Protein Requirements for Vegetarian Athletes

Protein is one of the 3 key macronutrients (macronutrients being the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats that predominantly make up our food) and protein is also the primary component of our muscles.

When it comes to protein foods, it is key to ensure your diet contains an adequate amount, that these foods are also spread throughout the day, and that you include a wide variety of sources, in order to optimise the growth and function of your muscles; and this is even more important as an athlete or highly active individual. A common topic amongst plant-based eaters is if they can get enough protein in their diet, so the question here is, can athletes get enough protein from plant-based foods in order to perform at an elite level?

The answer is YES! However, it does take some care and a well-designed plan to ensure your protein needs are met to support optimal muscle growth and repair.

Vegan meals

The Vegetarian (Or Vegan) Athlete

No matter what your reason is for following a more plant-based diet (perceived health benefits, religious, ethical, or environmental reasons), as an athlete, you do need to consider you have increased requirements as compared to the general population. Taking out animal products from your diet restricts options for a primary source of protein, therefore, you may have to become more thoughtful and creative about the foods in which you choose to help reach your protein requirements using predominantly plant-based sources.

 

Plant-Based Proteins

Animal-based products are considered a complete protein, as they contain all 9 essential amino acids, which include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine (they are essential because we must obtain them through the diet). Many plant-based protein sources are lacking one or more of these essential amino acids, meaning that you need to eat a variety of plant-based proteins every day in order to obtain all 9 essential amino acids.

 

How much protein do I need?

Current data suggest that plant-based athletes should be aiming for 1.2 – 2g of protein/kg bodyweight. So for example, a 70kg athlete would need 84 – 140g of protein/day.

Below are some of the best quality protein sources for plant-based athletes:

 

Plant Based/Vegan Sources:

Firm tofu (1 cup or 100g) = 17g protein

Tempeh (1 cup or 100g) = 15g protein

TVP (1/2 cup or 50g dehydrated) = 25g protein

Black Beans (1 cup or 175g) = 14g protein

Shelled edamame (100g) = 1g protein

Sanitarium protein-enriched soy/almond milk (250mL) = 10g protein

Almonds/Peanuts (small handful or 30g) = 7g protein

Helga’s Lower Carb Bread (2 slices) = 10g protein

Red lentil pasta (1 cup cooked) = 26g protein

Plant Protein Powders (pea & brown rice or soy) = Ranges from 10g/serve to 25g/serve

Hemp seeds (2 tsp) = 7g protein

 

Vegetarian Sources:

Eggs (2 large eggs) = 16g protein

Chobani Protein Yoghurt (1 tub) = 15g protein

Cottage Cheese – reduced fat (125g or 1/2 cup) = 16g protein

Bega Country Light Cheese – 50% reduced fat (25g or 1 slice) = 9g protein

 

Chickpea broccoli pasta

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