One of the greatest dietary myths out there, is that humans need animal protein to maintain and build muscle.
This long held belief has primarily been promoted by the meat and dairy industry and academia for decades, yet the facts are that you can get everything you need for maintaining muscle and strength from plant whole foods.
In fact, it is interesting to note that one of the strongest pound-for-pound animals on earth is the gorilla, which is completely vegetarian, and has a very similar anatomical structure to human beings.
So, if you're trying to cut down on your intake of meat and animal protein, or choose to avoid it altogether in favour of a more plant-based lifestyle, here we want to help give you the confidence to do just that.
Eating less animal products and moving to more plant foods, is actually quite simple when you're able to debunk the false notion around protein and then make a conscious shift towards the whole food alternatives.
The ‘Incomplete’ Plant-Based Protein Myth
Contrary to popular belief, plants actually provide the true building-blocks of protein via their rich amino acid profiles.
That's why some of the earth's strongest and most muscular animals eat nothing but grass, leaves, seeds, fruits and roots and get everything they need to build and support their incredible muscle mass and strength.
An important distinction to keep in mind is that meat is 'second source' protein, meaning that the animal has typically "built" its muscle (the protein that we know as meat), by eating plants rather than other animals.
In other words, gorillas, cows, horses, giraffes, buffalo etc. all eat only plants which is their 'first source' of protein, that then converts into muscle - second source protein - in the body.
When you consider things logically, it can't get any simpler than this despite the long standing campaigns promoting that, "you need to eat meat and animal products for protein".
So, it's time to rethink this belief.
And before we get into "the best" sources of plant-based protein for muscle maintenance and strength, a little more wisdom to consider...
Your body has a protein reservoir.
Meaning, among all of your body's amazing abilities, is its ability to store protein.
In fact, these reserves can be reassembled to fill in for deficiencies in your diet.
In short, your body is smarter than you think.
And as long as you eat a variety of seasonal whole foods that mother nature provides, you can get all the protein you need, in the right quantities to build and maintain muscle mass.
If you doubt this, just ask the ever growing community of strength and endurance athletes who are moving away from meat and animal products to a whole plant-based diet to support their physical performance.
Here's pour nine favourite sources of plant-based protein for muscle maintenance and strength...
At 8 grams of protein per serving, quinoa sits proudly at the top of our list of best plant-based proteins. In addition to being protein-rich, quinoa also boasts 5 grams of fibre, which of course, is vital for healthy digestion and will help keep you fuller, longer, curbing appetite and supporting healthy weight management.
Quinoa also has all nine amino acids in perfect balance, so there are no holes for your body to fill.
How to enjoy quinoa:
- Cook and cool it, then add it to summer salads
- Use it in place of rice
- Make a quinoa breakfast porridge
- Add it to hearty soups
Lentils contain around 9 grams of protein per 1/2 cup serving, making them one of the richest plant-based sources of protein.
For thousands of years, lentils have been a cornerstone of plant-based eating, offering not only a solid source of protein, but also, providing wonderful texture that is a perfect substitute for ground mince meat.
Lentils are also jam-packed with fibre, so they stave off hunger, and they're an exceptional source of antioxidants and magnesium.
How to enjoy lentils:
- Prepare dahl indian curries
- Add to pasta sauce
- Use in stuffed peppers or mushroom caps
- Use in vegan burger patties
- Incorporate into salads
Learn more about the benefits of lentils in our blog: Foods That Support Healthy Digestive Function.
Almonds consist of 6g of protein per 1/4 cup serving.
All nuts are among the best sources of plant-based protein, but almonds pack the most protein per serving. Almonds are also a good source of bone-strengthening calcium and heart-healthy unsaturated fats.
How to enjoy almonds:
- On organic dairy or coconut yoghurt
- Add to your favourite salads
- Toast and add to pasta or stir fries
- Add to home made muesli
- Enjoy with dry fruit or on their own as a wholesome snack
4. Nutritional Yeast
With a nutty, parmesan-cheese like appearance and texture, nutritional yeast is the golden child of the plant-based diet.
