Plant-Based Diet Myths: Can Athletes Get Enough Protein?
**Disclaimer: this post does not serve to endorse any diet**
We’ve all heard about preachy vegans- but what about preachy carnivores? One of their main arguments is that you cannot get enough protein without meat. However, this claim is widely debunked by scientific research; it is fully possible, and even healthful, to get more than enough protein from plant-based foods.
What is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is not a traditional "diet" in the sense that it is not a “limitation on the amount a person eats for reducing weight”. Instead, it refers to the definition of “diet” of “the foods eaten, as by a particular person or group”.
A plant-based diet focuses on eating plants like fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, oils, grains, legumes, and beans. It is not necessarily a synonym for vegan or vegetarian diets, but many plant-based eaters are also vegetarian or vegan. Instead of being a restrictive “diet”, it is more of a lifestyle where plant-based foods are chosen more proportionally compared to animal foods.
What’s the difference between animal and plant proteins?
The human body needs 20 different amino acids to function; our bodies create 11 of them, which are called non-essential amino acids. However, we need to get the other 9 from food (essential amino acids).
Animal proteins- like meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and fish- contain all of the 9 essential amino acids. They have high-quality protein, but some kinds of meats have been proven to negatively impact health when eaten in excess (moderation is key!)
Plant proteins can also be excellent protein sources. Some contain all 9 essential amino acids, like soy and quinoa, but others are missing amino acids. It’s important to eat a variety of plant-based proteins to get adequate amounts of each essential amino acid.
So, where can you get protein in a plant-based diet?
Despite misconceptions that plant-based diets lack vital macro and micronutrients, it is entirely possible to get them with adequate planning. Food from animals can have high-quality protein, but so can many plant foods.
Some plant-based protein sources include:
Plant-based mylks and yogurts
Some plant-based meal ideas:
Protein after a workout
During a workout, you make small tears in your muscle tissue. Don’t be alarmed! This is what builds muscle. However, you need to fuel your body adequately after exercise to best repair it.
Make sure to eat a meal 30-60 minutes after exercise with…
Protein - to provide muscles with amino acids to build and repair muscle tissue
Carbs - to replenish your glycogen stores and prevent your body from using protein to refuel (so it can rebuild muscles instead)
Muscle building and repair continue to happen over the 24-48 hours after exercise, so eat an adequate amount of protein at each meal (along with other nutrient-rich foods!)
The optimal amount of protein to stimulate muscle growth is 20-30g - BUT it is more important to focus on eating healthful and fueling food than the numbers.
Protein powder can be helpful to supplement protein intake and make meals nutrient-dense, however, they are not necessary.
Read more about this here with Naturally Nina's blog!
Appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for people in all stages of life. It is most important to keep in mind, however, that it is more important to eat healthful protein-rich foods than to focus on specific amounts of protein.
What is your favorite source of plant-based protein? Let us know below!