As a holistic health coach and plant-based athlete, one of the most frequently asked questions I get asked is, "Where do you get your protein?" Well, the answer is simple: plants.
Contrary to popular belief, plants DO contain a lot of protein and choosing plant-based protein is very simple and has many nutritional benefits!
Eating ample amounts of seeds, beans, legumes, nuts, dark leafy vegetables, and whole grains provide for a hefty protein intake which aids in building lean muscle for athletes! With all that said, athletes do need adequate protein intake to promote muscle recovery and injury prevention. Essentially, eating protein-rich plants can also aid in weight loss, boost immunity, and satisfy cravings. Plus, with plant-based protein you also get the nutrient density of complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and phytonutrients - it's also lower in fat!
Here are my top 5 favorite plant-protein sources, and most importantly - how to incorporate them into your daily life!
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-WAH!) is the one of the hottest healthy foods out there, and for good reason. These gluten-free seeds are considered a complete protein containing 8 grams of protein per cup and all 9 essential amino acids. Quinoa is a perfect rice substitute or grain substitute and is very low in carbohydrates because it is a seed! Perfect for soups, salads, rice dishes or even for baking!
Beans are good for your... waistline! Beans have always been identified for their high-fiber content, but did you know 1 cup of kidney/black beans or chickpeas contains 15 grams of protein?! Make your favorite chili or tacos with beans - same goes for burgers, soups, stews, tacos or salads. Even sneak them into your brownies or cookies for an extra protein power punch.
3. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is my most magical pantry staple of all time. It contains no dairy or yeast and has a naturally cheesy flavor! This low-fat superfood is derived from beet molasses and contains crucial B-vitamins such as B12, which is very important for non-meat eaters. Sprinkle nutritional yeast as a ‘cheese’ substitute and create cheesy popcorn, pastas, cauliflower, kale chips, casseroles and cashew cheese with this one magical ingredient!
4. Dark Leafy Green Vegetables
Leafy green vegetables such as kale, broccoli, brussels and spinach are an excellent source of protein! Basically, two large bunches of dark leafy greens each day will supply anywhere from 16-20 grams of protein. Whether you drink your greens in a smoothie, chopped salads or sautéed them in your dinner, the protein definitely adds up from just plants alone!
5. Hemp, Chia and Flax Seeds
Hemp, chia and flax seeds are another excellent source of protein that comes loaded with calcium, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation and help speed muscle recovery. They are nutrient-dense and filling. They also expand to a gel when mixed with liquid to cleanse your digestive system. With 6 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons, they are a great addition to oatmeal, cereal, smoothies, salads and baked goods — all of your favorite things.
One-Pot: Smokey Protein Quinoa Chili (serves 4-6)
This veggie quinoa chili combines all the flavors and heartiness of a regular meat chili, but contains the purest form of plant-protein without all the salt, cheese, oil, and heaviness a regular chili would capture. Enjoy the flavor, ease of organic frozen veggies and how easy this one really comes together in one-pot!
- 1 yellow onion chopped
- red pepper chopped
- 1 yellow pepper chopped
- 32 oz jar 365 organic salsa
- 26 oz chopped tomatoes
- 15 oz can pinto or garbanzo beans – no salt added
- 15 oz black beans - no salt added
- 16 oz bag organic 365 fire-roasted frozen corn
- 1 cup frozen kale or spinach
- 2 cups cooked quinoa (frozen pre-cooked)
- 2 tbsp. salt free chili powder
- 1 tbsp. salt free garlic granules
- ½ tsp. smoked paprika powder
- Heat a very large pot on high heat on the stove. Toss in the onions and stir continuously for about 5 minutes until onions just barely start to brown.
- Add the peppers and stir for another 5 minutes until peppers start to soften. Pour in the salsa, chopped tomatoes and stir.
- Add the beans, corn, kale, quinoa, and spices. Stir until entire mixture is bubbling hot.
- Remove from heat - serve and enjoy!
- Tip: allow chili to stand for about 15 minutes to an hour on very low heat and then enjoy. The flavors will infuse over time, making this dish even better! Top with avocado, nutritional yeast, or a sweet potato!