As a plant-based athlete, I get asked the same question over and over: “Where do you get your protein?” I have to say, I actually asked that question before I adopted the plant-based lifestyle. It is a valid question for those of you who aren’t familiar with a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Vegans, vegetarians and athletes have to pay close attention to protein sources. With a little education and a balanced diet, you too can incorporate plant proteins in your nutrition plan.
Beans. One of my staples! Beans are one of the longest cultivated plants in history. Beans were an important source of protein throughout Old and New World history, and still are today. Beans are extremely beneficial to all diets because they are high in complex carbs, protein and dietary fiber. Also, they are low in sodium, fat, calories and are completely cholesterol free. One cup has 15 grams of protein. They are great in salads, soups, chili and veggie burgers. Pair beans up with rice to have a complete protein.
Dark leafy greens. Believe it or not, dark leafy greens are rich in proteins among other great vitamin and minerals. A few of my favorites are kale, romaine, broccoli and spinach. Can you believe 100 calories of kale contains 11 grams of protein? Try adding a variety in your meals by salads, juicing, raw or lightly steamed.
Hemp seeds. Hemp seeds have the most complete bioavailable protein in the vegetable world next to spirulina. Hemp protein contains 21 amino acids, including the nine amino acids that the body cannot produce. Three tablespoons have 16 grams of protein. You can add this to salads, smoothies, cereals and even get it in a protein powder form. It is also great in omega-6 and omega-3s.
Spirulina. This blue-green algae has a similar makeup to sea vegetables such as kelp, nori, dulse and chlorella. It is a very easily digestible protein and has greater nutrient bioavailability. It is 70 percent protein by weight with all the essential amino acids plus other important phytonutrients. It is also great for detoxing the body. The recommended dose is three to six grams a day. You can take it in a pill or powder form. I like to take it with my green juice or with a meal.
Quinoa. This one is almost always mistaken as a grain when in fact it is a close relative to spinach and beets. Quinoa is actually a seed. This grain, like seed, packs 14 gram of protein per cup and seven grams of fiber. The protein in quinoa is considered to be a complete protein due to the presence of all eight essential amino acids necessary for tissue development in humans. It is high in lysine, cystine, methionine. This super food is also great for people who have a gluten sensitivity. You can have this for breakfast in place instead of oatmeal or it makes a great side dish in place of brown rice.
Lentils. Being part of the legume family, lentils have been around for about 13,000 years. With about 30 percent of their calories coming from protein, lentils have the third highest levels of protein by weight than any other legume or nut, after soybean and hemp. Lentils provide an excellent amount of B vitamins, fiber, folate, iron and magnesium. Per cup, lentils provide 17 gram of protein and 15 grams of fiber. It is delish in a soup or sprinkled cold on a salad.
Tempeh. A soy product that is made from a fermenting process that binds soybeans into a cake form. Tempeh holds its retention of the whole bean to give it a higher protein, fiber and vitamins like calcium and B12. It has a firm texture that is used to make “faux” meat. Has a unique taste that is completely different from tofu. From mock chicken salad to burgers and stir frys, this plant protein can be used in hundreds of recipes. Check out the protein content: 4 oz. has 24 grams of protein.
Seitan. This is also great as a “meat” substitute but not for people with gluten sensitivities. Seitan is made from wheat. It is derived from the protein portion of wheat. You will hear some people refer to it as “wheat meat.” It is very high in protein. A 4 oz. piece has 24 grams of protein.
Plant protein powders. Move over whey; plant powders are taking over. For those of you who can’t or don’t do whey, now you have many plant protein powders to choose from— hemp, brown rice, yellow pea, soy or a plant blend of all of these. Protein in the powder form is great for athletes on the go. You can add it to water, mix it in a smoothie or make your favorite protein bars. Powders are fast and easily digestible. One scoop of plant protein has 15-20 grams of protein.
Plant Protein Chart
Beans: 15 grams/1 cup
Dark leafy greens: 5-11 grams/100 calories
Hemp seeds: 16 grams/3 tablespoons
Spirulina: 6 grams/10 grams per pill, capsules or powder
Quinoa: 14 grams/1 cup
Lentils: 17 grams/1 cup
Tempeh: 24 grams/4 oz
Seitan: 24 grams/ 4 oz
Plant protein powders: 15-20 grams/per scoop