If you’re an athlete following a plant-based diet, it’s important to ensure you’re fuelling your body with good-quality protein sources that will provide you with all essential nutrients.
While animal protein has long been the go-to for many athletes, plant based proteins are gaining traction, and for good reason. Not only do plant-based sources of protein provide essential amino acids, but they offer other health benefits, and are more environmentally-friendly.
However, when choosing plant-based proteins, it’s important to choose wisely to ensure you’re consuming good-quality protein.
This article will explore the top five plant-based sources of protein for athletes including almond protein, pea protein, seed protein, quinoa, and beans.
Almonds are packed with plant-based protein, providing about 8 grams of protein for a ¼ cup serving. However, if you’re looking to maximize the benefits of almonds and consume more almond protein, choosing an almond-based protein powder is a fantastic choice.
Almonds and almond protein powder also contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and plenty of fiber.
The healthy fats in particular are helpful for endurance athletes, as fats are necessary to provide athletes with sustained energy (1).
Almond protein is also very versatile and can be incorporated in shakes, smoothies, oatmeal, or baked goods to boost the nutrition and protein content.
Pea protein is one of the most popular plant based protein sources available on the market, thanks to its impressive protein content and ability to be easily digested and absorbed.
Pea protein is derived from yellow split peas, contains all nine essential amino acids, and helps to support muscle growth and repair after exercise.
Athletes who follow a plant-based diet can especially benefit from pea protein due to its branched chain amino acid content. Branched chain amino acids include leucine, isoleucine, and valine, all of which play a necessary rolle in protein synthesis and muscle recovery.
In just one serving of pea protein, athletes can get 20-25 grams of high-quality protein per serving, making it an efficient and convenient way to consume high-quality plant protein.
Seed protein is another high-quality protein source. Seeds such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and pumpkin seeds contain a good amount of protein, especially when they’re concentrated in a protein powder form.
In addition to providing protein, seeds also pack a punch when it comes to healthy fats, fiber, and micronutrients, making them a fantastic addition to an athlete’s diet.
Seeds are particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids which can reduce inflammation and therefore improve recovery time after exercise (2).
Quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse. Quinoa is in fact technically a seed, but it’s cooked and consumed like a grain, making it quite versatile and full of nutrition.
In just one cup of cooked quinoa, athletes are provided with nearly 8 grams of high-quality protein. In fact, quinoa is one of the few grain sources available that provides all essential amino acids, which is necessary for muscle recovery after exercise.
In addition to providing high-quality protein, quinoa provides complex carbohydrates, plenty of fiber, and healthy unsaturated fats. Quinoa is also high in magnesium, which supports muscle function during high-intensity exercise (3).
Beans are a staple food in any plant-based diet. Beans such as black beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas provide a great source of protein to support muscle protein synthesis and muscle recovery.
Plus, they are also a great source of complex carbohydrates and fiber, helping athletes feel full and providing them with sustained energy. Athletes need long-lasting fuel during extended workouts, and the carbohydrates in beans are slowly digested which helps support stable blood sugar levels and sustained energy, all while preventing energy crashes.
Many beans, particularly kidney beans, are particularly rich in iron, which is a micronutrient that helps deliver oxygen to muscles during exercise.
There are several dietary sources of high-quality plant-based proteins that athletes can incorporate into their diet to improve nutritional status and boost performance and recovery.
Almond protein, pea protein, seed protein, quinoa, and beans are all great sources of protein and other essential nutrients for athletes looking for plant-based sources of protein.
By incorporating these foods, athletes can support muscle growth and recovery, and ensure better workouts by fueling their bodies with adequate complex carbohydrates, fibers, and healthy fats.
Regardless of where you are in your exercise or wellness journey, incorporating these plant-based proteins is a great way to support your fitness and overall well-being.