Looking to switch up your diet because a doctor said so? Or you just realized you need to be healthier because you’re not getting any younger? Whatever your reasons are, you are just in time for this article you are about to enjoy reading. Especially if you want a reassurance that switching to plant-based protein will not ruin the muscle you have already gained, because it won’t!
In this article, we will talk about all the things you need to know in deciding whether you start your journey into switching to an all-out plant-based protein diet, or even just incorporating some plant-based protein from multiple food sources into your mixed meat and vegan diet. Either way, you will make the most out of it.
What is plant-based protein?
In the simplest definition, plant-based protein refers to the protein that can be found in plant food sources. Some contain small amounts of protein while the others contain higher levels. The spotlight on plant-based protein have been there since many people have chosen to live healthier with vegan and vegetarian diet. Gone are the days when bodybuilders didn’t have a choice, it was either go vegan and lose muscles (which is just a myth), or gain muscles but with a less healthier meat diet.
So why choose plant-based protein over meat sources? It’s because of the benefits. You’ll find out more as you read along.
But if you feel the need to know more about protein in general and its function first, you can read it here.
Plant-based protein sources
With the rise of what we termed as “fake meat products” such as mock chicken and beef-less burgers, we have interchangeably used the term “plant-based protein” with these food items. Although it’s not that of a big deal since these food items are still sourced from plants, we just have to consider that whole plant foods – the ones freshly and directly sourced from the fruit and vegetable farms of gardens – also contain just as much protein.
Now that we have made the decision – or are at least considered – to switch up our usually meat-based diet, the question we have now is “where do we get these proteins?”. Especially if this is the first time we are hearing about it, and I’m assuming you’re reading this article because you certainly want to know more, it can be concerning if we just remove meat and animal-based protein in our meal plans immediately without knowing what to replace them with.
Here’s an exhaustive list of plant foods that give you high levels of protein, in alphabetical order (because we like it tidy):
Amaranth and Quinoa. A little trivia about these two, they are often referred to as ancient and gluten-free grains as they do not grow from grasses as other cereal grains do. That is why they are referred to as “pseudo cereals”.
But like grains, they can be prepared and/or ground into flours. Amaranth and quinoa have the ability to provide 8-9 grams of protein per cooked cup of 185 grams. More than protein, the two also are good sources of complex carbs, iron, fiber, phosphorus, manganese and magnesium.
Beans. Most varieties of beans such as kidney, black and pinto beans contain high amount of protein per serving. Even chickpeas, which is also known as garbanzo beans, have high protein content.
Most varieties can contain of about 15 grams of protein per cooked cup of 170 grams. Several studies have shown that rich beans diet can help manage blood sugar, decrease cholesterol and reduce belly fat. More than its usual protein content, such varieties of beans also are good sources of folate, phosphorus, potassium, complex carbs, iron, fiber and other beneficial plant compounds.
Chia seeds. Derived from the Salvia Hispanica plant, chia seeds are a native of Mexico and Guatemala. These seeds are said to be very versatile because of their mild taste and ability to absorb water which then forms a gel-like substance.
An ounce of these seeds (28 grams) can already provide 5 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber. More than that, they also contain high levels of iron, calcium, selenium and magnesium, even omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. They are an easy addition to a variety of recipes such as smoothies and baked goods.
Ezekiel bread. Made from organic, sprouted bread and legumes including wheat, millet, barley, spelt, soybeans and lentils, just two slices of Ezekiel bread can already contain 8 grams of protein, more than what other types of bread contain.
Sprouting grains, the main component of this type of bread, can boost the content of vitamins C and E, beta carotene, folate and soluble fiber. It also slightly reduces gluten and in turn improve digestion. More than that, when combined with legumes, sprouting grains improves the bread’s amino acid profile (specifically lysine) which helps boost overall protein quality.
Green peas. By just cooking a cup of 160 grams, green peas contain nearly 9 grams of protein, slightly more than what a cup (237 ml) of dairy milk can give you. More than that, green peas already cover more than 25% of your daily fiber, thiamine, manganese, folate, and vitamins A, C, and K needs.
This plant food source is also a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and several B vitamins. You can put peas in several recipes such as pea-and-basil-stuffed ravioli and pea-and-avocado guacamole.
Hemp seeds. Just a little warning if you are very conservative, hemp seeds come from the Cannabis sativa plant (yes, you read it right), the same family as the cannabis plant. Already maligned for belonging in the same family, what most of us didn’t know is that hemp seeds only contain trace amounts of the same compound that produces the psychoactive effects of cannabis.
