How Athletes Can Get Plenty of Protein On A Meat-Free Diet

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This blog post is sponsored by Quorn. Thanks for supporting the brands that make this blog possible! 

Many athletes are leaning into the meatless diet trend. Whether that means reducing your intake of meat or cutting it out completely, going plant-based has benefits for health and the environment. But athletes who are trying out this new eating style need to pay attention to one key macronutrient–protein. 

As a refresher, the average athlete needs about 0.5 to 1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. Those who focus on strength training tend to be on the higher end of the spectrum. 

how can vegetarian athletes get enough protein

Don’t get me wrong– there are plenty of ways to get enough protein on a meat-free diet. Let’s take a look at the top sources of meatless protein for athletes.

Meatless protein sources for athletes 

If you think going meat-free means eating bland tofu, think again. Here are some of the top meatless protein sources for athletes:

  • Mycoprotein: This healthy, sustainably sourced meat-free protein is naturally low in saturated fat and high in fiber. Mycoprotein – the base of all Quorn products – is a superfood made from a unique combination of protein and fiber. It’s made with one of Earth’s most-nutrient rich foods, fungi, and uses less land and water to produce vs. real meat. Mycoprotein is one of the only meat-free proteins that contains all 9 essential amino acids. 
  • Soy products: Foods like tofu, tempeh, edamame and soy milk are all good sources of plant-based protein. They are also complete protein sources, containing the 9 essential amino acids. 
  • Beans & Legumes: There are so many varieties among beans and legumes, and all of them contain plant-based proteins. Whether you opt for black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas or lentils, you’ll be getting high quality protein.
  • Dairy: Calcium-rich dairy products, like yogurt, milk and cheese, are rich in vegetarian protein. Think outside the box and try lesser used dairy products, like cottage cheese and ricotta cheese. 
  • Nuts & Seeds: Not only are they rich in “good” unsaturated fats, nuts and seeds contain plant-based proteins. Because they are fat sources, they have more calories per gram than the other plant-based proteins, so pay attention to portion sizes. 
  • Whole grains: Many people don’t realize that whole grains, like oats, brown rice and whole wheat flour, have protein. They are also a good source of pre-workout carbs to fuel a workout. 

To get more info on these proteins, including protein per serving and recipes, check out these two posts:

Why mycoprotein is great for athletes 

Studies have shown that mycoprotein is highly bioavailable. Translation: Quorn Foods super-protein is an excellent source of protein and fiber and can help to build muscle mass! 

As a matter of fact, a study conducted at the University of Exeter found that mycoprotein builds muscle at two times the rate as milk protein following exercise. During the study, twenty healthy, trained young men were randomized to receive either about 26 grams of milk protein or 32 grams of mycoprotein after strenuous exercise. Results showed that those who were given the milk protein increased their resting and post-exercise muscle building rates by up to 60%, BUT those who had mycoprotein increased their muscle protein synthesis rates by more than double that number. 

Researchers attribute this result to one amino acid, leucine, which appears to be a primary trigger of muscle protein synthesis. Compared to other popular meatless protein sources, mycoprotein possesses a high amount of essential amino acids, including the essential amino acid leucine.

How to fuel for a workout with plant-based foods

Carbs provide energy and act as the primary fuel source for a workout, and most carbs come from plant-based foods. A simple rule of thumb to remember for fueling is what you eat depends on when you eat. The further out you are from a workout, the more substantial a meal should be. 

how to fuel a workout with vegetarian foods

Here are some examples: 

2-3 hours before workoutMixture of carbs, protein and a little fatQuorn Vegan Meatless Buffalo Dippers + whole wheat roll + side salad with olive oil & lemon juiceA combo of whole grain carbs, protein and fat will slowly release energy into bloodstream and keep you fueled during workout
60 minutes (or less) before workoutSimple carbsFruit (fresh or dried), juice or white toastSimple carbs are digested quickly and rapidly deliver fuel to a moving body

How to recover from a workout with plant-based foods

After a workout, it’s important to incorporate carbohydrates and protein into a recovery meal. Ideally, you want to aim for a 3:1 carb to protein ratio in your recovery meal. During a workout, your body relies on stored carbs (aka glycogen) to provide fuel. Eating carbs after a workout helps to replenish that glycogen, which aids in muscle growth.

Post-workout protein is essential to repair muscles that undergo wear and tear during a workout. Besides muscle repair, protein helps regulate hunger. Therefore, eating protein after a workout will satiate your appetite and prevent you from overeating later in the day. 

quorn meatless parmigiana cutlet entree

Try to take in some sort of protein within 1-2 hours after a workout to start the repair process. One of my favorite convenient options that has carbs and protein is the Quorn Meatless Parmigiana Cutlet Entrée. It features a lightly breaded Quorn Meatless Cutlet served over a bed of spaghetti and marinara sauce, for a delicious vegetarian meal. Just pop it in the microwave, and you’ll have a well-balanced recovery meal in minutes! 


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I’m Natalie Rizzo, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian.

My mission is to help everyday athletes fuel their fitness with plants.

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