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April 27, 2020 9 min read

Many people think it’s impossible for an athlete to be vegan. These people are subscribing to an old myth that is just not true! Plant protein is easy to come by, as long as you know where to look for it. Keeping up your energy and strength requires diligence and a little research to make sure you’re getting the right intake every day. 

Luckily, many natural sources of complete protein also provide carbohydrates at the same time, so as an athlete, you’re able to consume both efficiently. When it comes to maintaining your day job and keeping up with your workout regimen, you’ve probably figured out that gaining efficiency in any aspect of life is a bonus. 

Understanding Protein

What is protein? We need it throughout our whole body. It makes up the enzymes that spark many of our chemical reactions and even strengthens the hemoglobin in our blood. Proteins come in different forms, but they are made up of more than twenty building blocks called amino acids. It’s impossible to get all twenty in one go, but there are nine essential amino acids that everyone needs to get into their body for a healthy diet. 

To do that, you need to include many different types of protein sources throughout the day (and week) to make sure you’re getting all the amino acids you need. 

In order to make your research and diet planning much easier, we’ve compiled a list of the 15 best sources of vegan protein, ideal for athletes. 

  • Quinoa
  • Black Beans
  • Tempeh
  • Lentils
  • Peanutbutter
  • Chickpeas
  • Tofu
  • Edamame
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Spirulina
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Chia Seeds
  • Seitan
  • Rolled Oats
  • Amaranth

1. Quinoa

Quinoa is number one on the list for a reason. It has been named one of the highest sources of protein known to man, even above some animal proteins. Since it has all the essential amino acids and a good dose of fiber, it satisfies your body’s cravings in one swoop. Quinoa has been around for thousands of years and was eaten by many native groups in Mexico and South America. 

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a grain that you can get in a red or white version. It’s cooked like rice but has its own unique texture and flavor. It can be made in many different forms, but a quinoa bowl is a great staple to keep in your fridge so it’s ready to grab for a quick lunch or a snack. Mix the quinoa was corn, bell peppers, cilantro, radishes, and tomatoes. Season the whole thing with taco seasoning and you’ve got an easy taco salad. 

2. Black Beans

If you didn’t grow up eating black beans and brown rice, you missed out on a great childhood. This is an ideal go-to dish for families or single people because of the cheap price and infinite options for creativity in spicing it up. 

Not only full of high protein content, black beans also add nutrients like fiber, potassium, and Vitamin B6 to your body. They taste great as a simple meal but also can have countless add-ons to make an interesting dish. Some of their best veggie and seasoning pairings are avocado, red onions, nutritional yeast (for a cheesy flavor), black olives, and turmeric. 

3. Tempeh

Tempeh is often used as a meat replacement protein intake for former meat lovers, since it strongly resembles the texture of chicken. Originally made from lightly fermented soybeans, it forms a cake-like substance and is best served grilled or fried. Of course, grilled is the healthier option, but sometimes you just need a treat to satisfy your cravings! 

As well as supplying your body with a protein food, tempeh contains prebiotics, which help digestive health and reduce inflammation. When you prepare it, make sure you add plenty of salt or spices, since the main attraction is its texture. If the soy product is not seasoned properly, the taste can be quite bland, but with the right amount of salt, you won’t be able to put it down. 

A bowl of lentils.

4. Lentils

The most common lentil dish would be some type of lentil soup, but that often doesn’t appeal very strongly to those on vegetarian diets, considering it usually comes out in a thick texture with a green-ish brown color. Why don’t you try something different as a way to get enough protein and have this legume in your system?

Curry is an excellent medium for lentils. Mixed with a creamy coconut sauce and a red curry paste, orange lentils make a delicious curry or a spicy dal. You can enjoy it, knowing you're getting protein and carbs.

5. Peanut Butter (Or Cashew Butter)

Admit it. When you’re hungry for a midnight snack, one of your guilty vices is a spoonful from the peanut butter jar. While the overly processed and heavily sweetened Jif peanut butters are definitely not good for you, but if you’re snacking on whole, healthy peanut butter without any added sugars, you’re actually giving your body some much-needed fatty acids and protein. 

If you don’t like plain, freshly ground peanut butter, try adding some other, healthier flavoring options. Mixing coconut flakes (or even a bit of coconut oil) to the jar adds extra creaminess and additional flavoring. Salt can also make an interesting flavor out of the butter. Even a bit of cacao or dark chocolate can turn plain peanut butter into a healthy Reese’s Pieces Cup. 

If you're new to veganism, nut butters are great building blocks to creating a protein-rich, whole foods diet. Remember to consult a dietitian if you're having trouble cultivating a healthy meal plan. 

6. Chickpeas

If you grew up with a can of Garbanzo beans in your fridge, often thrown cold and unrinsed onto a salad, you may have an unpleasant memory associated with chickpeas. But now, there are so many wonderful recipes featuring the beans, you’ll fall in love with them later in life. 

Of course, hummus is made with chickpeas and Tahini sauce and is perfect for dipping vegetables or crackers. You can also roast them with olive oil, garlic, and paprika. Set them on the table in a bowl and munch on them all day as a healthy treat to make sure you meet your protein requirements. 

To create a meal out of them, chickpeas pair great with kale. You can make a veggie bowl, full of sources of plant that you love eating.

7. Tofu

Tofu is another protein made from soybeans, which also contains all nine essential amino acids, iron, calcium, and magnesium. You’ll often find it in a soup, with a softer, more moldable texture, but you can also grill or fry it. Ground tofu seasoned with taco seasoning makes excellent tofu tacos and is a favorite among vegan athletes. You’ll find those on the menu of many vegan restaurants and they’re definitely something you should try for yourself. 

