How vegetarians get protein

The number of vegetarians competing in strength training competitions and just looking to build size is increasing. Yet plenty of people still question whether the vegetarian lifestyle holds you back from really achieving in the gym. Whether it is because of religion, a concern for the planet or because of the welfare of animals, the choice to become a vegetarian is becoming more popular. So the question is can vegetarians really get enough protein?

Well, the fact that I need to ask that question is ridiculous. I’m sure by now we realise that meat isn’t the only source of protein out there and therefore if you choose not to eat it then you shouldn’t be sacrificing protein intake. The real concern for vegetarians shouldn’t be whether or not they can get enough protein, but instead which sources of protein are they going to opt for.

Proteins are made up of amino acids, of which there are twenty that are known to us, including nine that can’t be manufactured. These nine are therefore known as essential amino acids. All food from animal sources, meat basically, contains all the essential amino acids, as do eggs. A lot of plant food sources are missing one or a few of these essential amino acids. But there are some that contain all nine, like soy and quinoa for example.

Fortunately the human race has actually been quite clever in combing complementary proteins together to provide all the essential amino acids in one go. For example, eating rice and beans or hummus and pitta bread together isn’t just tasty. The legumes possess the amino acids that the grains lack and vice versa, making them perfect protein partners.

There also seems to be this myth that vegetarians have to supplement the majority of their protein because they can’t get enough from natural resources. Even if this was true, I would stuggle to find someone who focuses on strength training that doesn’t use some form of protein supplementation. So I don’t see how this can be used as an argument against vegetarianism.

The truth is that there are countless numbers of foods that vegetarians eat that contain a lot of protein. So much so that it would be impossible to complete a finite list, just as you couldn’t with a list for meat-eaters. The main sources of protein that aren’t found in meat are foods like nuts, beans and lentils, which all have surprisingly high levels of protein.

Going back to this point about supplementation, it doesn’t matter if you eat meat or not, you should still aim to get most of your nutrients from your food. If you can’t, or you have been advised to have extra then of course supplementation is a viable option. And yes, there are plenty of vegetarian protein shakes out there.

In a world where a lot of us probably eat too much meat, maybe it is time we all try to incorporate some vegetarian ideas into our diet. And dont worry, you wont have to give up the protein to do so!

Ollie Lawrence
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