Protein. It is one of the words that gets thrown around in food and diet-talk often, and rightly so. Protein is absolutely essential for the body to function properly and it is even more important for those who run or exercise. Among many functions of protein, this macronutrient is vital for repairing damaged muscle tissue that occurs throughout the day, but especially during exercise. Low protein intake will lead to many health issues, but it will also seriously increase your risk of injury.
One of the questions Val and I got asked the most when we changed our diet and began a new chapter in our life was the one most plant-based consumers get asked: How do you get your protein? If you eat a plant-based diet or a meat-free diet, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If I were to ask that same question to someone who ate animal products, they would likely explain that they get their protein from meat. They wouldn’t be wrong. They would just be missing a few sources of protein in their response.
What many people don’t know is that protein is not just found in the meat or eggs that they eat. Sure, Rocky didn’t help clear this up when he was chugging down glasses of raw eggs for building muscle (or rather, for the protein to allow muscle to be built), but it is true nonetheless. People can get protein from so many sources that are often not thought about and are sometimes even surprising.
As I start to wind down my marathon training and well over 4 months and 1,100+ miles of training and racing, I decided to dedicate this post to discussing how I’ve kept (and keep) my muscles healthy and repaired so that I can get out and own the day with my next run.
Kidney, black, pinto…I’ll eat them all. A cup of most beans has about 15g of protein. That’s a lot of protein. It’s also a lot of beans for one person, but even if you half that, that’s a great amount of protein to be including in your dinner and what’s great about adding beans to your plate is that the fiber in them will keep you full longer. It will also lead to other stuff happening, but we won’t go there.
Low in sugar, high in fiber, high in protein…awesome food. I won’t “highlight” no fat because I like fat. And you should too.
This is a bit confusing because beans are legumes, but I am referring to three specific types of legumes in this section. The three are chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts. I eat these three foods every week in some way, shape, or form.
Chickpeas are a phenomenal source of protein with over 35g in 1 cup. I eat a serving of chickpeas whole or as hummus several days a week. Chickpeas added to a veggie stir fry is delicious, but even eating them by themselves with your favorite condiment if you prefer would be a great way to get a ton of protein in your diet.
I cook lentils at least twice a week and spice it up with curry, turmeric, and cayenne pepper for an extra kick and for their awesome properties that lower inflammation. Lentils are also a great source of protein with about 18g in a cup.
I never had lentils or knew what they were until I met Val. I must have had them at her family’s for dinner one night, and I’ve been hooked ever since. They’re a staple in our kitchen.
And my favorite, those-are-legumes? legumes are peanuts. I eat peanuts mostly as peanut butter, but I love them whole as well. Over 35g in 1 cup of raw peanuts.
Tofu has over 10g of protein and is a food that Val and I eat very, very often. We buy it organic to help out with all the issues surrounding tofu. Boiled soybeans or edamame have over 20g of protein per cup and while I don’t eat soybeans too often, every bite reminds me of why I bought them in the first place. Tempeh is another incredible source of protein with over 30g in 1 cup. It’s got a grainy texture so it makes it a very good meat replacer for vegetarians and vegans. Follow the link for some great recipes for using tempeh.
DARK LEAFY GREENS
I rather call these veggies Dark Leafies. It’ll catch on. They don’t have as much protein as beans or legumes, but they have a good enough amount that should definitely be considered. Spinach (about 5g in 1 cup), kale (about 3g in 1 cup), brussel sprouts (about 3g in 1 cup), broccoli (about 2.5 in 1 cup) are all excellent sources of protein.
I eat so many bars it’s almost ridiculous. I love their convenience. Would I minimize nutrition bars if I could? Yes. But I’m on a budget and they are delicious, so I’m inclined to keep at it. Most bars I enjoy have at least 10g of protein in it with some (Clif Builders) being as high as 20g of protein. There aren’t many vegan bars that offer more grams of protein than that.
My favorite nondairy milk is soy milk. Val prefers almond milk, so you can guess which one we buy more often. Right. Almond. I wish it was soy though because soy milks have way more protein that almond milk in the same serving size (8g in a cup). I don’t drink milk unless we just baked cookies or some other baked good, but we consume it every day in our coffee, oatmeal, and blends.
NUTS, SEEDS & NUT BUTTERS
Sunflower, pumpkin, chia, and flax are all the seeds I eat more often. I always mix a teaspoon of chia or flax seeds in my yogurts and oatmeals for the added fats, proteins, and other nutritional benefits. I love almonds (my fave), cashews, and pecans, but I try not to buy raw whole nuts for two reasons: they’re not cheap (on a budget, people), and what I buy to last a week, I’ll eat in 2 days…No bueno.
Go Raw Sprouted Watermelon Seeds are bomb. As in Bomb.com bomb. That means: really freakin’ good. I wrote in a previous post that they were one of the foods I couldn’t help but continue snacking on after my kitchen should have been closed for the night. Go Raw has a bunch of other seed products also worthy of trying out!
That’s 10g of protein in probably a couple handfuls of watermelon seeds. High in fat? Sure. But again. I like fat. And so should you.
Technically a seed and not a grain, quinoa is my favorite “grainy” option. A great source of potassium, magnesium, and protein (8g per cup), this seed is definitely a superfood for runners. If you don’t know when or how to eat quinoa, I suggest start by using it how you would rice, but there is plenty more you can do.
I know this is a long post, but I wanted to really share with you just some of the other sources you can get protein and ones that I rely on. I used 1 cup as the only serving size, just because it is easier to visualize in my opinion. I wouldn’t eat 1 cup of most of these foods in a single sitting, but you should still get the idea of why, as a runner, I eat these foods often.
I try to take care of my body with ample amounts of plant-based protein from diverse sources and I’ve had the good fortune of not being injured within the past 3 years, though this time range can probably be extended beyond 3 years. So next time you are asked where you get your protein or the next time you ask someone else, I hope you’re asking with the new knowledge that protein is found in so many other sources than just animal foods.
Question time: Do you include protein in most meals, including snacks? Do you count your intake of protein or just wing it? Have you experienced an injury recently and perhaps know you have a low protein intake (I will certainly not diagnose your injury or attribute it to any cause, but curiosity does lead me to ask this question)? Let’s talk in the comments!