protein, diet, nutrition

Do You Need Animal Protein?

Nutritionists weigh in on how to boost your metabolism

A growing number of pro athletes prove it’s possible to fuel elite performances with a strictly plant-based diet. Tennis player Venus Williams, surfer Tia Blanco, wide-receiver Griff Whalen, and Philadelphia 76ers guard JJ Redick all dominate their chosen sports despite shunning meat and dairy.

However, “many people still think plant proteins don’t count,” says Ryan Andrews, RD, a nutrition and fitness coach with Precision Nutrition. “But plant foods contain all of the necessary amino acids, the building blocks of the body, in varying proportions.” 

If you’re highly active, aim for 1.5 grams of protein (of any kind) per kilogram of total body weight. (Divide your weight by 2.2 to determine kilograms.)

If you want to incorporate more plant-based sources, consider black beans, lentils, black-eyed peas, quinoa, buckwheat, oatmeal, almonds, walnuts, and seeds from flax and chia, which are great sources of protein for any diet, Andrews says.

Tofu, tempeh, and soy milk are also good vegan sources that you needn’t eschew out of fear of soy, adds Sharon Palmer, RD, author of The Plant-Powered Diet. “Soy has the best protein profile of any other plant food choice, and it’s so versatile,” says Palmer, adding that research shows it safe to consume up to two to three servings of soy per day.

Try incorporating one to two palm-sized portions of a protein-rich food such as tofu, cottage cheese, or beans and legumes into a mid-day meal, suggests Brian St. Pierre, RD, C.S.C.S., director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition. He adds: “This will help you eat less while minimizing hunger, build muscle, and burn fat.”