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No-meat athlete: Protein for Vegetarians

Published July 25, 2017 Total Comments : 0

The other day I was having lunch with my co-workers, our discussion that started with weather, turned to immunity system and further to muscle building. My red-meat lover colleague jokingly asked me, “Where the heck you get your Protein from?”

Well, you wouldn’t agree less that this is by far most irritating question asked by a meat eater ( non-vegetarian) person to a plant based eater ( vegetarian) one.

Back to our lunch table discussion, my simple answer was YES SIR! I do manage to provide my body with enough proteins from my well thought vegetarian diet”.

But why are we talking ‘only’ about proteins? Why not fats or carbohydrates? Well, simply because proteins are the most essential macronutrients building blocks of the body tissue. Let’s talk a little about what and hows of proteins and then we will have a glimpse on plant based protein sources.

What is Protein?

Proteins are made up of carbon and hydrogen molecules arranged in specific ways. Proteins also contain nitrogen as part of their amino group. They make up about 15% of the mass of the average person & are essential to us in an enormous variety of different ways. Much of the fabric of our body is constructed from protein molecules. Muscle, cartilage, ligaments, skin and hair – these are all mainly protein materials.

Let’s get a little technical about Protein :

The smallest unit of protein is the amino acid. The structure shows an amino group (NH2) on one end and a carboxyl group (COOH) on the other end. When amino acids are joined together, they form what are called peptides or peptide chains. These peptide chains, or groupings of amino acids, make up the primary or secondary or tertiary protein structure which is necessary for the optimal function of the body.

In diet we evaluate the quality of protein based on its amino acid content and not the structure.

The body has the ability to make 11 amino acids, known as non-essential amino acids. However, 9 amino acids can only be supplied by the diet as body can’t produce them. That’s why we call them essential amino acids.


Amino acids that make up our proteins are responsible for:

1) skeletal structure

2) growth

3) hormones

4) enzymes

5) immune chemicals (immunoglobulins and antibodies)

6) Transporters proteins

It’s always good to understand  the pros and cons at the same time.

So let’s see what are the cons now.


Protein plays an important role in muscle-building, so if you’re not getting adequate protein you may find it difficult to build or maintain muscle mass, and you may feel weak or tired.

Other symptoms of a low-protein diet may include:

Hair loss, Cracking, brittle nails, Flaky, dry skin, Poor immunity, Feelings of lethargy, or irritability, Difficulty keeping warm, Headaches, Stomach discomfort.


Not all of the symptoms of protein deficiency are physical. Some are emotional or mental such as following:

Crankiness, moodiness, Problems with conflict resolution, Severe depression, Anxiety, Lack of energy, no desire to do things.

So now that we know the importance of protein and the problems one can face with its deficiencies, its very important to complete your daily requirements.

Lets see how we can fit these requirements in vegetarian (plant based – dairy ) diet.

Plant –based nutrition is known to improve long-term health and benefit animals and the environment, but many lifters hesitate to make this healthy lifestyle change due to one question:

“Can I Really build muscles?”

Why Not?

With a well-planned Diet, Yes!

To get enough protein:

The amount of food from the Protein Foods Group you need to eat depends on age, sex, and level of physical activity. If you don’t eat enough food, protein will get used up on energy production, and you may become deficient.

You need to eat a wide variety of food like dairy products, green vegetables, beans, legumes, soy products, whole grains etc. There are some excellent sources of plant-based protein, just as this article points out. And, yes, you can grow muscles eating those foods. Plus, you get the benefit of adding fiber and an array of vitamins and other nutrients that you don’t get with animal-based foods.

So this is the time to expand your palette 🙂

Meat is not the only contender. Dairy also fits the bill, which is an easy get for the vegetarians, Here are some of the easiest:

Paneer: 10 grams of protein per 50 gm serving

Cottage cheese: 25 grams of protein per 1 cup serving

Greek Yogurt: 10 grams of protein per 100 gm serving

SOY: 10 grams per 1/2 cup serving (firm tofu); 15 grams per 1/2 cup serving (tempeh); 15 grams per 1/2 cup serving (natto)

Note: important to choose the firmest tofu available—the harder the tofu, the higher the protein content.

Chia: 4 grams of protein per 2 tablespoon serving

Hempseed: 10 grams per 2 tablespoon serving

Kidney beans: 22 grams per 1/2 cup (raw)

Chickpea:  19 grams per 100 gm serving

Quinoa: 8 grams per 1 cup serving, cooked

Buckwheat: 6 grams per 1 cup serving, cooked

Ezekiel bread: 8 grams per 2 slice serving

Almonds: 6 grams per 1 oz serving

Peanut Butter: 8 grams per 2 tbsp serving

Now It doesn’t mean that the food is just complete with, pure protein without any other macro or micro nutrients or vitamins! One needs to balance all the macro nutrients according to his diet and fitness goals.

It is Simple and not Difficult:

Nutritionally, creating a mass gaining, plant-based meal plan is easier than one might think. 

As long as you get plenty of variety throughout the day you will get all of the essential amino acids you need.

One gets all the essential amino acids from the foods suggested above.

If you are looking to build muscle and are following an intense weight training program it’s a good idea to make sure you consume more of the protein dense foods like beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. These are also the most calorie dense plant foods, which will make it easier to create that calorie surplus.

An article by Sujal Sisodiya

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