How to get enough protein as a vegetarian/vegan - and why.

"Bro, you need to eat meat to really get your muscles to grow!"

I think it's safe to say that every single gym-goer with a vegetarian or vegan (-based) diet has heard a sentence like that one before (or at least one that resembles that sentence). If you know absolutely nothing about nutrition, it's easy to say that. 

Let's be brutally honest. Yes, meat/fish/poultry is an extremely great source of protein mainly because of the complete amino acid profile of these proteins. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and we need every 21 types of amino acids to make proteins. Humans, however, only need to ingest 8 amino acids we cannot produce on our own. Which means, we need to get it from our diet. Animal protein almost always has all the amino acids and so our body can function properly. 

But do we need the best source of protein when that same source is endangering your health and is hurting the planet? Let me be clear on one thing before I say what I have to say: I am not judging anyone and I am absolutely not forcing you and your family to give up your precious Thanksgiving turkey. I risk sounding like a hippie at the moment, but I think more people involved in sports have to say this. 

We have to eat less meat. And quite a lot less. Why?

Did you know that eating meat greatly increases your risk of cardiovascular diseases?  Did you know that to eat a single burger (beef), more than a large swimming pool worth of water is used to create that single burger? Did you know that that same large swimming pool worth of water is enough to produce at least a hundredfold worth of vegan protein sources? Did you know that the biggest polluter of our atmosphere is the livestock industry?  And no, I'm broke as can be so Montsanto or Unilever or whatever haven't written me a check to be critical about meat. 

I think it's time we look at the fitness game and realise that we too must adapt to changing times. Just like we (re-)invent exercises and (re)develop machines to make us better and faster athletes, we must also develop our diet habits. 

So okay, green hippie rant over. Let's get to the tips part

Where do you get your protein sources as a vegetarian? And as a vegan? 

The image above these questions answer a substantial part for all vegetarians: dairy products. Milk, cheese, quarck, cottage cheese and any other dairy products have a great deal of proteins. Between 10 and 30 grams of proteins per 100 grams of the given product.

In addition to dairy products, vegetarians and vegans can both turn to meat replacements by brands such as Valess and Vivera, which offer the products displayed below. They taste pretty great if I may say so myself. Plus, I've fed my friends these products and most of them don't realise these products are meat-free until I tell them they are. And I get a good laugh :)

Quorn meat-free products. Warning: not all of them are vegan as some have egg protein in them.

Quorn meat-free products. Warning: not all of them are vegan as some have egg protein in them.

Vivera meat-free products. Warning: not all of them are vegan as some have egg protein in them.

Vivera meat-free products. Warning: not all of them are vegan as some have egg protein in them. to order vegan protein blends! to order vegan protein blends!

Vegetarian and vegan protein supplements are also an amazing way to greatly increase your protein intake. Often it is even a necessity if you are in a cutting phase of your training. Especially males, who tend to need a whole lot more of proteins than females to keep their athletic performance to a maximum. Whey protein (milk based) or vegan protein blends (100% plant based) are your best bets. Try the products from the My Protein range, I've tried them and they all taste amazing.

Right in your face, how to survive as a vegan athlete

Right in your face, how to survive as a vegan athlete

Lastly, absolutely 100% plant based protein sources are an absolute must to complete any vegetarian diet. And vegans solely depend on vegan protein sources to survive. It might require more planning, but I've had a vegan diet for a month or so (as a challenge) and it is definitely possible. 

So what does a vegan mainly need to get most proteins in their diet? 

  • Any kind of beans or peas provide a massive amount of protein
  • Any kind of seeds or nuts are also quite popular
  • Most vegetables contain some amount of protein, but some of them (like broccoli or peas) contain a whole lot of it
  • Any soy-based product is amazing

Just look at the image and you'll know how much protein each product contains. 




Lately I've been looking at this one guy in particular who makes his athlete career work as a Vegan: Nimai Delgado, an IFBB pro fitness athlete. Guys and girls like this make you see the effect a vegan diet has on you. And as you can see, it works. It works quite well. It works so well it makes me want to follow through on adopting a vegan lifestyle. 

Though veganism and vegetarianism is quite inspiring, the bottom line is and always will be to eat less meat. You don't have to quit meat to be healthy. Just try doing two vegetarian days a week and you will already benefit enormously from it. Try a Meatless Monday and a Soy-only Sunday. Both sound quite catchy, don't they?