Vegan Athletes... How do you get your Protein?
By Robert Cheeke, Elite Vegan Bodybuilder January 7th, 2007
If there is one question vegans get more than any other question, it is, "How do you get your protein?" I often respond by asking the individual if they know anyone with a protein deficiency. One thing to remember is that protein is found in nearly all foods and is one of the easiest components of nutrition for our bodies to find in food and use for mechanical functions. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are abundant in fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and other vegan foods. Eating a wide variety of healthy foods supplies all essential amino acids which is necessary for optimum health.
As a vegan, I do not consume meat and avoid all animal products and abstain from using anything animal derived or tested on animals. This is for a number of reasons, but primarily because I don't want to cause harm to animals and because I want to be healthier and focus on consuming plant-based foods.
Vegans take in all required vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, and glucose. We eat a wide variety of healthy foods including fruits and vegetables, grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and other plant-based whole foods providing the healthiest foods for our bodies.
As a vegan bodybuilder, I enjoy typical bodybuilding foods such as oats, rice, broccoli, yams, protein powders and bars, providing energy and strength for exercise and the heavy lifting my sport requires. I take a few supplements to enhance my athletic performance but I don't believe they are necessary to consume and compete as an elite athlete. They can help give you an extra competitive edge and can aid in muscle recovery and energy output. The few supplements I use for performance include: multivitamin, meal replacement powders, L-glutamine for muscle recovery, and hemp-based protein powders. Vitamin B-12 and essential fatty acids are included in a hemp-based meal replacement I take. It is important to remember these are not necessary, but in most cases they will boost performance and recovery from exercise, achieving an overall greater level of fitness and health.
Many people are scared to adopt a vegan diet because they think they will lack protein, but protein is easy to find and little is required for maintaining health. A standard is 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight for athletes and 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight for bodybuilders and other athletes interested in bulking up and adding mass. Eating consistently throughout the day makes it easy to consume that amount of protein if a variety of foods are consumed. "How" should not be the issue, but "where," is a valid question. In an animal protein based society, we grow up believing the only sources of protein are from animals. As a vegan athlete I outline meal programs that are protein-rich and plant derived to show exactly "where" and "how" vegans get their protein. I pay special attention to protein and my main protein sources come from hemp, soy, tempeh, nuts, beans, lentils, grains and a variety of powders and bars including complete meal replacements, adding up to 200-300 grams per day. Tofu, a soy product, typically has 10-20 grams of protein per serving. Soy also has a Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) of 1.0, which is the highest protein rating for a food to have, and it scores higher than beef protein. Hemp is one of the best sources of protein, period. It is alkalizing, packed full of nutrients, and is grown from the most sustainable methods, making it arguably the best resource. We often hear about protein combinations to make a complete protein. This is an accumulation of essential amino acids. Combining sources such as hemp, rice and pea provide a powerful amino acid profile for enhanced biomechanical efficiency. Taking in large quantities of protein can be taxing on the liver and kidneys so it is important to drink a lot of water when you're on a high protein diet. Drinking water helps your body's organs process large amounts of protein. In addition to the high protein foods, I also eat a significant amount of fruits, green vegetables, and eat raw and organic foods whenever possible. Raw sources of protein can be found in nuts, seeds, seaweed, broccoli, spinach, kale, and other veggies and are some of the most potent and most beneficial sources of protein available on the planet.
The bulk of my diet consists of fruits in the morning; protein sources such as nuts, protein drinks and bars for snacks; green vegetables, beans, tofu and other protein and calorie-rich foods for lunch, and a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and grains for dinner. A typical meal for dinner may include a lentil soup with chopped of veggies, steamed or raw broccoli, tofu, and brown rice. Potatoes, tempeh, beans, and nuts are also staples of my diet and are often consumed around dinnertime. I typically just drink water before and after meals but for dinner I may include soymilk, almond milk, or natural fruit juice.
I focus on eating every 3 hours to stay in an anabolic state with a positive nitrogen balance for maintaining and building muscle. Taking in nutrients every 2-3 hours ensures that your muscles will always be fueled and nourished, providing the best opportunity for growth and achieving desired results. Eating every 3 hours may sound challenging but if you prepare your foods for the day in advance, it is really quite simple. You don't have to eat an entire meal, just take in protein, carbohydrates and fats every 3 hours and it will add up to a sum of calories that will not only maintain muscle but build muscle, combined with a weight-training or exercise program. Drinking water every two to three hours will also keep you well hydrated, assist with processing of protein foods, and will help you accumulate a gallon a day which is a minimum goal for most bodybuilders.
A vegan diet is often a topic of concern when it comes to athletics, but those concerns may be unwarranted. A vegan diet is typically healthier and more compassionate than an omnivorous diet, which although popular, can be more detrimental to overall health. Eating fruits and vegetables and other foods provided by plants and trees and fields, comes natural to me. These are the healthiest foods for us, yet as a society we are slaves to our taste buds and consume heavily processed, altered foods with addictive sugars, chemicals and other un-natural additives. That dangerous practice leads to poor health and often leads to increased medical costs for medications and treatments in an attempt to reverse problems created by poor diet.
Focus on plant-based foods and reap the benefits of optimal health through natural sources of protein.