With the increasing number of vegan clients and athletes we are training, we are also proud to introduce ASP Senior Strength Coach Luke as a competing athlete and passionate vegan! In this post, he highlights the importance of protein for vegans/vegetarian and identifies some great sources to obtain a variety of different proteins.
Whether it’s because you’ve been brought up as one, you detest the taste and texture of meat or perhaps, you are one for ethical or spiritual reasons, you are a vegetarian/vegan.
Vegetarians/vegans consume a large proportion of their calories from whole and natural plant based products, hence a typical vegetarian diet will be high in carbohydrates (mainly sugars), starches and fibres. Sugars and starches provide a great energy source for training, while the fibre in the diet helps with digestion, detoxification and sugar regulation. Just as common though, is that the vegetarian/vegan diet has an overall lower protein content.
Since protein is the one of the main macronutrients that facilitates critical bodily processes, cellular repair, muscle growth, immunity and overall health, particular attention must be paid. As opposed to a traditional meat eater’s diet where protein is readily available, a vegetarian needs to consume a greater volume and variety of protein rich food to have the necessary amino acids (basic building blocks of protein) and achieve muscle-building goals.
TOP 4 VEGETARIAN SOURCES OF PROTEIN
Legumes (also known as “pulses”) are a group of plant foods that boast a high protein content. They are also a good source of fibre, zinc, magnesium and iron. Examples of legumes include lentils, cooked beans (eg: kidney, black & red beans, chickpeas, lima beans, etc.) and peas. A cup of cooked legumes yields approximately 13-18 grams of protein.
As legumes contain certain fibres and sugars that are only ingested in the gut instead of the small intestine, consumption of legumes has been associated with bloating and gas. To prevent and minimise these occurrences, start with small amounts and slowly increase your portions. Do not mix legumes with simple sugars in the same sitting. Wait at least 30-45 minutes before consuming any fruits. Additionally, soak beans overnight and discard the water before cooking them (not necessary for lentils).
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2. Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are another alternate protein source, and provide ‘good fats’ that your body needs for brain and cell development as well. Nuts and seeds also help induce a feeling of satiety (feeling full).
Both chia and flax are a great source of omega-3s for the vegetarian. Omega-3s reduce cancer risks, promote immune function and support healthy cognitive development.
Protein content for various nuts:
- ¼ cup of raw almonds : 6 grams of protein
- ¼ cup of walnuts : 5 grams of protein
- tablespoons of natural peanut butter (unsweetened) : 8 grams of protein
- 2 tablespoons of flaxseed : 7 grams of protein
- 2 tablespoons of chia seed : 6 grams of protein
Soy is a commonly used source of protein because of it’s digestibility and high protein content. Since soy is a grain that’s quite often genetically modified, opt for organic and GMO free should you wish to consume it. Tempeh, natto (fermented soy beans), edamame beans, tofu are some examples of soy products. Soy milk, although popular is often also highly refined, processed and sugared. As such, opt for alternatives like almond, oat or rice milk.
Protein content in some soy products
- 1 cup edamame beans : 16 grams of protein
- 125 grams of tempeh : 25 grams of protein
- 125 grams of firm tofu : 20 grams of protein
Some people can be allergic to soy products, so before consuming, check to see if this includes you. There has also been substantial research showing that soy can exert an estrogenic effect on the body. Over consumption of soy could thus lead to accumulation of fat especially in the thighs, an increase in estrogen and concomitant suppression of testosterone (a muscle-building hormone). For an individual looking to build muscle and lean up, such effects can prove counterproductive to their goals.
4. Whole Grains
Not only do grains provide a great source of carbohydrates for energy, they also contain a decent amount of protein and are a great source fiber.
Protein content for some common grains:
- 1 cup of brown rice : 5 grams of protein
- 1 cup of wild rice : 6 grams of protein
- 1 cup of quinoa : 11 grams of protein
- 1 cup of oatmeal : 6 grams of protein
It’s important to note that oatmeal on its own, though gluten free, may have traces of gluten through cross contamination. If possible, always opt for gluten free choices for all foods. Gluten is highly allergenic to many individuals and is one of the common causes of food insensitivities and intolerances we face.
VEGETARIAN PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS
Given that a vegetarian/vegan’s diet often lacks protein, it is important to consider supplementing the body with these options:
Rice, Pea or Soy Protein Isolate – These can be great alternatives to whey protein. Shaken, stirred or mixed, they provide a convenient protein boost to your diet. Each serve (depending on scoop size) typically contains approximately 25-30 grams of protein.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) – BCAAs are a primary source of fuel for the muscles during a workout. They aid optimal muscle recovery and help boost testosterone levels. Taken pre, intra and post-workout, BCAAs assist the building of lean muscle and fuel the fat burning process.
Amino Acid Complex – This can constitute a range of different amino acids, which aim to counteract the lack of certain proteins due to a vegan/vegetarian diet. You can opt for these throughout the day to supplement and meet individual daily protein intake needs.
Lysine – This essential amino acid is often lacking in many plant based foods, with its highest concentrations being in soy based foods, lentils and legumes. Furthermore, lysine is also depleted during a workout. So if you are working often, and are a vegan/vegetarian, be sure to add lysine to your supplement stash.
MUSCLE GAIN AS A VEGETARIAN/VEGAN
Your body’s priority is to achieve a state of homeostasis (remaining the same or ‘normal’) as this ensures your survival. Putting on muscle mass therefore requires you to consume a substantial amount of protein and calories more than ‘normal’. To calculate the approximate amount of protein required to gain muscle mass, here’s a simple formula:
1.5 to 3.0 (depending on activity levels) x bodyweight (kg) = Protein (g) needed per day.
If you have identified that in your vegetarian diet you are not consuming the necessary amount of protein for muscle growth and recovery, now’s a good time to start! Keep in mind these few points when designing a good vegetarian/vegan diet:
Eat Frequently – Aim to have 5-7 meals per day (including protein shakes & supplements) to keep those protein levels in check.
Maintain Variety – Vary your intake of plant based proteins to ensure the body receives a full spectrum of amino acids. This also prevents you from getting tired of always eating the same types of foods.
Limit Processed Foods – Foods such as veggie patties and sausages are highly processed, sugared and contain large amounts of gluten. Aim to consume mainly whole and natural foods. However, should you opt for processed foods, choose a gluten/wheat free alternative.
Go Gluten Free – Not only are most people’s digestive tracks insensitive to gluten, long-term consumption gluten has also been shown to slow down brain synapse function, thus affecting brain cognitive abilities and reaction time.