Our muscles are primarily made up of proteins. Our muscles need an adequate amount of protein for proper growth and function. Protein is essential for athletes to maintain their peak performance. But can you get enough protein from plant-based foods to be a champion athlete?
Certainly! You can still meet your protein requirements and support muscle growth and repair with a vegan diet.
The Vegan Athlete
There are many reasons that athletes want to eat a plant-based or vegetarian diet. Many athletes find the health advantages of eating more vegetables appealing. Some people choose to be vegetarian for ethical, religious, and environmental reasons.
It doesn't matter what reason you have for choosing a plant-based lifestyle. As an athlete, you must still consider your higher nutrient requirements. You lose a primary source of protein if you eliminate animal products and meat from your diet. Think more carefully about achieving your protein goals from plant-based sources.
Understanding the role of amino acids as building blocks of protein is crucial. There are 20 essential amino acids in the body. However, only 9 must be obtained from the diet.
Plant proteins tend to be low in essential amino acids. Animal proteins, however, contain all nine amino acids. Numerous plant foods contain complementary proteins. When eaten together, they can provide all the essential amino acids. You do not need to eat them in one meal. Your body is smart enough to take the amino acids it needs from the foods you eat as long as you take a variety of foods every day.
How Much Protein Do You Need as a Vegan Athlete?
Research has shown that athletes who are vegetarians or vegans have higher protein requirements than those who eat a mixed diet.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) states that the average person requires 0.8 grams of protein per day.
Active people have higher protein requirements. Exercise or training five days per week will require 1.2 to 1.7 g/kg. High-intensity exercise results in increased protein utilization for tissue repair and protein development. For a 150-pound individual, this translates to approximately 82-116 g of protein daily.
You also need adequate carbohydrate and overall calorie intake for the muscles to utilize the protein. Otherwise, it will force your body to break down protein for energy. But, protein should not be our body's primary energy source. It should be used to build and repair tissues.
As with all nutrients, too much protein can be stored as fat. All extra amounts of food, which is more than what your body needs, are stored as fat, regardless of their nutritional content.
What are the best vegan protein sources for athletes? The following are excellent options!
A small amount of cooked soybeans, also known as edamame, is one of the most nutritious snacks. It is rich in protein. It also contains healthy fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin K that may help reduce your risk of developing heart disease. If you are tired of eating them plain or with some salt and chili, try adding them to other recipes such as a falafel wrap or noodle dishes.
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans. It can be cut and pan-fried in the same way as tofu. It is rich in protein, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium. Tempeh has a chewy texture, is low in sodium and carbs, and has more protein and fiber than tofu. Some people find it easier to digest due to its fermented nature. You can try the Tiba tempeh marinated piece or if you prefer a stronger flavor, prepare a spicy BBQ tempeh sandwich.
Lentils are a superfood! They are versatile ingredients, commonly used in soups, burgers, and dips. You can also add them to stews and salads. They are high in iron and other nutrients. After a run, why not make a vegan lentil salad bowl? Or, if you want something more filling, try the Shepherd's Pie.
4. Peanut butter
Peanut butter is a staple in most athletes' kitchens. Peanut butter is delicious on bagels and morning toast, but it can also be used in a variety of recipes. Peanut butter is rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Peanut butter's combination of high fat, protein, carbs, and fiber makes it extremely satiating. Peanut butter is filling, which helps keep you full for quite some time. It's the perfect fuel for long runs and as a recovery food.
Chickpeas have high levels of protein and fiber and are low in fat. They also contain vitamins B6 and C, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, and zinc. A delicious frittata is a good option for vegetarians. Vegans can also stock up on Hummus. A 2016 study showed that people who eat hummus regularly have higher intakes of fiber and nutrients such as folate, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and E.
6. Chia seeds
Chia seeds also contain high amounts of protein. They are also an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega 3-fatty acid. Moreover, omega-3s promote leptin production, the satiety hormone, which prompts the body to burn fats instead of storing them.
Like other dark green vegetables, spinach contains protein and offers many other health benefits. It has iron, which runners are more likely to run low on. Combine the spinach with a good source of vitamin C for better absorption. Also, spinach has good levels of vitamin B6. One of the best recipes with spinach is a walnut pesto. Simply replace the Parmesan cheese with something vegan-friendly.
Avocados, like many fruits and vegetables, contain protein. It's not much, but it's super healthy and delicious when combined with monounsaturated fatty acids. Avocados are also rich in vitamin E, vitamin K, and potassium. They also have fiber and folic acid. Combining avocados with other foods can increase nutrient absorption, allowing the body to absorb more fat-soluble vitamins. They are delicious on toast. You may try them when making a creamy pasta sauce too.
Vegan athletes have many options for proteins that aren't from meat. MEAL PLANNING IS THE KEY!
Keep it simple. You can expand your plant-based diet by exploring new recipes.
Even the smallest steps can make the greatest impact. Start with peanut butter. You can swap one meal per week for something you know and like. You can change taco meat to beans or lentils. You can keep all your delicious sides, such as avocado, salsa, tortillas, and leafy greens, for a satisfying and nutritious meal.
As with any other athlete, vegan athletes would benefit from working with a coach to learn how to eat a variety of foods to suit their lifestyle, preferences, health, and activities. Other than nutrition, many other things can help accelerate recovery. These include yoga, sleep, massage, technology, and tools. For more information, visit Protect Recovery.