about what those might be doing to your body. If you look at the ingredients listing, it is a pretty clean protein source.


The Coffee & Cacao variant is slightly bitter. If you’re used to taking your coffee black without sugar, then this shouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, I like my coffee with sugar and milk, so I need to add my protein powder to something else. I find adding it to my oatmeal an easy way to consume it. It’s like having moccha-flavoured oatmeal.


There are other protein powders that are free from artificial sweeteners, but Soluxe appears to be one of the few that I don’t need to source from overseas. In fact, I can buy it off the shelf at my supermarket which makes it very convenient.

Moving Forward

I haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to get the rest of my protein, but I am moving in the right direction. The progress has been slow going because diet is the one thing I really struggle with. I love my carbs and there aren’t many sources of proteins that I enjoy. I don’t believe in making dietary changes I can’t sustain so I’m going to mull over this one a little more. Maybe this is sufficient and I don’t have to do any more. We will see…

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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