One of the big issues for highly active vegans and vegetarians is how to get enough protein. The recommended daily intake of protein is 45g per day for women and 56g for men, with this rising to 1.2-1.7g per kg of bodyweight with increasing physical activity.
Protein is vital for repairing and building muscle. Exercise breaks down muscles to provide energy for your activity, so the more intense your exercise, the more protein you need to repair those muscles and make them stronger. Animal sources generally provide a greater amount of protein per gram than plant sources, and many vegetarians will be tired of the question “how do you get enough protein?” The answer is that meat-free alternatives have become more readily available, and more interesting, which means we no longer have to guzzle down the protein shakes.
What is protein?
Protein is made up of amino acids. Some are produced naturally by our bodies, but nine can only be obtained through our diet. These are known as the “essential” amino acids. They nine essential amino acids are:
Many animal products contain all essential amino acids and are considered “complete” proteins, however, most plant products do not. Therefore, an athlete who does not eat meat products will have to look elsewhere for effective protein sources.
Mycoprotein and soy
Mycoprotein is a protein derived from fungus and is a common meat substitute marketed under the brand name Quorn. It’s a popular meat alternative as it’s sold in forms that replicate common meat products, such as burgers, sausages, and even chicken nuggets. Soy proteins are used by other brands in a similar way and are often a cheaper alternative to Quorn. These are great options, as they slot easily into the meat-shaped hole we expect in a meal, especially if you are transitioning to a meat-free diet or live in a household with people who are more resistant to eating plant-based meals.
Mycoprotein and soy are rich sources of all nine essential amino acids while being low in sodium, sugar, and fat, and their low calorific value has also made them popular amongst those looking to lower their calorie intake.
Seitan, tofu, and tempeh
Tofu is probably the most recognisable vegan alternative, and while seitan and tempeh may be less familiar, they are all fantastic and versatile sources of protein. You can find these in in the world-food aisle of most large supermarkets and specialty delis. They can be canned, jarred, or boxed, which makes them great for storage. Pro-tip: they can often be found much cheaper in oriental supermarkets if you are lucky enough to have one nearby. They have little flavour of their own, which may be off-putting at first, but it means that they absorb the flavour of a dish, so are perfect for a curry or chilli.
Tofu is made from soybean curds, and is rich in iron and calcium, which are vital minerals, especially for highly active people, making tofu a great all-round food. It can be silken, soft, firm, or extra firm, and it’s important to get the right one for your needs. Firm tofu is best for a scramble (a vegan alternative to scrambled eggs), whereas silken tofu can replace heavy cream in dessert recipes when pureed. Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans, so has a similar nutritional profile. However, it’s firmer than tofu, which makes it more suitable to stir fries, or even sandwiches.
Seitan is surprisingly easy to make at home. Formed from gluten flour, it can be shaped into pretty much anything, including bacon, steaks, or kebabs. It’s denser and chewier than tofu, so can replicate that meaty texture we may expect to find in a meal. It also contains a whopping 75g of protein per 100g, while being extremely low in fat. One issue that many athletes encounter when trying to up their protein intake is that many protein sources come with a high fat content. This can lead to inadvertent weight gain, so low-calorie protein sources are ideal for all athletes.
Beans and legumes
Beans and legumes are the traditional staples of a meat-free diet. Low in fat, easy to find and adaptable, beans and legumes should be a staple in every athlete’s cupboard. Soybeans, lentils, split peas, pinto beans, and kidney beans have the most protein, but even baked beans have 9.7g per half can. Beans also count as one of your five a day, and are high in fibre and low in fat, so you never have to feel guilty about that post-swim beans on toast. Adding extra beans to soups or stews is a quick way to boost the nutritional profile and will also help keep you fuelled for longer.
Chickpeas and lentils are some of the best foods to be throwing in your shopping basket. They work well in many dishes that would traditionally contain meat, such as bolognese or shepherd’s pie, and are some of the cheapest products per gram of protein, freeing up cash for new leggings or another race entry.
