A Healthy Alternative to Animal Products: Plant-based Protein for Athletes
For many of us, the idea of following a plant-based diet has probably crossed our minds at least once. But it all seems a bit daunting, doesn’t it? Soaking beans for days, looking up recipes, calculating the macronutrients. But it doesn’t have to be! There are lots of simple and exciting ways to get started. As the years go by more and more of the world top athletes are going TOTALLY plant-based, with multiple examples in the NFL, NBA, and UFC. There are many benefits to incorporating meat-free days into your weekly diet plan including increased intake of vitamins, minerals and fiber, reduced risk of illness, CV disease and cancer, a reduction in weekly food costs, and a reduced impact on the environment. It all sounds great, right? We all want to perform at our best, nobody wants to get sick, and it’s about time we started looking after the planet a bit, isn’t it!?
Animal vs Plant Protein
It has been well established that the ingestion of dietary protein following a bout of resistance-type exercise can inhibit muscle protein breakdown, and increase post-exercise muscle protein synthesis. However, provided that all the essential amino acids are consumed, does the source of the protein really matter? Many would argue that protein from animal sources is more easily digestible, easy to consume, and has superior bioavailability. However, alongside supporting training adaptations to the same level as animal products, plant-based protein sources are also packed full of additional nutrients.
One of the main conflicts athletes have with plant-based diets is the idea of a complete amino acid profile (foods which contain all of the essential amino acids). Meat and animal products e.g. dairy and eggs, seem to be the easy options as all of the essential amino acids can be consumed in one go. However, although they are a little harder to come by, and may require a little more work, there are complete plant-based proteins too e.g. soy, chia seeds, and quinoa. But despite their ‘complete protein’ title, their overall protein content is nothing to write home about! Therefore, given that many athletes have elevated protein requirements, it is often recommended to combine multiple plant sources throughout the day e.g. grains, pulses, nuts, and seeds. This allows the athlete to obtain all of the essential amino acids by combining a variety of complementary sources. Thus, creating a complete amino acid profile.
Plant-based protein examples:
Here are a few examples of some great plant-based protein sources that are easily incorporated into meals and are easy on the pocket too.
One cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils contains roughly:
* Calories: 230
* Protein: 17.9 grams
* Fiber: 15.6 grams
One cup (256 grams) of cooked kidney beans contains roughly:
* Calories: 215
* Protein: 13.4 grams
* Fiber: 13.6 grams
One cup (172 grams) of cooked black beans contains roughly:
* Calories: 227
* Protein: 15.2 grams
* Fiber: 15 grams
One cup (172 grams) of cooked soybeans contains roughly:
* Calories: 298
* Protein: 28.6 grams
* Fiber: 10.3 grams
One half-cup (73 grams) of peanuts contains roughly:
* Calories: 427
* Protein: 17.3 grams
* Fiber: 5.9 grams
As the years go by, it is becoming harder and harder to ignore the benefits of plant-based proteins. Nutritionists, sports scientists, and elite athletes are slowly but surely beginning to follow suit, and it’s about time that the rest of us did too! Now, to erase any confusion, I am by no means telling you to cut out meat or animal-based products from your diet. They are also hugely beneficial, and for many of us hold a place close to our hearts. However, this idea that we should be afraid of plant protein must be addressed, and our attitudes must begin to shift! Furthermore, by combining these well-thought-out dietary protein sources with OptiNOs, there will be an increased delivery of amino acids to the muscle, increased stimulation of the mTOR signaling pathway and enhanced performance results! By setting aside a couple of days a week to experiment with plant-based alternatives, you could notice some real health improvements, gain some knowledge in the kitchen, and save a few pennies too! Lastly, it is important to note that regardless of protein source, sport specific protein recommendations still stand. And as long as these targets are met, a plant-based diet will be adequate in supporting sports performance.