One of the things my vegetarian clients struggle the most with is getting enough protein in their diet. That’s why I decided to post this list here. I find myself constantly making lists of foods with protein to send out to different people, so I decided to create a resource I could direct everyone to instead.
For some reason people seem to think only bodybuilders need protein. Female clients will often panic at the mere suggestion of upping their protein for fear of turning into Arnie – if only it were that easy!
The thing everybody needs to understand is that every single one of us needs to get enough protein in our diets, whether our goal is to hit the stage of Mr Olympia, to lose a few pounds for a holiday or to generally stay strong and healthy as we age. Protein isn’t just for building muscle. It’s used to build and repair tissue – it’s in every cell in the body! You use it to make enzymes, hormones and chemicals. You use it to build bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. It’s used for structure, transport, enzyme function, hormone production, immune function, acid base balance, fluid balance, energy. Basically: it’s used for loads of stuff and you need it in your diet.
How much protein is enough?
The minimum amount of protein required to avoid deficiency is 0.8g/kg of bodyweight. So if you weigh 60kg, the absolute minimum you should be getting is 48g. But who wants minimum limits? You should be aiming for optimum amounts for optimum health. This will be different for different people depending on activity level and goals. At the lower end you’re looking at 1.2g/kg, with endurance athletes aiming for anything between this and 1.8g/kg. Bodybuilders and strength athletes should go a little higher, aiming for between 1.8-2.7g/kg.
What are the main sources of protein?
The easiest protein sources are animal-based. Remember when I said protein is in all of the different places in our bodies? Well, that’s the same for other animals too, which is why eating chicken makes it easy to hit your protein target without having to worry about it too much. But I don’t think that means anyone should start eating meat for the protein gains. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 16 and I can manage to get enough protein into my day easily enough. It just takes some planning and some practice. Think of it as a skill you need to work on over time – and like any other skill, you will get better at it.
Something important to consider is the breakdown of amino acids. Proteins are made up of 20 amino acids, nine of which are essential. Most complete proteins (which contain all 20 amino acids) come from animal sources, so it’s really important for vegetarians to combine food sources so they don’t miss out on anything. With a bit of careful planning, getting all your protein in isn’t so hard.
Top 10 protein sources for vegetarians
I’ve compiled a quick list of 10 different meat-free protein sources – seven of which are vegan. If you try to incorporate these, plus other plant-based protein sources into your diet on a regular basis, hitting your protein target will get much easier.
Something that’s not listed, but super helpful, is protein powder. This can be whey (which comes from cow milk) or can be plant-based (from peas or soy or hemp usually). Having one of these or sprinkling some onto your breakfast or making snacks using it in place of all or some of the flour is a great way to up your protein intake.
So without further ado, here’s my list:
- 2 eggs = 12g P, 10g F, 1.2g C; 156kcal
Seitan (wheat gluten)
- 100g = 75g P, 14g C, 1.9g F; 370 kcal
- Half a deluxe ball from Lidl, 62.5g = 9g P, 14g F, 1g C; 168kcal (The whole ball = 18g of protein…)
- Two fillets = 13.4g P, 1.6g F, 1g C; 88kcal
- 1 cup (185g) = 8g P, 39.4g C, 3.6g F; 222kcal
- 100g = 5.2g P, 14.3g C, 0.3g F; 78 kcal
- 100g = 8.7g P, 22.8g C, 0.5g F; 127 kcal
- 200g = 14g P, 5g C, 5.4g F; 124kcal
Peanut Butter Sandwich on granary bread
- 10g peanut butter in 2 slices = 13g P, 33.8g C, 7g F; 251 kcal
- 2 tbsp = 4.4g P, 12.3g C, 8.6g F; 137 kcal
This list is certainly not comprehensive and the more time you spend researching your food and looking for different options, the more wonderful things you’ll find to vary your diet and get all of the good things. But it’s a starting point. Number nine is a particular fave for me, especially if I’m about to train or and not got time to eat properly and would like some food/energy.
Picture credit: Brooke Lark