“Kids now days tend to go overboard on protein – something which I believe to be totally unnecessary. I state in my formula for basic good eating: eat about one gram of protein for every 2lbs of body weight”. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Over the years, I’ve heard people banging on about protein. If you ask the standard gym rat, ‘what food shall I eat to build muscle?’ you will most likely here something like, ‘eat loads of meat bro’. This is somewhat okay advice but, what about the vegetarians out there? What can they eat?
I’m not vegetarian but, I decided to write a post for the people out there who don’t eat meat because I admire the compassion vegetarians have for living animals. I believe it’s always good to have a variety in our diet, so it will be good to know, even if you eat meat.
Protein is probably the most talked about macronutrient amongst the bodybuilding industry. You’ll hear it talked about in bodybuilding gyms across the world and for good reason.
What are proteins?
Proteins are compounds which consist of a chain of amino acids that are essential for living organisms. Proteins make up the structural components of body tissues such as hair and muscle. Basically, our bodies break down the amino acids and use them to develop muscle and other body tissues.
What are Complete proteins?
There are 20 standard proteinogenic amino acids in our bodies that we require for growth. However, out of the 20, 9 of these amino acids, our bodies are unable to produce. We need to attain them from the food we eat. Without theses 9 amino acids our bodies find it difficult to grow and repair our muscle tissue. That’s why these 9 amino acids are called ‘essential amino acids’.
Foods that contains an adequate amount of these essential amino acids are called ‘complete proteins’ because our bodies are able to use them to build muscle. Meat, fish and eggs are called complete proteins because they contain these essential amino acids.
The Bad News;
Some vegetarian foods that we eat are high in protein but they are not ‘complete proteins’. This is because they lack some or all of the essential amino acids needed by the body. Some of these foods are things like nuts, grains, legumes, vegetables, dry beans etc.
Now before you veteran veggies start cursing at the nuts and bean’s in your kitchen, there’s some good news.
The Good News;
The good news is you can combine foods to get the amino acids your body needs. You do not have to necessarily eat them in the same meal as long as they are eaten within the same day.
Most dieticians believe that plant-based foods contain such a wide variety of amino acids that vegans are able to get all their amino acids with little effort. (1).
All you have to do is make sure you eat a variety of foods throughout the day to get an adequate balance of essential amino acids, so your body can repair and grow muscle tissue.
Grains and legumes are called ‘complementary proteins’. This is because when you combine them they give you a ‘complete’ protein source.
Nuts and seeds are also complementary foods because combined, they will also give you a complete protein source. If you eat a variety of grains and legumes throughout the day you will get some of each amino acid.
In case you want a complete protein source in one meal here are some good combos.
- Black beans and rice
- Pasta and peas
- Hummus and whole wheat pitta bread
- Peanut butter sandwich
These complementary foods combined make an adequate essential amino acid balance, giving you a ‘complete’ protein meal.
Even Better News Veteran Veggies…. (See, I got your back).
The even better news is that there are vegetarian foods out there that are complete sources of protein. These foods will contain all the essential amino acids to make a complete protein. This is what your body needs to repair and build muscle tissue.
Here’s a list of 6 ‘Complete’ high protein foods for vegetarians (in no particular order);
1. Soy- 39.5g protein per 100g serving;
Soy comes from the soybean. There are many meat substitute products made from soybean nowadays that you can find in supermarkets. Apart from being a high complete source of protein soybeans have been known to reduce cholesterol.
2. Ezekiel bread – 4.8g protein per slice;
If you’re sitting there saying what the eff is Ezekiel bread?! Let me explain. The normal commercial bread is usually made out of refined wheat or pulverized whole grain. Ezekiel bread is made from 4 different grains and 2 different legumes. Most types of bread contain sugar, Ezekiel bread contains 0 sugar.
*Interesting fact- how to make Ezekiel bread was mentioned in the bible; ‘Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself’.
3. Quinoa – 8g protein per 185g;
Pronounced ‘KEEN-WAH’. Quinoa is a seed that is prepared and eaten similar to a grain. It is high in fibre and has a low glycemic index, which is good for blood sugar control. It’s also high in important minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron. Plus it’s very high in antioxidants.
4. Chia seeds – 4g protein per 28g;
- Chia seeds are tiny black seeds from the plant Salvia Hispanica, which is related to the mint.
- Chia seeds are a super food.
- They contain high amounts of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Chai seeds are loaded with anti-oxidants, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.
Pretty impressive for some little seeds huh?
*Interesting fact- chia seeds were commonly eaten by ancient civilizations such as the Aztecs and the Mayans. Chia is the ancient word for ‘strength’.*
5. Cottage cheese – 11g protein per 100g;
- Cottage cheese is in low calories and high in protein.
- It only has 98 calories per every 100g.
- It can be substituted for other soft cheeses, used as a topping for potatoes or mixed with fruit,vegetables, seeds and nuts.
- It’s an excellent filler for snacks and breakfast.
- Cottage cheese is a source of essential nutrients like calcium, iron, folate and vitamin A.
You can get low-fat variations of cottage cheese or 0 sodium variations. My favorite is the onion and chive flavor!
6. Tofu – 8g protein per 100g;
Tofu is like a cheese (although it sounds more like a martial arts style!). Similar to the process of making cheese, tofu is made from cooking soybeans into a juice-like substance. A substance called Nigari (magnesium chloride) is then added. Nigari helps produce curds that are pressed into the soft white blocks of tofu that you see in the supermarkets.
- Tofu contains only 6g fat, no saturated fat and no cholesterol.
- Tofu is high phosphorous, magnesium, copper, and selenium.
*Interesting fact- it is said that tofu is over 2000years old. Tofu was originally produced in china, around 200 B.C. It is said that that monk’s used tofu as a part of their strict vegetarian diet.*
7. Almonds, Cashews and Brazil nuts;
Protein content per 100g;
- Almonds- 21g
- Brazil- 14g
- Cashews- 18g
Okay, I know I said 6 but, I like to go that extra mile! Number 7 is a bit of a cheat because it’s a list of 3 different nuts but, I think they deserve a spot on this list. Known as the A, B and C combo, almonds, brazil and cashew nuts, combined together make a complete protein. Together they contain all the essential amino acids your body needs.
- Almonds; these are very good cholesterol regulators. 90% of fat in almonds is unsaturated. Almonds are also an incredible source of minerals such as manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium.
- Brazil; these nuts are a very good source of vitamin E. They contain a good amount of anti-oxidants and minerals.
- Cashews; cashews contain zero cholesterol. They are a great mineral source; cashews contain 31% of the daily recommended value for copper, 23% for manganese, 20% for magnesium and 17% for phosphorus. They also contain 12% of the daily recommended value of vitamin K.
On top of all the nutrition benefits, they all taste great. If you want to eat a complete protein source for a snack be sure to mix these 3 nuts together. You’ll be as happy as a monkey with a peanut machine.
There are many recipes that taste great online for these 7 foods. If you workout (even if you don’t) be sure to add these foods to your diet for healthy maintenance and growth of muscle and hair tissues.
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Have a good week!