The purpose—as I see it—with food is to provide your body with the raw materials it needs to repair, build, and maintain proper functionality. Amino acids are the building blocks the body uses to create muscles, cells, and other tissues (thanks, Wikipedia!).
To be specific, there are nine essential, proteinogenic [read: protein creating] amino acids amino acids we need to acquire through diet. Our bodies can’t make these on its own. We have to meet these needs through diet.
When you’re following an intense fitness training program, providing your body with an abundance of these raw materials is important. Fitness training is about ripping and tearing up muscles—so gruesome, right? With proper nutrition, rest, and recovery we repair this damage and foster the growth of muscles—the inner result of the of toned, defined bodies we desire.
Amino acids are most commonly found in animal meat, but they are not the sole sources of amino acids. I say all of this so that you may shift your focus from meeting your protein needs strictly through the conventional thought of “meat” to other food sources that contain what we are really after, the essential amino acids.
Fact: It’s REALLY easy to meet these needs if you’re eating an animal meat based diet.
Fact: It’s not impossible to do this on a meatless diet, however, it will take far more planning on your part to execute correctly. If you’re an on-the-go eater and don’t cook a lot of your meals, that will have to change.
Fact: I am not a Registered Dietitian. I cannot advise you on how to treat or cure an ailment.
Fact: I am, however, a former vegetarian of 15 years, a personal trainer, and studying to become a Fitness Nutrition Specialist. I have learned a lot and want to share that with you.
Ok, with that out of the way, onward we go!
Two important things to remember:
Eat a wide variety of the foods I am going to list below. This will ensure that you are getting the proper balance of amino acids. I wouldn’t stress out too much about aiming for specific quantities of each amino acid; unless you’re suffering from a protein deficiency. At which point, I would recommend working 1-on-1 with a registered dietitian. If you’re eating a good mix of whole foods, you’ll be meeting your needs.
The second thing to be mindful of on a meat-free diet is to balance out your carbohydrates and ensure you’re getting enough protein. It can be very easy to have a high-carb diet when not eating meat, which isn’t always the best thing if you’re focused on decreasing your waistline. I am not saying carbohydrates are bad, but an excess of anything is going to get stored verses being used by the body.
Make use of the menu planner each week to plan out your meals to make sure you’re hitting your target macros from the protein sources you choose.
If you’re working with me on nutrition, I’ve outlined target protein number for you to hit to ensure you’re getting enough protein for your goals and activity level. My goal is always to provide my clients with enough protein to allow their bodies to repair and grow while training at intense levels. Your actual number will vary based on if you are focused on reducing body fat, improving performance, or building muscle. Your task is to plan out your day so you hit that number without going over on fat or carbs.
Meat-free alternatives with high protein
I’m a bit proponent of not reinventing the wheel. Which is why the below list is from an article I found geared towards non-meat athletes. This is a pretty comprehensive list that also provides which amino acids each food is high in. Use this list as a guide when you are menu planning.
I will be putting together a sample menu that can be adapted for your target macros, along with meatless recipes. I will be distributing this menu to all my email subscribers and clients, however, if you are not on the list you can subscribe to receive it below.
First, here are my go-to options for high-quality, meatless protein sources.
- Greek Yogurt, 0% or 2%, organic when possible
- Quality protein powders. I use Isopure Zero Carb in Vanilla and Isopure Low Carb in Dutch Chocolate. I like both of these because they mix well with hot and cold liquids, the are great for incorporating in recipes, and they rank pretty well in terms of quality on Lab Door. There are other great options out there, these have just been my standbys for the last 3 years.
Use Labdoor.com to find the best options. Lab Door ranks supplements on the quality and safety of their ingredients, label accuracy, etc. It ‘s a great source to check before purchasing anything. You can filter by vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, etc.
- Raw, organic nut or seed butter
- Free-Range, Organic Eggs or Egg Whites
- Nuts & Seeds (Organic, Raw, Unsalted) Pistachios, Cashews, Walnuts, Pumpkin seeds
- Organic Rolled Oats
I hope this list helps you get started on planning your meals yourself. I will be sending out a menu and meatless recipes with high protein soon.