Not as well-known as the other seeds, hemp seeds contain 9 grams of protein in each 3-tablespoon serving (30 grams). These seeds also are high-level sources of magnesium, iron, calcium, zinc and selenium. More than that, they are also good sources of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids considered optimal for human health.
Several studies have indicated that fats found in hemp seeds may have the capacity to reduce
inflammation and alleviate particular symptoms of menopause, premenstrual syndrome and certain skin conditions.
To know more about fats and why we need them, you can read about it here.
Lentils. With just a cooked cup of 198 grams, lentils already contain a whopping 18 grams of protein. It is also a great source of fiber, a cooked cup of 198 grams already provides over half of your recommended daily fiber intake. This type of fiber is said to feed the good bacteria in our colon and in turn promote a healthier gut. Lentils also reduce chances of diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer and excess body weight.
Furthermore, lentils are rich in manganese, iron, folate, antioxidants and other health-promoting plant compounds.
Mycoprotein. It is derived from Fusarium Venenatum, a type of fungus. Mycoprotein is often used to produce meat substitutes such as veggie burgers, cutlets, fillets and patties.
Most mycoprotein contain 15-16 grams of protein per 3.5 ounce (100 grams) serving, with 5-8 grams of fiber. We just gave to be aware that some products made from mycoprotein may contain egg whites. If you’re following a strict vegan diet or allergic to eggs, make sure to check the label carefully.
Nutritional Yeast. A popular ingredient of dishes such as mashed potatoes and scrambled tofu because of its cheesy flavor, nutritional yeast contains 8 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber for every half ounce (16 grams). It can also be sprinkled on top of different pasta dishes or a topping on popcorns.
Fortified nutritional yeast is also a great source of magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper and all the B-vitamins. Get to know all of them here.
Nuts. An ounce (28 grams) of nuts, depending on the variety, already contains 5-7 grams of protein. They are also great sources of healthy fats and fiber, with calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, certain B vitamins and vitamin E. You might want to know why we need this latter vitamin here.
When choosing which nuts to buy at the grocery store, it is best to reach for unblanched and raw versions whenever possible because blanching and roasting can reduce and damage the nutrients in nuts.
Oats. Just half a cup (40 grams) of dry oats already provides approximately 5 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. Oats are also a source of magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and folate. They are good substitute for rice as they contain higher quality protein than other consumed grains. They can be also used for baking if ground into flour.
Protein-rich veggies. Even if all fruits and vegetables contain protein, some have more protein content than others. High-protein vegetables include broccoli, spinach, asparagus, potatoes, sweet potatoes, artichokes and Brussel sprouts. A cooked cup can contain 4-5 grams of protein. Sweet corn, technically a grain, has the same content as these vegetables.
Seitan. Probably one of the most popular protein sources for vegans and vegetarians, seitan closely resembles the look and texture of cooked meat hence it is termed “wheat meat”. For every 3.5 ounces (100 grams), Seitan contains 25 grams of protein – making it the richest plant protein source available.
It also a rich source of selenium and contains little amounts of calcium, phosphorus and iron. This meat alternative can be found in the refrigerated section of grocery and health food stores.
The only possible downside about seitan is that it is made from gluten, the main protein in wheat. If you have a gluten-related disorder, this has to be avoided.
Soy Milk. A great alternative to dairy milk for those avoiding it, soy milk is made from soybeans containing 6 grams of protein for every cup (244 ml). More than that, it is also a source of calcium and vitamins D and B12.
Spelt and Teff. Both belonging to the ancient grains category like amaranth and quinoa, spelt is a type of wheat with gluten while teff is from an annual grass that is gluten-free. Combined in cooked cup of 250 grams, spelt and teff provide 10-11 grams of protein – the highest in all other ancient grains. More than protein, both are also excellent sources of complex carbs, iron, fiber, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc and B-vitamins.
Spirulina. Considered as a nutritional powerhouse, this blue-green alga provides 8 grams of protein for every 2-tablespoon (14 gram) serving. Furthermore, it already covers 22% of our iron daily requirements and 95% of our daily copper needs.
Spirulina contains high amounts of riboflavin, manganese, potassium, magnesium and small amounts of essential fatty acids. According to studies, the natural pigment found in Spirulina, called phycocyanin, appears to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and powerful anti-oxidant properties.
