Protein for the Vegan, Protein for the Vegetarian
Written by Luke Tan
Created Thursday, 16 May 2013
Whether it is because you have been brought up as one, you hate the taste and texture of meat or perhaps, you are one for ethical reasons. You are a vegetarian/ vegan.
Assuming that you are a vegetarian/ vegan consuming whole and natural plant based products, your vegetarian diet will be high in carbohydrates and fibre. The carbohydrates provide a great energy source for training while the fibre in your diet helps with the body’s detoxification process. Though high in carbohydrates, fibre and other micronutrients, the vegetarian/ vegan diet often lacks protein content.
Since protein is the one of the main macronutrients that facilitates muscle growth, 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 achieve muscle-building goals.
Top vegetarian sources of protein
Legumes (also known as pulses) are a group of plant foods that contain 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 beans, red beans, lima beans, etc.) and peas. A cup of cooked legumes would yield approximately 13-18 grams of protein.
‘An inconvenient truth’
As legumes contain certain fibres and sugars that only get ingested in the gut instead of the small intestine, consumption of legumes has been associated to 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 (Lentils do not need to be soaked).
Soy is one of nature’s best sources of protein. Since soy is a grain that is quite often genetically modified, opt for organic and GMO free. Tempeh, natto (fermented soy beans), edamame beans, tofu are some examples of soy products.
Protein content (approximate):
- 125 grams of Tempeh – 25 grams of protein
- 1 cup of Edamame beans – 16 grams of protein
- 125 gram of Firm Tofu – 20 grams of protein
Note: Some people are allergic to soy products. Check to see if you are allergic to it. There has also been research stating that soy tends to have an estrogenic effect on some people. Over consumption could lead to accumulation of fat and a reduction of testosterone. Testosterone is a hormone that aids in muscle building. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate will be, thus affecting your body’s overall fat burning capacity.
As soy milk is highly refined and processed, try to limit consumption. Almond, oat, rice milk would be better alternatives.
Not only do grains provide great source of carbohydrates for energy, they are also a good source of protein.
- 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
Note: 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 high on the allergenic scale and is one of the main sources of food insensitivities and intolerances.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are an alternate protein source. They provide the ‘good fats’ that your body needs for brain and cell development. Nuts and seeds also help induce a feeling of satiety (feeling full).
- ¼ cup of raw almonds – 6 grams of protein
- ¼ cup of walnuts – 5 grams of protein
- 2 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
Note: Chia seed & Flaxseed
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.
- Rice/ Pea/ Soy Protein Isolate –
- Great alternative to whey protein
- Shaken, stirred or mixed, they provide a convenient protein boost to your diet
- Each serve (depends on scoop size) contains approximately 25-30 grams of protein
- Branched Chained Amino Acids (BCAA) – Taken pre, intra and post workout
- Amino Acid supplements – Taken mid meal to supplement protein intake
- Lysine supplements - Lysine is an essential amino acid that is often lacking in most plant based foods (Lysine content is the highest in soy based food, lentils and legumes)
Being a vegetarian/vegan and putting on muscle
Since the body priority is to achieve a state of homeostasis (remaining the same or ‘normal’), putting on muscle mass requires you to consume a substantial amount of protein and calories for muscle growth. To calculate:
Protein needed (Approximate)
(1g to 3g) x Bodyweight (in kg)
= Amount of protein in grams needed per day.
The keys to putting on lean muscle mass on a vegetarian/ vegan diet:
- Volume and variety of foods would be ideal
- Frequency of meals (5-7 meals a day – includes protein shakes/ supplements)
- Limit processed food (veggie patties/ veggie sausages etc.) if you can and consume mainly whole and natural foods. However if you do, try to opt for a gluten/ wheat free alternative
- Go gluten free
- Keep your caloric intake up
Luke Tan is a Level 3 Strength and Conditioning/Mindset coach for Australian Strength Performance and a vegan bodybuilder.
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