Shortly before the holidays, something inside of me snapped. I can't pinpoint the exact moment when it happened, but one day, I decided to start getting very serious about fitness. For almost a year prior, I'd work out maybe a couple of times a month (if that), but given the choice between becoming one with the couch or running on a treadmill, I'd almost always choose the former, and what's worse is that I'd eat total rubbish while in my horizontal state: I was drinking almost nightly, eating way too many processed foods and sugar and weighed the most I ever had in my life. The tipping point was probably when, after meeting with a personal trainer for a story, he told me, verbatim, "Your body fat percentage is pretty high, young lady." Not only did I feel like I was being scolded, but I also knew that I was actually deserving of it. I immediately started researching the best fat-loss exercises (cardio, resistance training and HIIT) and meal plans for toning my body, which included eating a protein with every meal, lots of veggies and whole grains. I started finally losing weight and am currently in the best shape of my life. But aside from the physique aspect, one surprising side effect of this new lifestyle was that I noticed my brows and hair were growing insanely fast.
You might remember my lob saga: I cut my hair shoulder-length and immediately missed the length, so I started wearing extensions daily. But after the significant uptick in protein in my diet, my hair started gaining inches before my eyes, and I no longer needed to wear someone else's hair. One day, I walked into a meeting with my hair straightened, no extensions in, and senior editor Hallie Gould asked me, "Is your hair actually that long? What the fuck?" It was hysterical, but in reality, I was just as shocked as she was. See the transformation below.
On average, hair grows about half-an-inch in one month. It's been about seven months since I cut my hair, and I've definitely gained more than three and a half inches. I even found myself not having to fill in my brows as much, whereas before, I was spending five or so minutes trying to disguise patchiness. Curious to know more about how my diet was affecting my hair, I turned to science.
"Hair grows from the hair bulb (root), where the cells group together to form a keratin known as hair protein," says Marina Perkovic, master stylist and scalp treatment expert at Alessandro Mangerini. "The hair bulb/follicle is surrounded by and feeds off of tiny blood vessels while it grows—hence any lack of nutrients or hormonal imbalance will affect our hair growth and health." Therefore, by eating protein (which is what your hair—and skin and nails— is composed largely of), you're helping your strands grow longer and stronger.
Additionally, my pizza- and wine-heavy diet was clearly an incriminating source of my sparse brows and stagnant hair growth. According to a report in Dermatology Practical & Conceptual, the absence of iron, zinc, niacin, fatty acids, selenium, folic acid, antioxidants, biotin, protein and vitamins A, D and E can lead to poor hair health and hair loss. Being particularly low in one or a few may pinpoint why your hair isn't reaching its full potential.
My main sources of protein have been shakes made of unsweetened almond milk and Olly protein powder, eggs, avocados, chicken and natural peanut or almond butter. If you're a vegetarian or vegan and want to get more protein into your diet (or you just want a quick fix), try some of the below products.
Protein powder isn't for everyone, so if you'd rather have a more refreshing drink, WOW is about to be your new go-to water. There are a whopping 20 grams of protein in one can, 99 calories, no fat or sugar!
This seriously delicious plant-based powder (which side note: was co-Founded by Elle Macpherson) can be mixed with any milk for a creamy and smooth shake. I like to mix with almond milk and also add blueberries, chia seeds, a tablespoon of almond butter, and spinach when I want to make it more of a meal replacement.
Perfect for a natural pick-me-up, this zesty tasting protein is blended with organic baobab– to reduce tiredness and boost the immune system.
This organic, all-in-one protein shake combines plant-based protein from organic pea, chia, hemp and quinoa. Each serving also contains two full servings of fruits and veggies to see you through the day.
Another one of my favourite powders is this gluten-free, plant-based offering from fan-favourite brand Vega One. It blends seamlessly into smoothies and shakes, adding just the right amount of sweetness and flavour (it's all-natural, no sugar added).
Grass-fed and non-GMO, this flavour-free collagen powder can be stirred into anything: water, coffee, soup—you name it. On top of promoting healthy hair, skin and nails, it also supports joint health.
Dairy-free and delicious, these protein boosters are packed with 12 grams of plant-based protein and taste like dessert without any of the bad ingredients.
Coffee with a side of protein? Yes, please. These lactose-free drinks are deliciously packed with 20 grams of protein and only three grams of sugar. They've also got BCAAs and electrolytes, just the recovery your body needs after a hard workout.
One thing to keep in mind with protein, though: While protein breaks down slower than carbs and keeps you feeling fuller for a longer period of time, one study found that participants who ate more than 20% protein in their everyday diet were more likely to gain more than 10% of their body weight compared to people whose diets contained less than 15% protein. Plus, if your protein intake consists largely of fatty meats, cheeses and sugary drinks, you're obviously on a path to weight gain more so than eating low-sugar, lean, or plant-based protein.
Up next: A nutritionist shares more beneficial foods for hair growth.