Vegans are often perceived as scrawny, anaemic sports-dodgers, but a growing number of athletes are proving that you can have might without meat.
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“For the majority of vegan athletes, getting enough protein does not present a challenge, provided that energy (kilojoule) needs are met,” says Amanda Benham, nutritionist at Human Herbivore in Brisbane. “Vegan diets consisting of a variety of foods from the plant food groups will normally supply more than enough protein.”
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The plant foods richest in protein are legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas), soy products, nuts and seeds. But Benham also points out that once you cut back on empty kilojoules – such as foods high in fat and sugar – you’ll automatically increase the percentage of protein in a diet when these are replaced by unrefined complex carbs, such as those protein-packing multigrain and legumes foods.”
For heavy training, vegans need to focus on B vitamins, iron and calcium. These are typically found in multigrain breads, beans and dairy substitutes such as fortified soy yoghurts. Products such as breads, juices, breakfast cereals and soy-based products are often fortified with B vitamins, calcium and/or iron. “Look at the labels – good iron sources are above 10 per cent of the recommended daily intake, very good sources are above 25 per cent,” says Benham.
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For snacks, Benham recommends soy milk and banana smoothies, baked beans and multigrain bread, or a Mexican bean dip with low-fat crackers.
“For a post-exercise meal, I recommend equal portions of a low-fat protein source (eg, legumes or textured vegetable protein), some complex carbohydrate (rice, pasta, potato) and vegetables – including greens and red/orange vegetables.
“Protein supplements can provide an easy way to add more protein to the diet. These can be based on soy, rice, pea, hemp or other sources of protein, but they should be consumed along with a varied healthy vegan diet – not in place of one.”Related: The best protein shakes for you