At 8 grams of protein per 1/4 cup, it's more than just protein that nutritional yeast brings to the table. It also has tons of B vitamins, which are often in short supply in vegetarian and vegan diets, and plays a crucial role in muscle recovery.
How to enjoy nutritional yeast:
- Sprinkle steamed vegetables (drizzle with olive oil)
- Add it to soup
- Add it to pasta sauces
- Add it to chilli con carne
- Use it to make vegan cheese
5. Black Beans
Black beans contain 5 grams of protein per 1/2 cup serving and are a great muscle building addition to a plant-based diet. As well as protein, they deliver fibre and essential nutrients, such as zinc, which is pivotal in muscle repair.
How to enjoy black beans:
- Add to homemade vegetarian chilli
- Toss through salads
- Add to vegetable bakes
- Add to burritos
- Roast in oven with coconut oil, sea salt & nutritional yeast to prepare a healthy snack food.
8g of protein per 3 oz serving
Made from soy, tofu is one of the most recognisable forms of plant-based protein. Soy is also an excellent source of iron, which like zinc, is pivotal to rebuilding muscle post-workout.
How to enjoy tofu:
- In sushi
- With veggies, BBQ’d on skewer
- In Asian stir fries
- Marinate and toss salad
Important Note: Soy is one of those foods that has been harshly mistreated over the years. There is nothing to be concerned about when you source organic non-GMO soy and soy products. The trick is to be conscious of your source when purchasing soy foods.
Learn more in our blog: 5 Easy Plant-Based Meals You Can Prepare in Less than 10 Minutes
7. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds consist of around 6 grams of protein per serve and are packed with other incredible nutrients including, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, iron, calcium and fibre.
Since ancient times, Chia seeds have been known as a powerhouse when it comes to plant-based nutrition.
How to enjoy chia seeds:
- In smoothies and raw desserts
- Soak overnight in nut milk to create a next morning, breakfast chia pod (add raw honey, maple syrup or dried fruit and nuts)
- Lightly toast them and add to home made muesli
Learn more in our blog: 5 Amazing Benefits Of Chia Seeds
13g of protein per serving.
Like tofu, Tempeh is soy based and is one of the most economical sources of plant-based protein. It is often used in Japanese cooking recipes and also to prepare vegetarian burger patties in place of meat.
How to enjoy tempeh:
- Use to prepare vegetable patties
- Use in stir fries
- Roll in coconut oil and spices and bake for an amazing snack
- Put it on a veggie kebab & barbeque
9. Hemp Seeds
10g of protein per 3 tbsp serving
Like quinoa, hemp seeds contain all nine amino acids. Hemp is readily available as seeds or hearts, which are shelled hemp seeds.
In addition to being an excellent source of plant-based protein, hemp seeds are also rich in fibre, fatty acids, and a good source of calcium, iron and zinc - three minerals that are often lacking in vegan diets.
How to enjoy hemp seeds:
- On wholegrain cereals
- In oatmeal or porridge
- On nut buttered toast
- On top of soy yoghurt
The Main Take Away
It's time to let go of the belief that you must eat meat for muscle maintenance and strength. History is full of long-lived, disease-free cultures who were predominately vegetarian and lived on plant foods.
The reality is that nature's table has all the protein, vitamins, minerals and enzymes you need for health, vitality and muscular function. Not only that, these foods won't put you at risk of cancers and other diseases that are commonly associated with many animal foods.
The secret to a sustainable, whole plant-based diet, starts with raising your vibration, awareness and connection to food.
It's about opening your eyes to the colour, smell, taste and variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes that nature provides. And there's no better place to develop an appreciation for whole food than at your local farmer's markets on a weekend.
When you start to look at food more consciously, you begin to appreciate that it's not about isolating any particular nutrient, such as protein. It's about trusting in the complexity of nature and the food that the earth provides to nourish, build, sustain and heal you, to keep you strong and to help you thrive.
Tolman Self Care.