Blog by Simone O’Shea BHlthSc(PDHPE), MExPhys
It’s a Saturday evening and I am enjoying myself at the wedding of a friend.
The time has come now for everyone to receive their meal. Unlike everyone around me who received steak or chicken, placed before me is an appetizing stack of chargrilled vegetables and salad. Instantly the other guests notice my meal is different from theirs… and then the questions begin. Why did you get something different? Don’t you eat meat? Why don’t you eat meat? And then the zinger……..How do you get your protein??? No I don’t pull a gun, but when your asked the same questions so many times it can be hard not to.
First I’ll explain why we need to eat foods containing protein. The human body breaks protein down into amino acids to be used for various metabolic processes, including the build and repair of muscle tissue damaged during resistance training or other activities. Our bodies do not store amino acids, so this is why we need to consume them daily through our food. From the essential amino acids that our bodies need, animal proteins contain a better and more complete balance of these, compared to plant based amino acids which are incomplete. This is why meat is associated with being a high protein food and my delicious stack of chargrilled vegetables….not so much.
But there is a way you can combine the incomplete amino acids in your plant foods to create meals with a complete amino acid profile. Simply combine your legumes (beans, chickpeas, split peas & lentils) with nuts and seeds and / or whole grains (bread, rice, pasta, cous-cous).
Not only will combining these foods give you all of essential amino acids you need to build and repair muscle, they contain B group vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium; not to mention heaps of fiber.
My recommendation is to get your-self a really kick ass vegetarian cook book that includes these winning combos in meals that you will enjoy; but here are a few examples of easy combos:
- Red or Black beans and rice
- Chickpeas and cous cous
- Hummus and pitta bread
- Split pea soup and bread
- Bean salad and tabouli
- Dhal and pitta bread
- Lentil burger on bread roll
- Peanut butter on toast
- Baked beans on toast
- Beans and corn chips
- Felafel and pitta bread
If you enjoy Mexican, indian or middle eastern style food, this will be a sinch.
Another thing to remember is that if you are lacto-ovo vegetarian, meaning you still consume eggs and dairy products; then you will already receive complete amino acids from these foods. This will make it a lot easier to achieve your protein targets. If you don’t mind soy you can get a good amount of protein from tofu and tempeh; another soy free alternative is quorn. I myself have even tried and tested a vegan diet for 12 months and had no problem maintaining muscle mass with regular training.
I love exercise and I love food! Even without meat in my diet, I can consume 150-160 grams of protein daily.
A more important question for vegetarians other then ‘how do you get your protein’, is are you getting enough B12 & Iron? You can find this out with a simple blood test and supplement as needed.