One of the number one questions I am asked as a vegetarian is “how do you get enough protein?” Similarly, one of my pet peeves as a vegetarian is the people who INSIST that there is no way I can possibly get enough protein without eating meat. It’s fascinating to me how many people in our society assume the only source of protein available in our diets is animal meat.
The average adult requires approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. That’s kilogram, not pound. For example, a 140 lb female requires approximately 51 grams of protein per day. A 4 oz cut of sirloin steak contains somewhere around 34 grams of protein; 4 oz of chicken breast contains about the same. But let’s be honest, when was the last time you saw someone eat only 4 ounces of a steak? Needless to say, studies show that a large majority of people in our society actually consume far more protein than necessary. Protein deficiencies are not something most of us have to worry about.
Now, athletes on the other hand do require a slightly higher amount of protein to help aid in muscular growth and recovery. The amount varies based on sport, but as an endurance athlete, I’m generally looking at about 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram. Again, that only puts me at about 73 grams of protein per day. Still not terribly intimidating, yet as a vegetarian athlete, I won’t lie, I do sometimes have to be extra aware of consuming enough protein, since I choose to not eat meat.
So how do we crazy vegetarians do it? It’s easier than you would think. Here are a few of my favorite protein packed foods that I like to eat*.
1) Beans. Just a half cup of black beans or chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) contains 6 grams of protein. And let’s not forget infamous soy bean. One cup of firm tofu has 52 grams of protein. Soy has certainly been given a bad reputation as of late, with possible links of phytoestrogens and cancer. But as with any food, knowing your sources (GMO vs. organic, as one example) AND eating in moderation are key here.
2) Greens have protein in them. Yes, vegetables. If you didn’t know, now you do. Sure, veggies aren’t known for being a source containing tons of protein, but if you eat as many servings of greens a day as we often do (or at least try to), it adds up fast. Kale and spinach both clock in at 5 grams of protein per cup.
3) Eggs. Just one egg has over 6 grams of protein, not to mention a ton of vitamins. What’s more, eggs contain all of the essential amino acids, so they are considered a complete protein.
4) Grains. I know, beans and grains? The Paleo crowd is frowning at me already. But whole grains are a fantastic source of protein. 1 cup of cooked amaranth: 9 grams of protein. 1 cup of cooked quinoa: 9 grams of protein. 1 cup of cooked farro: 7 grams of protein.
5) Nuts & Seeds. I, the queen of hating peanuts, have recently discovered salted almonds (and don’t even get me started on the smoked & salted flavor. Guilty pleasure!) And those tasty treats contain about 6 grams of protein per one ounce serving (23 ish almonds). Walnuts rank in at about 4 grams per ounce, pistachios 6 grams per ounce. The list goes on and on. But let’s talk seeds, something so many people forget are jam packed full of nutrients…and protein. Pumpkin seeds have 5 grams of protein per ounce. Hemp seeds? 13 grams per 3 tablespoons. Chia seeds, one of my favorite, 5 grams per 2 tablespoons.
6) Whey protein products. To ensure my protein intake is adequate, specifically during heavy training sessions, I’ll supplement with a whey protein powder. However, it’s not always in shake form, as most people assume. The possibilities are endless when it comes to using whey protein in baking and cooking. One of my current favorites? Protein pancakes. Perhaps it’s the Vermonter in me who secretly just loves maple syrup.
My favorite brand, that I’ve already mentioned a few times on this blog in the past few months, is About Time. Their pancake protein mix is a blend of gluten free oats and buttermilk, loaded with 21g whey protein isolate, 6g fiber from flax meal and naturally sweetened with Stevia. The ingredients are real, and natural, everything on the list is pronounceable (a shocker in the supplement world. The pancakes come in two flavors: chocolate chip and cinnamon spice (my favorite!) But the best part? The mix is incredibly user friendly for those of us who aren’t too savvy in the kitchen (ahem, me): just add water.
So there you have just a handful of my favorite examples of how I’m able to eat a strict no meat diet and still consume more than enough protein for my athletic lifestyle.
*Please note, I am an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, not a registered dietician. All suggestions are based on my own diet. Please consult your physician and/or an RD to learn more about your personal needs.
This post is sponsored by FitFluential on behalf of About Time.