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!
Many thanks to the team at Vega® for this recipe.
Serves 4 | 20 Minutes Prep Time
Homemade vegan ice cream, is there anything better…? How about Protein Vegan Ice Cream Sundaes! Not only is this recipe utterly delicious, we have added our Vega Essentials Nutritional Powder to the ice cream mixture to increase the protein and vitamin content. So, you think you’re just eating classic ice cream, however you’re also eating lots of fruit and vegetables that contribute to the 16 different vitamins and minerals present in just one scoop of Vega Essentials. Not that you can taste them!
So why not give this recipe a go, no ice cream maker required, just a few sandwich bags and you’ll have a refreshing dessert in this hot weather in no time!
Vegan Ice Cream
500 ml plant-based drink, like coconut or almond
50 g coconut or caster sugar
1 ripe avocado
1 scoop Chocolate Vega Essentials Nutritional Powder
25 g cocoa powder
1 pinch salt
Vegan Ice Cream equipment
4 re-sealable small sandwich bags
4 re-sealable large sandwich bags
Bag ice cubes
300 g rock salt
Vegan Coconut Whipped Cream
400 ml can coconut milk, **CHILLED OVERNIGHT**
1 tsp vanilla extract
Maple syrup, as desired
1 large bar dark chocolate
1 Tbsp coconut oil
Optional Toppings: Cherries, roasted nuts
Vegan Ice Cream
Blend together the ice cream ingredients until smooth and then pour evenly between into 4 small sandwich bags. Seal tightly, trying to remove as much air as possible.
In the large sandwich bags, evenly distribute the ice and rock salt.
Place one small sandwich bag into each large bag and seal tightly.
Squeeze the bags for 10 to 15 minutes or until the ice cream is thickened.
Coconut Whipped Cream
Meanwhile, remove only the coconut cream from the can of coconut milk.
Using an electric mixer, whip until soft peaks form. Add in vanilla extract and maple syrup as desired.
Break the chocolate into cubes. In the microwave or in a pan over a low heat, melt the chocolate and coconut oil until just melted
Place the ice cream in bowls, top with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and any extra toppings.
For more delicious recipes by Vega® make sure to follow them on Instagram (@VegaTeam_UK) and Facebook!
Vanessa is an Australian ultra runner who follows a plant-based diet. She runs long distance races and recently achieved 3rd female overall at the Hume & Hovell 50km ultra trail run. She tells us what she eats to fuel her big training runs and keep her in fighting form for competing over such long distances.
5:30am – Pre-Workout
2 Medjool dates
Hot drink (1 tsp cocoa, ½ tsp instant coffee, 1 tsp coconut sugar, hot water)
6am – Workout
1-2 hour run (no nutrition or water during) on most days
Pilates, yoga and/or walk on rest days (with no coffee on rest days)
8.30am – Breakfast
A variety of cooked and raw vegetables as a salad when the weather is warm, with a small piece of fruit after if I want something sweet.
When it’s a cold day I’ll have 3 x gluten-free Weetabix with 1 tsp cocoa, 1 tbsp dried fruit and nuts, 2 tsp slippery elm powder and hot water stirred into a porridge consistency.
Mid-morning – Snack
I occasionally snack on carrot, celery, apple or orange and drink green tea if I am hungry.
Afternoon – Lunch
A variety of cooked and raw vegetables, legumes and rice or sweet potato as a curry, ratatouille, or salad. Afterwards I have berries or citrus if I want something sweet.
I occasionally snack on carrot, celery, apple, orange or Weetabix if I am hungry. Sometimes I have the same hot drink as breakfast around 3pm if I am training in the late afternoon or evening.
5pm – Workout
I do a training run if I didn’t do one in the morning, otherwise it's Pilates, yoga, a walk or Barre class most days.