A seriously underrated legume is edamame. 100g contains 11g of protein, along with a good amount of fibre, calcium, iron, and vitamin C. Throw half a cup of edamame beans on top of rice bowls or as a side with your usual greens for a sneaky few extra grams of protein.
Grains, nuts, and seeds
Carbohydrates usually make up a significant portion of every meal, so it makes sense to chose ones with bonus protein. Unrefined grains are best, so look for quinoa, whole wheat pasta, wild rice, couscous, buckwheat, and oatmeal. Replace egg noodles with a soba version, try a risotto with spelt, or add bulgur to a salad.
Ezekiel bread is a powerhouse made from sprouted whole grains and legumes, including barley, soybeans, wheat, lentils, millet, and spelt which means it provides all nine essential amino acids and 10.3g of protein per 100g. It can be tricky to locate in your local supermarket, but can be found in many health food stores. Even regular white bread contains a surprising 9g of protein per 100g, but it lacks the nutritional extras, so if Ezekiel bread doesn’t sound appealing opt for multigrain which has a massive 4.7g per slice.
Nuts and seeds are also a well-known protein source, but they should be eaten in moderation as they are often high in fat. Peanuts, almonds, and pistachios are some of the better choices, as are pumpkin, hemp and chia seeds. Creating your own trail mix from your favourite nuts and seeds with some dried fruit and cacao nibs is a much healthier snack that’s ideal fuel for long bike rides.
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae (a species of yeast) grown as a food product. It is sold as a powder or flakes, and it popular for its distinctive umami flavour that can be used to add a cheese-like flavour in dishes like pasta. Just 15g provides 8g of protein, so add it to sauces or soups for extra B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, copper, manganese, all of which are crucial for athletes as they increase haemoglobin (to carry oxygen around the body), help turn food into energy, and heal wounds. While it can be found in most supermarkets, it’s often cheaper from health food shops and online.
The timing of protein consumption is important for anyone undertaking physical activity. It’s advisable that protein is included with every meal, and after any exercise. The anabolic window is the 30 minutes after exercise where protein consumption will optimise muscle repair and growth. You want to aim for 20-30g during this period, so this is a great time for that trail mix, or try a tempeh sandwich on seeded bread, a homemade butter bean dip with pita and vegetables or a bowl of granola with a glass of milk.
It’s also advisable to have multiple protein sources in a meal. Since most plant-based protein sources lack all the required amino acids, combining them can cover a greater range. For example, grains like rice are too low in lysine to be considered complete, so by eating them with lentils or beans, which are higher in lysine you can obtain all nine essential amino acids. Consider building a protein bowl by choosing a grain, a variety of vegetables, a form of tofu/tempeh/seitan, and a sauce. For example, faro + asparagus + peas + grilled tofu + lemon mustard dressing, or wild rice + broccoli + edamame + seitan + soy sauce.
Consuming protein in every meal makes it much easier to reach that higher protein goal. In many ways, plant-based protein can be simpler to achieve as you’re not tying yourself down to the idea of a meat-and-two-veg meal. It also encourages a more diverse diet, which increases the spectrum of vitamins and minerals consumed. A plant-based diet does not have to be restrictive; it can be an opportunity for an all-round healthier lifestyle.
About the author: Kim Graves is a nutritional advisor, writer, and editor. Having spent a decade working in publishing, Kim is using those skills to share her love of food and wellness. Kim is also a keen triathlete and weightlifter, constantly finding new physical activities to try and challenges to take part in. She writes about great women at www.forcemujer.co.uk and nutrition at www.thefitchen.co.uk. You can follow on Instagram @kim_grs or find some recipe inspiration and ask nutrition questions over at @thefitchen.
Blueberry muffins have got to be one of the most underrated sweet treats of all time. What could be better than a perfectly soft muffin dotted with deliciously tangy and tart blueberries? A vegan version!
Many thanks to Wheybox for this recipe.
Serves: 6 | Baking time: 35 minutes
100g ground almonds
2x blueberry flavour No Whey sachets
250ml dairy-free milk (oat, soy, almond)
3 tbsp maple syrup
Blend all of the ingredients together until smooth
Spoon into muffin cases
Bake for 35 minutes at 180 degrees/Gas Mark 4
Top with coconut for an extra indulgent treat!
