Posted by on Sep 22, 2015

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“I generally avoid animal products and I can only handle dairy in small doses as it messes with my stomach pretty bad.  So how do I hit the protein recommendations that you have given me?”- my client Hillary in an initial email with me

As a bacon loving, chicken chomping, deviled egg devouring (not kidding if these are at a party, I will eat them all), beef feasting lover of protein brotein reading those words sent my brain into a tailspin.

My initial thought was: “I guess I could mention vegan protein supplements?”

Admittedly, I love my post-workout shake.  It keeps the tiny bro inside of me feeling Brotacular but to be honest? You don’t need it.  I personally do not advocate that clients buy supplements as you can get everything you need from actual food sources and not plastic tubs.

I did not want to be a hypocrite and suggest supplements and the only two food sources that popped into my head off the bat were, lentils (15g protein per ¼ cup) and tofu (10g per ½ cup).

From my meat lovers perspective, there are just not a lot of “protein rich” vegan friendly sources… or so I thought.

As I started to research, I realized there are things out there other than tofu that are fairly high in protein content for vegans or those who choose to go “meatless.”

Mycoprotein Aka Quorn

Quorn was originally created in the 1960s as a possible food replacement to help combat the global food shortage.  Developed in Britain, and released in the early 1980s, it was a celebrated new addition to the pantries of vegetarians in the United Kingdom.  It is bound together with egg whites, so it is not “vegan” friendly, however, this does pack a decent amount of protein into a 100 gram serving.

Per serving you can expect to get about 11g of protein, 9 grams of carbs, and 3 grams of fat, clocking this in at around 90 calories per serving.

Natto

This is a traditional Japanese food that is made from fermenting soybeans.  Dating back to ancient times this dish is made by combining the natto soybean with a bacterium known as Bacillus subtilis.  This bacterium is abundant in rice straw, so in ancient Japan they would pack the steamed soybeans into the rice straw and leave it to ferment.

Natto can be a turn off to some due to its strong and pungent smell and slimy texture.

In a 100 gram serving, you will net 18g protein, 11g fat, and about 14g carbs.

Tempeh

Tempeh is another soybean product originating in Indonesia.  On the island of Java today, it is the most popular protein source for inhabitants.  It is made, just like the natto above, by fermenting soybeans with a bacterium.  Tempeh, however, uses the whole soybean during the fermentation process thus giving it a higher content of protein and dietary fiber.

A 100g serving of this will net you 19g of protein, 11g of fat, and 9g of carbs.

Seitan

This is probably the best bang for your buck if you are looking for a high protein non meat alternative.  Unlike the others listed above this one is very low in fat and its protein content is high, though on the amino acid side of things (amino acids are what make up protein) it does lack lysine hence why many have to cook it in soy sauce to add that needed amino acid.

However, in a 3-ounce serving of Seitan you will get 1g of fat, 3g of carbs, and 18g of protein!  That is on par with my favorite high-protein source, low-fat cottage cheese!

So what is it?

Unlike the others above, Seitan, is not made from soybeans.  It is not some exotic root of a plant found only under buffalo dung, nor is it something made by some vegan mad scientist in a lab.  It actually goes as far back as a thousand years ago when it was created as a meat substitute for Chinese Buddhist monks. It is made by taking gluten, yes the evil protein from wheat that is killing everyone and making us obese, and mixing it with herbs and spices then adding it to water or stock and bring it to a simmer.

If you are a gluten free vegan/vegetarian, stick with soybeans.  However, if you do not have celiac and are not a trendy hipster and love bread/wheat then this might be your meat-less protein choice! (quick note, it can be pricey if you buy the packaged kind but you can save a butt load of money if you make it yourself, check here for details)


Beyond those sources, there is the “classic”, though significantly high in carbohydrates, rice and beans.  When compared to meat sources these two offer only a moderate amount of protein.  If you are a vegetarian or even vegan, however, then chow down, my friend, because you’re obviously not getting it from meat.

They are not excellent sources of “protein” but in the areas of the world that are most commonly referred to as “blue zones,” the areas where people live marginally longer than the rest of the world, rice and beans make up the largest portion of their diets.  Knowing that fact we “brotein” lovers might wanna consider fitting more of those in our macros from now on, eh?

The above foods might be the perfect fit for those who avoid animal products.  With their high-protein content, they may be something my Brotein loving friends want to try one night and give the ol’ chicken breast a rest.  From what I have discovered it is not super difficult to get high-protein sources if you don’t eat meat.  Your main problem will be finding sources that have complete protein profiles (meaning that they have all the essential amino acids within them, Quinoa is a complete protein source but fairly “low” in protein compared to the ones above).

As a coach I preach eating an assorted amount of veggies, my motto is “taste the rainbow, make your plate as colorful as possible.”

If you avoid animal products, I suggest following the same guideline to get all your needed amino acids.  Eat a wide array of the high-protein foods I mentioned above to get everything your body needs so that you can recover and build muscle just like your meat loving counterparts.

Originally published on Sidequest Fitness. Featured photo by Mikhail Esteves and used under a Creative Commons License.

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