As a vegan runner I find myself perplexed by the running community and their antiquated protein guidelines for runners. I’m led to believe that many of them aren’t of the plant-based variety. And asking a carnivore about protein is comparable to asking a child about Christmas – the answers contain lots of mystery and are fictitious in nature. Sure, we need protein, and perhaps more so than our couch-potato counterparts. But how much do we really need? And should we (vegans) be supplementing?
What is Protein? Why is it Important?
Proteins are comprised of building blocks called amino acids. They are found in every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies. Proteins are constantly being broken down, and replaced by the amino acids we consume through food. Simply put, without protein we would not exist.
Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins
Complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids. They are often deemed supreme among endurance athletes. Incomplete proteins – those that don’t contain all nine – are sometimes considered inadequate, although new studies are disproving this outdated information. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t have to eat complete protein sources to obtain the proper amounts of these vital nutrients. As long as we include a varied diet and maintain a sufficient caloric intake, we need not concern ourselves with whether a protein is complete or not.
“Plant proteins are as complete as complete can be. The myth that they’re not, or are of a lesser quality than animal proteins, dates back to experiments performed on rats in the early 1900s. Forget the fact that rats aren’t humans, have different nutritional requirements, and need more protein than humans to support their furry little bodies. The meat, dairy, and egg industries have marketed the h*** out of this ancient research, and even in the year 2009 most every Dick, Tom, and Jane thinks the only way to get complete protein is through meat, eggs, or dairy.“
– Rip Esselstyn, triathlete, and author of My Beef with Meat & The Engine 2 Diet.
How much Protein?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Most adults in the United States get more than enough protein to meet their needs. And it’s rare for someone who is healthy and eating a varied diet to not get enough protein.“
So why all this fuss about getting enough protein when everyone apparently is for vegan runners? The answer is simple; the egg, meat, and dairy industries account for several hundred billion dollars in revenue each year. With their deep pockets, they can buy their way into any market. Yes, they even have persuasive powers over our beloved athletic communities. Unfortunately, this allows them to spread their agenda anywhere they’d like.
Too much Protein?
Here are the USDA’s RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for protein:
9-13 = 34 g/d
14-70 = 46 g/d
(pregnancy raises these numbers)
9-13 = 34 g/d
14-18 = 52 g/d
19-70 = 56 g/d
Although these amounts are adequate, endurance athletes may require a greater level of protein intake. The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) suggests that endurance athletes (such as runners) consume .45 to .72 grams per pound each day.
Is more Better?
Janice R. Hermann, Ph.D., RD/LD of Oklahoma State University, maintains that consuming an excess amount of protein will not lead to increased muscle development, hair growth or disease protection. In fact, too much protein can lead to increases in body fat and excessive strain on your kidneys and liver. This suggests that sticking to your body’s daily need for protein is the best approach to healing tissue naturally.
What about Carbohydrates?
Much research has been done which shows that consuming carbs with protein is more beneficial than eating either alone. Within 30 minutes of completing your run (workout), you should try and take in 10-20 grams of protein; this is often referred to as the 30/30 rule. Moreover, eating a 1 to 3 or 1 to 4 ratio of protein to carbohydrates appears to be most beneficial. This window of time (and ratio) have proven most effective for jump-starting the process of muscle repair.
What are some good plant-based proteins?
Some of the healthiest vegan & vegetarian proteins are probably sitting in your pantry right now. We’ve been conditioned to think of steak when we hear the word “protein.” But what if I told you that you can get half your RDA from a simple salad containing nuts, kale, and broccoli. That’ right, they’re all loaded with nourishing, plant-based protein.
Here are some complete protein choices:
- Soybeans 68g/cup
- Quinoa 24g/cup
- Amaranth 36g/cup
- Buckwheat 23g/cup
- Hemp Seed 10g/ounce
- Chia Seed 17g/100g
- Spirulina 17g/100g
Other options include:
- Flax Seeds 31g/cup
- Lentils 50g/cup
- Bulgar 17g/cup
- Almonds 20g/cup
- Black Beans 15g/cup
- Tofu (organic) 20g/cup
- Tempeh 31g/cup
- Seitan 75g/100g
- Chickpeas 39g/cup
- Lima Beans 15g/cup
- Cashews 18g/100g
Also check out this protein-packed Four Bean Chili How do you get your protein? I bet you’ve never had a vegan ask you that! Tell me some of your favorite recovery foods that pack a protein-punch. We hope this helps all you Vegan runners out there!
Related Article: Vegans and Protein