How To Get Enough Protein On A Vegetarian Diet

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Next week is National Vegetarian Week! Why, you ask, would that interest a bona fide meat-eater such as myself? It may surprise you to hear that it was actually only in January that I moved over to the dark side. I found that the harder I trained, the hungrier I became – and only the densest of protein-rich foods would fill me up. Hence the meat cravings, and the abandonment of the vegetarian lifestyle I’d led for ten years.

That’s why the current trend of vegetarianism for health interests me. Mitra Wicks wrote about part-time vegetarianism in this month’s Om Yoga Magazine: the self-professed “fine meat” lover tries out a plant-based diet for a month to reap the healthy benefits. Whilst it’s true that studies show a meat-rich diet can be detrimental to your health, Anita Bean also states in Sports Nutrition that athletes need between 1.2 and 1.7 grams per kilogram bodyweight – and I mean athletes as in individuals who train hard, not just the Jess Ennises and Mo Farrahs of this world – compared to a sedentary person who only needs 0.75 grams per kilogram.

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So how do we strike a balance? You’d be amazed to learn just how many foods protein is present in, though it’s difficult to get sources as dense as meat. To poke a litle fun at switch to being a meat-eater, I set myself a challenge to try get as much protein in one evening meal as I possibly could – without resorting to meat, dairy, or even fake meat!

Kidney beans: 8g per half can (120g). Beans are a perfect source of protein for vegetarians – they’re full of fibre, stabilise blood sugar and are inexpensive.

Chickpea & spinach soup: 4.4g per half can. Chickpeas are also legumes, the same as beans, and share many of the same benefits. This can is one of my “emergency” meals but I thought it would be good to make it the base! Plus this ad-lib addition is in keeping with the thrown-together quality of this dish.. Ahem.

Mushrooms: 2.2g per cup. I used to think that mushrooms were mega protein dense, due to their presence in most veggie meals, but I actually think this is due to their meaty texture rather than macro content. Still, not bad for a vegetable – calorie-for-calorie, broccoli has 1.2g.

Quinoa: 8g per cooked cup. A trendy superfood, and with good reason – it contains all nine amino acids and has twice the protein of rice.

Green pepper: 0.5g per half pepper. For taste, texture and colour!

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Total protein per portion: 23.1g. Perhaps not in the lofty heights of 50g for a steak but not bad for a plate full of vegetables.

This dish did fill me up and is something I would happily add into my weekly menu, though perhaps not suitable for the day after legs day: my muscles need more fuel after lifting heavy. I’d have been interested to hear if Wicks felt any better after her meat-free month, especially seeing as I felt stronger after ceasing vegetarianism! It just proves that your diet is a very personal thing, and whilst you should take into account what the experts say, how you feel is the best indicator of a healthy lifestyle.

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