Getting Enough Protein in the Vegetarian Diet

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I often get the question, “If you’re a vegetarian, how do you get your protein?” I also get a handful of questions about this from concerned parents whose young athletes have decided to remove meat from their sports diet. In these instances I assure the athlete or parent that it can be done but that it does take more planning and, often times, more food. As long as the athlete is (1) choosing this lifestyle for appropriate reasons and (2) committed to including a variety of foods and more of these foods in his or her diet, a vegetarian lifestyle can be possible.

I have published a handout for the vegetarian athlete which you can find here. This handout talks about all of the nutrients of concern for a vegetarian athlete. However, the focus of this post is PROTEIN, and so that is what we will stick to today. Today, in this post, I’m going to give you a list of protein-containing foods for the vegetarian athlete plus any other details. Stay tuned for a follow-up post where I will include some protein - packed meal ideas and resources for your vegetarian athlete!

Protein Sources for Your Vegetarian Athlete

  • Black Beans

  • Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

  • Lentils & split peas

  • Tofu

  • Peanuts, nuts and seeds

  • Peanut Butter, Nut Butter, Seed Butter

  • Tahini (sesame seed paste)

  • Milk

  • Yogurt (regular = ~8 grams/cup; Greek = ~14 grams/cup)

  • Cheese

  • Some whole grain bread, pasta, rice and crackers (not as high as those listed above and all of the protein in these foods is not as well absorbed, but it can still give a boost!)

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It’s important to know that vegetarian sources of protein are not as easily absorbed in the body in comparison to animal sources of protein. Therefore, the vegetarian athlete will need to consume a little or a lot more protein than he or she would if meat was included to meet his/her protein goal (different for every person and athlete).

Interested in learning more about nutrition for the vegetarian athlete? If so, comment below and I can work it into future posts!

Happy Fueling!