What are the best sources of protein for vegan and vegetarian athletes? This is a question that pops up time and time again. As an athlete, protein is particularly important to optimise performance, health, recovery and immune function.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 amino acids in the human body, but only nine of these are essential, meaning they must come from the diet.
One of the key things you need to consider when you’re following a vegan diet is that plants are generally low in one or more of these essential amino acids, unlike animal proteins. If you’re vegetarian and consume dairy and eggs, these will provide you with all nine of the essential amino acids.
For vegans, it’s worth noting that many plant foods provide complementary amino acids. This means one food is high in an amino acid, whereas another is low, and they complement each other.
For example, many types of beans are considered low in the amino acid methionine, whereas rice is higher. By combining beans and rice together you can improve the quality of the protein your body is consuming.
Complementary plant proteins (e.g rice and beans) don’t need to be consumed at the same meal either, you just need to make sure that you’re eating a variety of foods daily.
As cooking food improves protein digestibility, it’s also recommended that you include a variety of cooked and raw foods in your daily diet. You may wish to add in vegan protein powder, too, as it provides around 20-30g protein per serving, helping you to reach your daily needs.
Sources of protein for vegetarians
For vegetarians, good protein sources include:
- Whole eggs
- Egg whites
- Cottage cheese
- Whey protein
Sources of protein for vegans
If you’re vegan and are looking for some top sources of protein, take a look at the list below:
- ½ cup tempeh = 15g protein
- ½ cup tofu = 10g protein
- 2tbsps peanut butter = 8g protein
- ½ cup (cooked) frozen peas = 4.5g protein
- ½ cup (cooked) beans and lentils = 9g protein
- 1 cup/240ml soy milk = 8g protein
- ½ cup (cooked) quinoa = 4g protein
- ¼ cup nuts = 7g protein
- Hemp seeds = 7g protein per 2 tbsps
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