My dinner is the same sort of thing as lunch: a rainbow of vegetables, greens, rice and legumes most days. Lots of fresh home-grown or market produce, fresh herbs and spices and quick home-made salsa, sauces, pickles, chutneys and dressings. We don’t use any oils for cooking or dressing in our house and my meals are low fat, high nutrients. I have fruit for dessert.
Sometimes in summer I’ll do a smoothie bowl for dinner instead. It’s like cutting straight to dessert!
Bed by 9pm for at least 7-8 hours sleep!
5.30am – Pre-Workout
2 Medjool dates and a couple of teaspoons of seeds or a date and nut bar or bliss ball
Hot drink (1 tsp cocoa, ½ tsp instant coffee, 2 tsp coconut sugar, hot water)
6am – Workout
Up to 7 hours run. My training fuel depends on the weather, but can include Tailwind, Medjool dates, date and nut bars, bliss balls, banana, orange, wholefood gels.
It depends on the time of day but ranges from a variety of cooked and raw vegetables, legumes and rice as a Buddha Bowl, or gluten-free toast and jam with a weak soy cappuccino or soy banana smoothie and/or Tailwind Recovery Shake, or an Acai bowl.
I snack on fruit.
A variety of cooked and raw vegetables, legumes and rice or gluten-free pasta as a Buddha Bowl, curry or ratatouille. Medjool dates, smoothie bowl or bliss ball for dessert.
Bed by 8pm for at least 8-10 hours sleep!
About the author: Vanessa Cullen is a plant-based ultra runner from Australia and a Sundried ambassador.
Our pan-cooked buckwheat flour and chia seed pizza base is topped with a garlic tomato sauce, balsamic mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, rocket and toasted walnuts. All drizzled with a creamy basil pesto. Recipe courtesy of Mindful Chef.
Ingredients - Serves 2
- 15 tbsp buckwheat flour
- 180g chestnut mushrooms
- 1 baby cucumber
- 1 red onion
- 1 tbsp vegan basil pesto
- 20g walnuts
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp chia seeds
- 2 tsp oil
- 400g chopped tomatoes
- 40g rocket
- 60g sundried tomatoes
- Medium handful of fresh thyme
- Pre heat the oven to 220C / gas mark 7. Place the chia seeds into a mug with 50ml water cold water, stir and leave for 3 mins until the water has been soaked up and it has become sticky.
- Finely chop the garlic. Add 1tsp oil to a saucepan with just half the garlic, cook for 1 min over a medium heat then add the chopped tomatoes. Simmer for 20 mins to reduce.
- In a medium sized bowl add the buckwheat flour (reserve 1tbsp flour for later). Add a pinch of salt, 80g cold water and the soaked chai seeds from the mug. Mix well and knead with your hands into a dough. Dust a chopping board and you're hands with remaining flour. Divide the dough into two balls. Place one ball onto the floured chopping board and flatten with the palm of your hand into a pizza base shape. Repeat with the remaining dough ball.
- Pre-heat a frying pan with 1/2 tsp oil over a high heat. Add the pizza dough, fry for 2 mins on each side until taking on colour. Repeat. Place both pizza bases on a large baking tray.
- Thinly slice the mushrooms and red onion. Add 1/2tsp oil to the same pan used to cook the pizza bases. Over a medium heat cook the mushrooms and onions for 8 mins. Finely chop the thyme leaves and roughly chop the sundried tomatoes, add to the pan followed by half the balsamic vinegar. Cook all together for a further 3 mins.
- Spoon the tomato sauce over both pizzas bases, top the with mushrooms, mix sprinkle with the walnuts. Cook in the oven for 5 mins.
- Cut the cucumber in half lengthways and thinly slice. Place the rocket leaves into a serving bowl, add the cucumber, mix. Drizzle with the remaining balsamic vinegar. Remove the pizza’s from the oven, drizzle with pesto then serve.
637 calories • 82g carbs • 24g fat • 20g protein
Not suitable for sufferers of nut, soya, or sulphite allrgies
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!