It is no secret that protein is critical for building muscle. If that is news to you, I’m delighted to deliver it. When we lift weights, we stress out our current muscle tissue. To get stronger, our body has to recover from this stress. It needs the right ingredients to complete the recovery so you can lift more! One of the most critical ingredients in this recovery process is protein. If you want to gain muscle mass, you need to be eating a good amount of protein.
I work with quite a few vegetarians and some vegans too. They get great results, however sometimes we have to be extra diligent about regularly consuming protein sources since they’re harder to come by.
It is important to note that many of the below sources include other macronutrients other than protein. Yet, they still have significant protein per serving! Vegetarian protein sources are often less dense in protein than carnivorous protein sources. What this means for the non-meat-eating lifter is making these suggested foods regular throughout the day is ideal.
Here are some popular choices and various ways to prepare them:
Lentils are very nutritious and have well over 10g protein per serving. My favorite ways to eat lentils are in split pea soup and Indian dal. Some people enjoy them on salad or with pasta.
Like lentils, chickpeas are full of nutrients and very healthy. Healthy and popular ways to have chickpeas are on a salad, Indian chole, baked Mediterranean falafel, and hummus.
Before I realized how allergic I am to dairy, this was one of my top ways to get protein – and I’m a carnivore! Cottage cheese is rich in protein and calcium, which lends itself to dense bones. Personally, I love (and miss) cottage cheese with some fruit or simply with salt and pepper. It also goes by the name paneer and is a delicious component to many Indian dishes, my personal favorite being saag paneer.
Tofu is probably the densest vegan source of protein on this list. Tofu is extremely versatile due to its texture and ability to absorb flavor. Marinade your tofu for the best flavor. I like my tofu lightly sautéed into an Asian veggie-rich stir fry. I also like it in soups like Vietnamese pho. Vegans can find many meat-imitating products using tofu that also will bump up protein numbers. It’s easy and quick to prepare and lasts a long time in the fridge.
Yogurt is a fantastic protein source similar to cottage cheese. It adds a tart or tangy flavor to foods when used in a recipe. I’ve used it for a much healthier substitute to sour cream. It makes a great breakfast food with fruit and a bit of granola – that’s a parfait! Greek yogurt specifically is super-high in protein, packing up to 24 grams in a single cup. That stat competes with meat.
Egg whites are the part of the egg that has the protein. Depending on the size, you can get anywhere from 6 to 8 grams of protein in one egg. Like tofu, eggs are extremely versatile. They are a top American breakfast food and used in many lunch and dinner dishes too.
Similar to chickpeas, beans are rich in protein. They are also packed with fiber and many nutrients. They can be a side dish, go well with rice, and can be made into various soups. One of my favorite filling and nutritious breakfasts is Egyptian ful (made with fava beans). Mexican black bean soup is also a delicious lunch I enjoy often.
Pea Protein (Vegan)
When I discovered pea protein, I was ecstatic. I had been struggling to meet my protein goals after ditching dairy and then this came on my radar in milk form. Pea protein can be likened to whey protein in that it is an isolate that can be made into various things like shakes, bars, etc. It’s easy to digest and gentle on the digestive system. It’s rather tasty, filling, and protein dense. Now that it’s on my radar, I’ve seen it mixed into yogurts, other plant-based milks, and sold as a powder to add to smoothies. For me, it was a game changer and I’m grateful for it!
Nutritional Yeast (Vegan)
I’m relatively new to this one, but I’m enjoying it. It’s often popular as a cheese substitute for vegans. I bought mine on Amazon have used it on salads, pasta, soups, and sauces to give it a cheese-type flavor. It’s definitely rich in protein boasting 8 grams of protein for 2 tablespoons. I’ve been using a third to half a cup when I use it.
Most fitness-professionals agree that protein is key when you’re training to get stronger. Getting enough can be challenging for any diet, but vegetarians and vegans have a bit of an extra challenge. Why let a little challenge stop your progress though? Getting enough protein to see great gym results is definitely doable. If you use this list and explore new foods on your own, I’m sure you’ll be well on your way to building more muscle mass, so long as you’re lifting too.