Hey Vego, where do you get your protein from?


Protein is a building block for hormones that control metabolism and movement. As such, our body needs protein for strength and energy, for building tissue and for the growth and repair of muscles.

Proteins contain twenty known amino acids. Our bodies can make ten of these, and only food can provide the others, which we call essential amino acids. Complete proteins come from most animal sources, such as meat, milk, eggs and fish. Does this mean vegetarians can’t get enough protein? Not at all.

That vegetarians don’t get enough protein is a myth. It is not necessary to eat meat and dairy to get sufficient amounts of protein. It is abundant in plant food which contains all your essential amino acids. Actually, protein requirements for the average adult are lower than people think and meat eaters usually take in way more protein than they need. If you eat a varied diet that includes vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, soy protein and the like, you will be fine. For instance, one-half cup of beans, combined with half a cup of whole grains contains as much protein as 6 ounces of fish or broiled steak and with 1 gram of fat.

Another myth is that you need to eat different types of protein within a single meal to get complete protein from plants – for instance, beans with rice. Actually, you don’t have to have complete protein at every meal. You can spread out intake of protein foods over the day. For instance, you could eat whole grains for breakfast, such as oatmeal, nuts for a snack, beans for lunch and some rice or soy and vegetables for dinner and have complete protein for the day.

The only difference between meat eaters and vegetarians regarding protein need for bodybuilding is length of workouts. Vegetarians should aim for short, intense workouts as this will help prevent muscle mass loss from taking place and your body relying on protein to get through those workouts.

Vegetarian Protein Containing Foods for Lacto-vegetarians

Eggs: One of the least expensive forms of protein, eggs are packed with a range of other nutrients including essential vitamins A, D, E, and B group as well as minerals iron, phosphorus and zinc. However, the egg yolk is high in cholesterol. So the American Heart Association recommends eating only one egg a day, or one full egg with one to two egg whites, which are low in cholesterol.

Make use of egg white protein powders, if you eat animal by-products. These will dramatically help to boost your protein intake for workouts and are quick and convenient.

Dairy Foods

Milk: A good source of protein, milk is also high in nutrients such as vitamin A & B, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, protein, zinc and riboflavin and even carbohydrates. If you don’t eat dairy, try soy, almond, rice or hemp milk.

Cheese: Cheese contains good protein and valuable sources of vitamin B2, riboflavin and calcium. Be careful though. Vegetarians who eat lots of cheese in place of meat to get enough protein also get much bad fat and calories. So if you eat cheese, eat it in moderation.

Yogurt: An excellent source of protein, calcium, vitamin B-2, B-12, potassium, and magnesium and high in active, good bacteria, yogurt can offer many health benefits.
Being able to include egg and egg whites, cottage cheese, yogurt, cheese and milk to your diet, in other words being a lacto-vegetarian will dramatically boost your protein options and make your life as a vegetarian bodybuilder easier. If you choose to not have any animal based products and go the Vegan route you can still eat to maximize muscle mass and strength but it is a bit harder.


Plant Based Proteins: Soy, Legumes, Cereals, Nuts
If you eat a varied diet of high quality protein from legumes (peas, beans and lentils), soy, whole grains, and nuts and combine it with ample vegetables, you have a protein packed meal with all the essential amino acids you need for the day.

Writes Gabriel Cousens in Conscious Eating:

“According to the American Dietetic Association, pure vegetarian diets in America usually contain twice the required protein for one’s daily need. Harvard researchers have found that it is difficult to have a vegetarian diet that will produce a protein deficiency unless there is an excess of vegetarian junk foods and sweets. In fact, if vegetarian protein is consumed in its live state, even less protein is needed because research shows that one half of the assimilable protein is destroyed by cooking.”

Soy: Soybeans are complete proteins just like meat, meaning that they contain every single amino acid. You can eat soy all day long. For a meat substitute, tofu works well – a half cup contains 10 grams of protein — as does tempeh, another beneficial soy source of protein. You can chomp on soy nuts, throw edamame in your salad and make a sandwich with soy cheese. For desert, try soy yogurt or soy ice cream which comes in many flavors. And when you’re thirsty or need liquid to throw over your cereal try soy milk which has almost as much protein as dairy milk, less fat, and no cholesterol. As an added bonus, many brands of tofu and soymilk are fortified with other nutrients that vegetarians and vegans need, such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12. And don’t forget soy protein powders to boost your protein intake and especially if you are a serious body builder and trying to gain some serious muscle as your protein needs will be higher than average vegetarians. Be careful to read labels. Some whey and soy proteins contain cheap fillers.

NUTS/SEEDS/NUT BUTTERS: Nuts, including peanuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, pistachios, macadamia nuts, and walnuts all contain protein and have great nutritional benefits, as do seeds such as sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contains about 8 grams of protein. Smear natural peanut butter on different foods like bananas, apples, celery, crackers and mix it into your oatmeal or add it to fruit smoothies and you will not only add protein to your meal but boost your overall calorie intake as well, which is important to build muscle. Although high in calories, nuts often enable people to maintain or lose weight.