Especially after the popularity of Veganuary, veganism is hugely on the rise. Another term that is now floating around is 'plant based' which is used heavily in the groundbreaking new Netflix documentary The Game Changers. We take a look at the important distinctions between 'vegan' and 'plant based'.
Is Vegan the same as plant based?
The simplest answer to this is that no, vegan and plant based are not the same thing. All people who are plant based are vegan, but not all vegans are plant based. By extension, being plant-based is a sub-division of veganism.
It's important to remember that eating a vegan diet is not always intrinsically healthy, and that is where veganism and plant based differ the most. As a vegan, you are not eating any animal products or foods made with animal derivatives. This means no red meat, poultry, dairy, or eggs and is often done for ethical and environmental reasons rather than health reasons.
However, this means that a vegan could still eat unhealthy foods like potato chips, fries, and white bread. In fact, it would be easy for a vegan to be deficient in important vitamins and nutrients and to be more unhealthy than a meat-eater. As a vegan, you might try very hard to replicate all of your old favourites like cheese and meat but in doing so you could harm your health.
A lot of processed vegan alternatives like 'vegan cheese' and 'vegan burgers' contain a lot of chemicals and although they're better for animal welfare and the environment than eating meat, that's not beneficial to you. Always, the more natural the better. If you're a vegan, it's important to try and maintain a healthy diet and not just focus on eliminating entire food groups and replacing them with chemically-enhanced franken-burgers and sugary carbs.
On the contrary, those who are plant-based only eat foods that are, you guessed it, plant based. This means foods like beans, legumes, pulses, fruits, and vegetables. All of these foods are inherently healthy and therefore a plant-based vegan would expect to be more healthy than a non plant based vegan. Some plant-based eaters go one step further and follow a completely raw food diet, which means eating solely uncooked foods.
What do you eat on a plant based diet?
A plant-based diet is sometimes thought of as being restrictive, but it's absolutely not and if you try transitioning from being an omnivore to being plant-based, you may well discover a lot of new foods you've never tried before. On a plant-based diet, you only eat foods that are whole and natural such as fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds, beans, whole grains, and legumes. Of course, any plant based diet is open to interpretation and what works best for you.
It's important for vegans and those on a plant-based diet to get enough protein and vitamin B3, as these are the macro- and micro-nutrients that can be difficult to get enough of on a meat-free diet. There are plenty of plant-based protein sources that those on a vegan diet can enjoy, mostly from beans, whole grains, pulses, seeds, nuts, and legumes.
Read more: Healthy Vegan Brownie Recipe
Vegan grocery shopping list
This is what a typical vegan grocery shopping list might look like in order to enjoy a varied and balanced diet that is healthy and provides enough of the right nutrients.
- Black beans
- Wholewheat pasta
- Brown rice
- Almond/soy milk
- Coconut milk/coconut cream
- Green beans
- Kidney beans
- Vegan protein powder
From these ingredients there are lots of delicious and healthy recipes you can create, from homemade vegan beanie burgers to vegan protein mousse and tasty salads.
Thinking about going vegan? Check out our tips for going vegan
Want to try more vegan recipes? Try this vegan blueberry muffin recipe or this vegan ice cream sundae recipe.
Two of the most popular diet and lifestyle choices at the moment are following the keto diet and being vegan. Generally, a vegan or plant-based diet is very high in carbohydrates whereas the keto diet by definition is very low in carbs. So can you be a vegan on the keto diet? What can you eat as a keto vegan? We answer all your questions in our vegan keto guide.
What can you eat on a vegan keto diet?
Let's start with the basics. A vegan diet is one which omits any animal foods or foods derived from animals. This means no meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or dairy. Some people believe a vegan diet is restrictive, but this isn't the case. Instead, what this leaves is an abundance of plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, lentils, and beans. All of these foods are intrinsically healthy as they contain high amounts of fibre, vitamins, minerals, and even protein, which can be a divisive subject for vegans.
