Most athletes focus on their protein intake as a means to build muscle, but protein is also vitally important for building a variety of body tissues, including hair, skin, nails, and crucial parts of the immune system. Without enough protein, you cannot synthesize and repair these
important body tissues.
When we eat protein, our bodies break it down into amino acids, which are then used to build our OWN proteins (e.g. muscle fibers, enzymes, antibodies). Of the 20 amino acids, we can build 11 of them inside our bodies. These are known as the nonessential amino acids. However, there are 9 key amino acids that we can only get from our diet, and these are called the essential amino acids. Additionally, our body cannot store essential amino acids for later use so it is extremely important to consistently eat high quality protein every day.
Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, soybean products, and dairy are considered high quality proteins that contain all of the essential amino acids your body needs. Incorporating a variety of these foods into your diet every week ensures you are getting enough high quality protein to build and repair your body’s tissues.
If you are a vegetarian, or don’t eat some of the foods in that list, you still have delicious plant-based options for obtaining your essential amino acids. If you regularly eat meat and dairy, you can still benefit from incorporating more plants into your diet in order to reap the many health benefits of their antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber.
The key thing to remember when choosing plant-based proteins, like whole grains or legumes, is that they are often high in one particular amino acid, but low in others. Therefore, pairing two plantbased proteins together can guarantee you are ingesting more of the essential
amino acids. For example, whole grain bread is high in lysine whereas sunflower seed butter is high in methionine. Therefore, a sunflower seed butter sandwich on whole grain bread ensures you are getting high levels of both essential amino acids.
*In general, you should think about pairing the following groups of plant foods together:
grains + legumes → example: quinoa + lentils
grains + nuts, seeds → example: oatmeal + chia and pumpkin seeds on top
nuts, seeds + legumes → example: sunflower or pumpkin seeds on top of pea soup
corn + legumes → example: corn tortilla + beans
*Good sources of the 9 essential amino acids in plant foods:
NOTE: Eat a variety of these, in combination, to make sure you are getting all 9 essential
amino acids. None of these foods contain all essential amino acids in high amounts.
Vegetables: seaweed, spirulina (both are types of algae), pumpkin, watercress,
turnip greens, olives, cabbage, spinach, parsley, onions, leafy greens, sweet potatoes,
beets, asparagus, mushrooms, winter squash, celery, carrots, peppers, broccoli,
potatoes, cauliflower, corn
Nuts & Seeds: pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews,
almonds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, Brazil nuts
Legumes: peas and pea protein, kidney beans, lentils, pinto beans, black beans,
Grains: whole grain/brown rice, rye, oats, quinoa, wheat, sprouted grains, oat
Fruit: blueberries, figs, avocados, raisins, dates, apples, bananas, cranberries,
kiwis, cacao, oranges, apricots, cantaloupe
A QUICK NOTE ABOUT PROTEIN POWDER:
Protein powder is often added to smoothies as a meal substitute or for quick postworkout recovery. This can be an effective way to get amino acids into your body and to aid in muscle repair, but should not be used as a substitute for a balanced and varied diet of whole foods. Protein
powder cannot supply the essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants often found in the plant-based foods listed above.
*Interested in trying the ModuVated brand protein powder that can supply you with all 20 amino acids, as well as Omega3 and Omega6 fatty acids? Buy some here.