A small handful consumed everyday gives a sense of satiety and results in less total food intake. Sesame seeds contain calcium and vitamin E. Sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds are particularly good sources of phytosterols which promote healthy heart. And nuts contain important essential fatty acids (EFA’s) and amino acids, making them a good source of both protein and fat. Take walnuts, which also give you a hefty supply of Omega 3’s. Though a chicken breast contains 20 grams of protein, once cooked half are destroyed and what’s left is harder to digest. In contrast, a cup of walnuts contains 24 grams of protein. For a little variety, you can also try other nut butters like almond and cashew.

Sprouts: The purest source of amino acids is sprouts and raw green leafy vegetables. Your body assimilates the protein better from these raw foods than from meats and dairy because the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes are still intact. So be sure and throw sprouts into your daily salad.

Beans & Legumes: All beans, lentils, and peas are an excellent vegetarian and vegan source of protein, and are one of the most common protein-rich foods for vegetarians. For instance, one cup of canned kidney beans contains about 13.4 grams of protein. Chickpeas and other legumes especially are key sources of protein for vegetarians looking to build muscle. Have some hummus for lunch with a glass of soy milk and for dinner some lentil soup, with black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans or white beans thrown together with some rice or quinoa as your main dish and you have healthy and delicious meals that are packed with protein.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

Women generally need 40-55 grams of protein a day, men 50-70 grams, which is approximately 0%-15% of your overall daily intake of calories from protein.

For bodybuilding, strive for 1-1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight in grams of protein. For example, if you weigh between 180 and 185 pounds, you need an average of 30 grams of protein per meal, spread out over 6 meals a day.

Protein Requirements:

When people first learn that I’m vegetarian, I am often asked, “So how do you get enough protein?” When the person asking is someone who knows little about health and nutrition, I often reply by asking them how much protein I need. They look surprised and usually are not able to answer the question.

Bodybuilders are generally much more knowledgeable about protein requirements, but are still sometimes surprised to find out how easy it is to get more than enough protein on a vegetarian or vegan diet.

An unfortunate myth first propagated in the 1970’s is that different vegetable proteins must be combined within the same meal in order to be effective, making the vegetarian diet appear to be a delicate and difficult balancing act.

More recent research has revealed that virtually all vegetarians eat significantly more protein than their bodies require, and that the cumbersome task of combining proteins is simply not necessary.

A wide range of vegetables, fruits, grains, and nuts provides all the protein you need, regardless of whether they are consumed at the same meal. Furthermore, several sources of plant protein such as soybeans are complete proteins, meaning that they contain every single amino acid.


The Vindication Of Soy Protein! – By Will Brink
The Skinny On Soy! – By Eric Satterwhite
Soy Protein & The Bodybuilder. – By Todd Torns

Other Soy Protein Articles…

I strive for 1-1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight in grams of protein. For example, in the off-season I weigh anywhere between 180 and 185 pounds. This past off-season I was in the 180 pound range which equates to 180 grams of protein per day. This is spread out between the 6 meals that I eat in a day which comes to an average of 30 grams of protein per meal.
It’s easier than you might imagine to get plenty of protein from vegetarian foods. If you include dairy products and eggs in your regimen, look no further. These are a rich source of protein. Stick to low fat dairy products to avoid excess saturated fats.

If you want to be certain that you are getting all eight essential amino acids, you should eat learn to combine foods to form complete proteins, such as:

  • Beans on toast
  • Cereal/muesli with milk
  • Corn and beans
  • Granola with yogurt
  • Hummus and pita bread
  • Nut butter with milk or whole grain bread
  • Pasta with beans
  • Pasta with cheese (e.g., lasagne, macaroni and cheese)
  • Rice and beans, peas, or lentils
  • Rice with milk (rice pudding)
  • Split pea soup with whole grain or seeded crackers or bread
  • Tortillas with refried beans
  • Veggie burgers on bread

Note that these combinations don’t necessarily have to be eaten at the same time; you can eat one several hours after
the other and still benefit from the complete protein.

Complete protein can be gotten from eating soy based foods like tofu tempeh or sprouted legumes, and meat substitutes
made from soy protein.

Myth 1. Vegetarians can’t get enough protein.

Protein is actually the least of my worries. As a vegetarian, my primary protein sources are dairy, eggs, grains, beans (including soy), and legumes. I also supplement with whey protein concentrate and isolate, like any other bodybuilder and many other athletes. While some of these foods contain so-called incomplete proteins (ie. insufficient quantities of all the essential amino acids), most have solid amino acid profiles and biological values. Some become complete proteins when eaten in combination with other protein foods during the course of the day, like rice (grain) in combination with lentils (legumes). I have no problem eating in excess of 200 grams of protein per day.


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