7 Plant Proteins to Add to Your Diet
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These non-meat proteins can give your running a healthy boost
Chia seeds are one of many foods that can supplement or replace animal protein in athletes’ diets. Photo by Larry Jacobsen / Creative Commons 2.0
Produced in collaboration with Vega.
Whether you are a hard-charging athlete or simply hoping to improve your health, adding more vegan proteins to your diet has many benefits. Everyone can benefit from adding even just one or two more servings of plant-based protein into their daily life. (And with smoothie season underway, it’s especially easy.)
The benefits of minimally processed plant proteins
1. Lower in saturated fat and cholesterol
A diet rich in saturated fats and cholesterol (found mostly in meat, dairy and eggs) does not support optimal cardiovascular health. Unsaturated fats (found naturally in nuts and seeds, as well as avocados) on the other hand, help to keep your heart healthy. Plant foods contain very little cholesterol.
Plant-based proteins are more alkaline-forming than proteins from animal sources like meat, dairy and eggs. Your body naturally has, and will always have, an alkaline pH. But when you eat a lot of acid-forming foods, your body has to pull minerals from your bones to maintain that pH. Adding more alkaline-forming foods from a plant-based diet can help you manage inflammation and reduce stress. Dark-green vegetables and plant proteins like hemp, nuts and seeds are more alkaline-forming than meat and dairy.
3. Easy to digest
Plant-based proteins are more nutrient dense, containing fiber and phytonutrients in addition to protein, and often easier to digest than animal proteins.
4. Better for the environment
It takes more water, energy and space to produce animal products, so switching to plant-based proteins saves water, reduces carbon emissions and protects arable land—all of which have a huge environmental impact.
5. Satisfy your protein needs
The most lingering myth about plant-based proteins is that you cannot build muscle or meet your protein needs with an exclusively plant-based diet. There are several complete plant-based protein sources that contain all essential amino acids. Eating a varied diet, with multiple types of proteins, will ensure your body has enough amino acids (the building blocks of protein in your body).
7 nutritious plant proteins
These are my seven favorite plant-based proteins, which I tend to eat daily:
1. Hemp seed
Photo by Flickr user Rubyran / Creative Commons 2.0
Though tiny, hemp seeds are a complete protein, containing all 10 essential amino acids. With a creamy, nutty taste, these seeds are also high in plant-based Omega-3s, an essential fatty acid that helps your body to manage inflammation. I add hemp seeds to most salads and smoothies I make.
2. Chia seeds
Sneak some extra protein into your smoothies by topping them with chia seeds. Photo by Flickr user Martakat83 / Creative Commons 2.0
Like hemp seeds, chia seeds are an excellent source of Omega-3s. Plus, they are rich in fiber and protein, and, because they absorb up to 10 times their weight in water, they can be very satiating. One satisfying snack is chia pudding. Mix chia seeds in non-dairy milk and let sit for 15 minutes. Add in any minimally processed sweetener, cinnamon and fresh berries for a healthier take on tapioca pudding.
Photo by Flicker user futurestreet / Creative Commons 2.0
Nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans and a host of others) offer high amounts of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Add whole raw nuts to your smoothie, or scoop a tablespoon of nut butter. They also make a great snack on the go; try trail mix made with sprouted nuts and unsweetened dry fruit.
Photo by Flickr user tomatoesandfriends / Creative Commons 2.0
This nutrient-dense pseudograin, a complete protein, is actually a seed. You can swap in quinoa for any other whole grain in recipes. It only takes 15 to 20 minutes to cook, and is great as a side dish, the base of a grain salad or an addition to smoothies.
Photo by Flickr user cookbookman17 / Creative Commons 2.0
Beans of all types—from black to white to kidney to mung to chickpeas—are an excellent source of protein, fiber and B vitamins. For convenience, I buy beans in BPA-free cans that can be cooked with kombu, a seaweed that naturally makes beans more digestible.
6. Brown Rice
Photo by Flickr user Meal Makeover Moms / Creative Commons 2.0
On its own, brown rice is not a complete protein, but becomes a complete protein when combined with beans or seeds.
7. Sea Vegetables
Photo by Flickr user Ken Hawkins / Creative Commons 2.0
Most vegetables contain protein—even broccoli and kale!—but many people are surprised to learn that sea vegetables (including seaweed, kelp and other algaes) have been a protein staple of coastal civilizations for thousands of years. Not only do they have protein, but they also contain essential minerals, including iodine and calcium. Use sheets of nori for wrapping brown rice and vegetables sushi-style, or shred and use as topping on your favorite salad or noodle dish.
Which plant-based proteins do you eat daily?
- 7 Surprising Ingredients for Your Post-Run Smoothies
- The Power of Plant-Based Protein
- 6 Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Runners
This article was produced in collaboration with Vega. For more nutrition and training tips, as well as fueling plans for your workouts, visit VegaSport.com.
Brendan Brazier is a former professional Ironman triathlete, a two-time Canadian 50K Ultra Marathon Champion, the creator of an award-winning line of whole food nutritional products called VEGA and the best-selling author of the Thrive book series. He is also the developer of the acclaimed ZoN Thrive Fitness program and the creator of Thrive Foods Direct national meal delivery service. He also just launched Thrive Forward, an online video series on wellness. Recognized as one of the world’s foremost authorities on plant-based performance nutrition, Brendan works with NFL, MLB, NHL, UFC, PGA, Tour De France and Olympic athletes and is a guest lecturer at Cornell University, where he presents an eCornell module entitled “The Plant-Based Diet and Elite Athleticism.”