Never miss out on protein again. This list of the top 8 sources of vegan and vegetarian protein sources for athletes features recipes showcasing how to use each of these foods in your fueling routine.
I was a vegetarian before I was a marathon runner. For me, fueling with plant-based proteins has always been the norm. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized that many athletes aren’t all that familiar with vegan proteins. With the rise in popularity of plant-based lifestyles, I’ve been fielding many questions about the benefits (and drawbacks) of plant-based proteins.
Many active people are curious (and dare I say skeptical) if they can get enough protein from plant sources to maintain their fitness level, but there are plenty of reasons that athletes might turn to a plant-based diet, including ethical, environmental and the obvious health-related benefits .
Studies have shown that consuming a plant-based diet may reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 Diabetes. That’s probably not surprising since a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains is full of ton of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants.
That said, anyone who chooses to follow a vegan diet will also need to be more mindful about certain nutrients, like iron, B12, zinc, vitamin D and calcium. [Read about vegan sources of B12 and meatless sources of iron.]
That’s why I’m happy to share some info on the best plant-based proteins for athletes. The list provides as much healthy protein as a meat-based diet, and it even includes plenty of healthy and quick recipes for vegan and vegetarian athletes to help fuel your workouts and achieve all of your performance goals.
1. Soy Products
When you hear ‘soy’, you probably think of tofu. But soy is the base of so many other products, like tofu, tempeh, edamame and soy milk (Read: Everything You Need To Know About Tofu). Soy is one of the few vegan protein sources that is considered a high-quality protein, meaning that has all nine essential amino acids that the body cannot make.
Tofu and tempeh don’t have strong flavors on their own, so they will easily take on the flavors of any marinade. Both a quarter of a block of tofu and a ½ cup of shelled edamame have about 9 grams of protein. Pick up a bag of frozen edamame from any supermarket to throw in the microwave and enjoy as a quick recovery snack after an intense workout. Or try one of the many tofu or tempeh recipes below.
- Butter Lettuce Salad with Tofu Croutons
- 17 Tofu Recipes For Every Meal of The Day
- Vegan Tempeh Burger
- BBQ Tempeh Rice Bowl
- 14 Tempeh Recipes
This pseudograin (it’s actually a seed) is one of the only complete plant proteins, besides soy. In other words, it’s a rare meatless protein source that contains all 9 essential amino acids. With a mild, nutty flavor, quinoa is a gluten-free alternative to other grains.
One cup of cooked quinoa offers about 8 grams of protein, and you can use it in salads, soups or just about grain bowls. Here are some of my favorite recipes with quinoa.
- Vegan Sushi Quinoa Bowl
- Green Egg and Quinoa Muffins
- Black Bean & Quinoa Salad with Honey Lime Dressing
Made from wheat gluten, seitan resembles the texture of ground beef or chicken. Because of that, it’s often the base for meatless burgers or nuggetst. It has a savory umami taste, like mushrooms, but it will easily take on the flavor of the sauces and spices. And the amazing thing is seitan has 21 grams of protein in just a 1/3 cup.
I don’t like to pick favorite among plant-based proteins, but lentils are very high on the list (okay, they are my favorite, but don’t tell the others). There are so many varieties, like brown, red and black, and they are chock full of protein. A serving of lentils is 1/4 cup dry, which equals about 3/4cup cooked and has 13 grams of protein– more than you’ll find in many other plants.
And lentils are also a great substitute for meat in dishes like tacos, meatballs or burgers, or they can serve as the base for a grain bowl. Here are some of my favorite lentil recipes.
Beans are a staple for plant-based eaters, since they provide a wide variety of nutrients in a small package. Specifically, you get carbs, protein, fiber and other vitamins and minerals from beans. Not to mention that you can buy them in a can, so you just need to open, rinse and eat. Plus, they are incredibly affordable and come in so many varieties.
Whether you like black beans, chickpeas, white beans, kidney beans or some other sort of bean, these are great sources of protein in the vegan diet. You’ll get about 8 grams of protein per 1/2 cup, and if you need some bean inspiration, here are some of my favorite recipes.
You may not think of oats as a source of protein, but whole grains have more protein than you may think. A 1/2 cup of dry oat makes 1 cup of oatmeal with 5 grams of protein. Although they might not be as high in protein as other items on the list, oats are easy to incorporate into your diet.
Try a bowl of oatmeal with berries, nut butter and milk after a tough workout or throw oats into a smoothie. If you like to make your own homemade breakfast or snacks, try these simple recipes.
These green beans are often overlooked because they aren’t always the most appealing. But hear me out, peas are a great source of plant-based protein. A 2/3 cup serving has 5 grams of protein, and you can keep frozen peas on hand to make soup or throw into a stir-fry. I love to mash up peas with avocado for a little added protein. Then put the mixture on toast with a squeeze of lemon juice.
8. Hemp Seeds
This nutritionally dense seed is full of iron, zinc, magnesium and omega-3s. Try sprinkling some on avocado toast or a salad, or even putting a couple scoops of hemp powder into a smoothie or bowl of oatmeal. A 3-tablespoon serving will provides 10 grams of protein.