Contrary to popular belief, protein doesn’t need to be of animal origin in order for you to meat your requirements (see what I did there?). If you’re a practicing vegetarian – for whatever reason – there are plenty of high quality, plant-based sources to choose from.
It’s a myth that meat-eaters tend to make better progress when it comes to gaining muscle mass. Okay, we’ll rewind here a little bit; in terms of its biological value (BV), meat can certainly offer an advantage. Firstly, it’s known as a ‘complete’ protein, i.e. contains sufficient levels of all nine essential amino acids. Secondly, since it’s – effectively – the muscle tissue of an animal, it delivers components that are key to corresponding muscle development in the human body.
Before our animal-loving readers squeamishly rebuke this idea, I’m speaking from a crude, scientific stance. Meat can offer ‘the path of least resistance’, so to speak – but by no means the only route to your goals. It just takes careful planning and a bit of know-how.
Listed below are some of the best (and worst) options for vegetarians; depending on your ethical views, you can find the solution that works for you.
Whey Protein & Eggs
If you’re of the vegan persuasion, thus you choose not to eat any animal products at all, then whey/dairy and eggs will naturally be discounted. However, if you’re a classic, lacto-ovo vegetarian, you can presumably include these as part of your diet.
Whey protein is considered to have the highest biological value (BV) of all protein foods, delivering a full spectrum of amino acids in useful amounts. Including one to two servings daily can support muscle development. Many brands offer great-tasting powders that mix well with water or milk.
Eggs are a nutritional powerhouse! The clear proportion or ‘egg white’ (also known as albumen) has a high BV. As well as pure egg whites that are available commercially, you can also find egg white protein powder (don’t worry, it’s usually flavoured) that you can mix up like any other protein shake. Whole eggs which include the yolk are a great addition to your eating plan (especially if you’re aiming to build muscle); don’t listen to the misleading information about them raising cholesterol levels (besides, this is a whole other topic). They contain good fats, along with a host of nutrients such as iron, magnesium, selenium, the vitamin B-complex, plus vitamins A, D, E and K.
Tofu is made from soya beans, as are many meat alternatives. They have a complete amino acid profile, and whilst these arguably provide a versatile addition to the diet, they’re often highly processed.
Soya protein powders are an option, but (and it’s a big but), certain varieties are known to leave a slight aftertaste. Some individuals (who’ll remain anonymous) have described this as ‘plastic-like’ and ‘bitter’. It’s also worth mentioning that soya has been linked to increased breast growth in males (yes!); this is thought to be caused by the naturally occurring oestrogens it contains. If you prefer not to wear a bra, gents, perhaps it’s best to avoid soya products altogether...
Hemp, Pea & Rice Protein Powder
Whilst you can find these as lone products, they’re usually available as a blend. Reason being, their combined BV is comparative to animal protein; as sole components, they lack certain amino acids. They also have a texture that is perhaps a little… grainy, and so are better used to fortify savoury dishes and smoothies. For use with the latter, my advice is to find a reputable brand – and use high speed blender with a good handful of berries to provide flavour.
It’s worth noting that hemp powder contains valuable levels of essential omega-3 fatty acids, which are vital to health. Therefore, they can provide a valuable addition to the vegetarian diet, which is void of oily fish.
Sunflower seed protein is now emerging, which has a mild, nutty flavour and versatile use. It also possesses a full spectrum of aminos.
Legumes, Pulses & Nuts
Legumes, pulses and nuts can help to boost protein intake. Whilst legumes such as peas, chickpeas and soya beans usually contain all essential aminos, pulses often lack methionine and tryptophan. Combining these with grains/cereals and vegetables usually provides adequate balance.
Nuts. Are. Great. They provide a complete protein source, plus other important nutrients including healthy fats, fibre, vitamin E, zinc and magnesium. Almonds, cashews, walnuts, brazils, pecans and hazelnuts are equally good options; eat 1-2 handfuls daily, frequently varying your choice.
So there you have it – being veggie need not be edgy! For optimal results, it’s wise to eat a variety of the above.