The keto diet is a recently trending super low carb, high fat, moderate protein diet which promises followers rapid weight loss and health benefits. It is a somewhat controversial diet as there can be side effects such as keto flu and bad breath, however a lot of people swear by this diet for improving their lifestyle and losing weight.
In general, people following a keto diet eat a lot of animal products as these are naturally high in fat and low in carbs. Foods like steak, eggs and dairy fit the keto diet easily, however they are not vegan.
So what can you eat on a vegan keto diet? In fact, you have lots of options! Some of the tastiest vegan foods are naturally high in fat, such as coconut products, avocados, olives, nuts, and seeds. These days there are lots of coconut-derived products which have been developed as the vegan lifestyle becomes more popular. You can now buy coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut flour... the list goes on. This one ingredient will be the staple of your vegan keto diet.
Other foods suitable for the vegan keto diet include avocado, nuts, seeds, olives, and oils. Most of these foods are whole plant-based foods and are therefore very healthy.
Is vegan low carb possible?
Yes, a vegan low carb diet is definitely possible. While a traditional vegan or plant-based diet is naturally high in carbohydrates, it is still possible to follow a low carb vegan diet. If you are careful with what you eat, plan your meals, and keep an eye on your calories and macros, you have plenty of options of things you can eat on a vegan keto diet.
A vegan keto diet can be very healthy as some of the healthiest fats are vegan, such as oils, olives, nuts, seeds, and avocado. You can supplement these foods with coconut products to round out your options and create delicious vegan keto recipes.
In general, the keto diet requires getting up to 90% of your calories from fat. As there are so many healthy fats which are vegan, this shouldn't be a problem.
Vegan Keto Recipes
There are plenty of delicious vegan keto recipes available online which can keep your diet healthy, varied, and tasty. Try some of these vegan keto recipes to find out for yourself!
Vegan Keto Avocado Pops
Chocolate Keto Protein Smoothie
There are lots of bold flavours in this hearty lentil dish: fragrant chermoula and soft aubergine strips rubbed in black garlic. Served with sweet Romano pepper, rocket, crunchy cashews and a lemony tahini drizzle. Recipe courtesy of Mindful Chef.
Ingredients - Serves 2
- 1/2 lemon
- 180g cherry tomatoes
- 1 aubergine
- 1 red onion
- 1 romano red pepper
- 1 tbsp tahini
- 240g lentils in water (drained)
- 2 tbsp Belazu chermoula
- 2 tbsp oil
- 30g cashew nuts
- 40g rocket
- 4 black garlic cloves
- Medium handful of flat-leaf parsley
- Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6.
- Cut the red onion and Romano red pepper into small bite-sized pieces. Slice the aubergine horizontally into 3 pieces, then again into long 1-2 cm wide wedges. Place the black garlic cloves into a small bowl, add 1/2 tbsp oil and mash with a fork until a thick paste forms. Spread evenly over the aubergine wedges to form a thin coating (you may have to do this with your hands!).
- Place the black garlic coated aubergine, onion and red pepper on a baking tray, drizzle with 1 tbsp oil and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt. Place in the oven for 20 mins until turning golden, turning halfway through.
- Drain the lentils and slice the cherry tomatoes in half. Roughly chop the parsley leaves. Heat a pan with 1/2 tbsp oil on a medium heat and add the lentils, cherry tomatoes, parsley and the chermoula, cook for 5 mins. Season with a pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
- Place the rocket in a large bowl and add the chermoula lentils, onion and red pepper. In a small bowl, mix the tahini paste with a squeeze of lemon juice and 2 tsp cold water to form a smooth sauce.
- Spoon the lentil and vegetable mix onto two warm plates, top with the black garlic aubergine wedges and sprinkle over the cashew nuts. Drizzle over the tahini sauce.
514 calories • 43g carbs • 30g fat • 20g protein
Not suitable for nut or sesame allergy sufferers
Want the ease and convenience of these ingredients being delivered to your door, already weighed out and ready to cook? Sign up to Mindful Chef today using code SUNDRIED for £10 off your first two boxes. This recipe is available to order now!