Tofu, tempeh, and edamame. These three all originate from soybeans. Soybeans are a whole source of protein that provide all the essential acids our body needs. Tofu is made by pressing bean curds together (like that of cheesemaking), while tempeh is made by cooking and slight fermentation of mature soybeans before pressing them into a block, and edamame are immature soybeans that needs to be steamed or boiled before it can be eaten.
All three contain calcium, iron and 12-20 grams of protein per 3.5-ounce (100 gram) serving.
Wild rice. Compared to other long-grain rice varieties such as brown rice and basmati, wild rice contains 1.5 times more protein. Every cooked cup of 164 grams provides almost 7 grams of protein on top of healthy amounts of fiber, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and B vitamins.
Benefits of plant-based protein
Replacing animal-based meals with plant-based protein food groups certainly have benefits. These benefits will probably solidify your decision or consideration in adopting more plant-based recipes in your meal plan.
Plant-based protein is easily absorbed by the body. According to dieticians, the intake of grains, nuts, beans, or seeds prior to having a full meal makes it easier for our body to digest and absorb. Plant protein is more “bioavailable” which enables the body to utilize it better to repair tissues.
Plant foods keeps us fuller longer. Plant protein sources such as legumes and beans help us stay full and satisfied until it is time for our next meal. A study published in Food & Nutrition discovered that consuming protein-rich meal composed of legumes makes us consume 12% fewer calories in our next meal. Experts believe that fiber content is edge of plants over animal-based food sources.
Plant-based protein keeps our gut healthy. A study published in the journal Nutrients shows that those who are on a plant-based diet have a unique gut profile with less disease-causing organisms and more protective agents that keep the inflammation levels low.
Plant-based protein helps us live longer. In 2016, a study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine that found those with diets including beans, nuts and grains had a lower mortality rate compared to those who consumed high amounts of animal protein.
Plant-based protein helps fight off disease. A study published in the journal Circulation proved that replacing red meat with plant-based protein have lower the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Plant-based protein powders for bodybuilding
What if you’re not a fan of vegetables because your parents didn’t force you to eat them when you were a kid? Or maybe you can’t just stomach the taste of most vegetables? Or you want to still gain muscles but prefer to consume plant-based protein than whey? This section is for you.
In bodybuilding, if you’re trying to avoid whey protein because of health or dietary reasons, you can definitely take advantage of plant-based protein powders. There are a lot of them online and you can do your own research when you have the time but, in this article, the basic types of plant protein compounds in plant-based protein powders are either the mixture or simply the following:
Pea Protein. It is made from yellow split peas, not from the sweet green ones we are more accustomed to. Pea protein has a high protein content when compared to other plant-based protein powders. It may be low in methionine but it is full of the three important essential amino acids such as isoleucine, valine, and leucine – the ones necessary for muscle growth.
Soy Protein. Unlike the other plant-based proteins, soy protein contains all of the nine essential amino acids. Like pea protein, it also has a high protein content and some beneficial compounds that help lower cholesterol.
Hemp Protein. We already know which plant family the hemp seeds belong to but it bears repeating that does not provide the same euphoric or psychoactive effects as cannabis. Hemp protein is rich in heart-healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fats, also a great source of fiber, iron, magnesium and zinc.
Now that we have all this information on hand, the last question in our heads could be “what’s next?”. Indeed, what do we do with all this knowledge? If you still do not have a clue where to start, or still deciding if this article have helped our consideration of switching over to the plant-based protein side, these little tips on what to do next might just be the ones that win you over.
In the next coming days, you might want to start doing these:
Sprinkle nuts and seeds on cereals, oat meals, salads and other meals.
Use nut and seed butters to salad dressings, soups, dips and sauces (or don’t if you’re allergic).
Eat plant protein snacks such as nut butter and fruit, hummus and veggies, and trail mix with dried fruit and nuts or seeds.
Find plant-based versions of your favorite recipes. Don’t forget about seitan and tofu as meat replacements!
Replace 50% of meat with legumes or lentils in your recipes.
There you have it! You have everything that you need in making that dreaded decision. Our work here is done. Remember, you have read this article in its entirety because you want to change your eating and fitness habits. And if you have needed a sign for the longest time to make that change happen, this is it! You are now changing your ways and we are very glad to have helped in that journey.
Just know that with everything that’s happening around us, we just have to make sure we take care of ourselves first.