8. Edamame

You may know edamame as the salted appetizer from Japanese restaurants. Little did you know, these are actually very good for you and you can freely indulge in them, knowing you’re adding natural protein from plant foods to your diet. 

Edamame is another form of soybean, but they are green because they’re an immature version, causing their green color instead of the tan or brown color of other soy protein forms. You can also buy edamame out of its shell and it will look more like a traditional bean. They’re great in a salad or roasted as a snack. 

9. Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds do come from the marijuana plant, but they contain only a faint trace (if any) of THC. They are rich in nutrition, filled with protein, B vitamins, and healthy fats. You can buy them in most grocery stores and sprinkle them on salads or vegetable dishes. 

They’re also frequently ground up into milk. You may have noticed hemp as a secondary milk alternative along with soy milk in your local shop. Next time, give it a try in your latte! You can also mix hemp milk with protein powder as a way to amp up your workout. 

Hemp seeds are also made into an oil that is good for cooking or as a salad dressing.

Spirulina powder.

10. Spirulina

These blue-green algae that are made into a powder are considered a super-food and a must-have in the vegan protein bank. They contain, not only protein, but are a good source of antioxidants, minerals, and chlorophyll. Some dermatologists and naturopaths even recommend ingesting it to fight off acne and other skin conditions. 

How to prepare it? Its most popular use it to mix in with a breakfast smoothie. The flavor combines well with berries and adds an interesting color to your morning routine. Some people mix a spoonful in with a glass of water or even take a daily supplement, but some other creative ways to eat it are mixed in with your salad dressings or put in a vegan yogurt. Spirulina is also known to reduce your appetite (because of its satisfying nature), which can ultimately lower your body weight.

11. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is the vegan’s savior from cheese cravings. With a cheesy flavor and texture, this deactivated yeast usually comes in flakes or a powder. The best use for it is macaroni and cheese. It can also be sprinkled on top of baked vegetables. Our favorite is roasted sweet potatoes with a “cheesy” nutritional topping. 

You may never have considered this substance to be more than a bread-like ingredient, but it’s actually full of vitamins, minerals, on top of satisfying your protein needs. Because of its unique genetic makeup, it expands into a creamy and sometimes fluffy texture that is great for cooking. 

12. China Seeds

Chia seeds are another natural anomaly when it comes to food appearing in different forms. They are sometimes used for baking. You’ll often see them in crackers or bread. Sometimes you can buy them roasted and salted (flax seeds are great this way too). Their most interesting form comes when they’re soaked in a liquid. 

If you’ve never tried a chia seed pudding, now is the time to give it a go. Just mix the seeds with some coconut milk and a bit of sugar for flavoring (you can find lots of different recipe combinations too), then leave it in the fridge overnight. When you pull it out, you’ll find them somewhat gelatinous. They’ll have absorbed the coconut flavor. Add some berries to the top, and you’ll never go back to your old breakfast again.

13. Seitan

Seitan is another meat substitute that you’ll find as very satisfying as an animal product alternative. It is made from hydrated gluten, made by rinsing wheat dough to remove the starch. You can grill a seitan steak, or you can saute small squares of seitan and add them to a stir fry. Seitan tastes great with soy sauce and roasted nuts, so always makes a perfect addition to a weekly vegetable stir fry. 

The great thing about this product is you can make it in many different forms. If you make it into strips, you can cook it with barbeque sauce, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. Add it to a hamburger bun and top it with a vegan coleslaw and you’ll become famous for the new 4th of July specialty. 

14. Rolled Oats

Oats are typically known as a carbohydrate. These whole grains are usually recommended for fighting heart disease because of their high fiber, but many people don’t realize they’re also a high source of protein. Believe it or not, rolled oats are one of the most nutrient-packed sources in the world. 

They’re an ideal pre-workout because they fuel you with energy for a whole-body workout while providing lasting effects that will carry your body through well after the workout too. If you’re running short on time in the morning, this is one of the best meals to begin your day. If you need to skip a meal later, it’s better to do that with oats in your stomach from the day’s start. 

While oatmeal is certainly a good breakfast food, there are ways to spice it up, beyond your regular oats and sugar. You can add a spoonful of peanut butter or almond butter and some craisins to the oatmeal. The peanut butter provides warmth and texture, while the craisins add a zing and some antioxidants. 

You can also make it autumn-themed by adding a bit of pumpkin puree to the water while they’re cooking. Topping it with cinnamon and some crumbled pecans or walnuts makes it taste like a pumpkin pie with much better health benefits. If you're not a fan of the pumpkin puree idea, you can always roast pumpkin seeds and add them for a similar effect. 

15. Amaranth

Amaranth is a perennial plant that has many uses. Some actually call it pigweed and grow it in their gardens ornamentally, but its edible factors as a grain are highly beneficial to your body. Like all the other plant sources mentioned in this article, it doesn’t just provide protein but also other nutrients. It’s full of calcium and other minerals. 

One of the common struggles of the vegan diet is a lack of calcium due to abstaining from milk and other dairy products. Of course, taking a supplement is an option, but it’s much better if you can get that resource from a natural product. Why not double up your nutritional value by getting calcium and protein at the same time with amaranth?

Its uses in cooking are pretty versatile. Many people eat it as a breakfast food, taking advantage of its grainy qualities. It can be delicious mixed with toasted almonds and honey in the morning. Some roast amaranth and eat it as a snack or sprinkled over salads. Others use it as a type of flour and use it for making breads and crackers. 

The Vegan Diet Has Something for Everyone

Because of veganism’s growing popularity, there are many recipes and methods to try for someone who loves trying adventurous new recipes for an evening at home. If you’re a fan of something quick and easy, there are many grab-and-go ideas here for a busy health nut.  Even if you’re not 100% vegan, it’s good to adopt some practices from a healthy lifestyle to add gains to your healthy routine.