USA Swimming News

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Tips for Choosing Plant-Based Protein Foods

Tips for Choosing Plant-Based Protein Foods

Many athletes are choosing a plant-based diet and still want to get quality protein to build and repair muscle after hard workouts. While there is no doubt that whey and casein are the “best” proteins for muscle protein synthesis, there are many other “good” plant-based protein foods. Whey and casein are the proteins found in milk, yogurt and cottage cheese, and I encourage athletes to eat those foods because they also provide need nutrients like calcium, potassium and B-vitamins. But, there are many plant-based proteins that are good choices for those who choose not to eat animal products.

Two plant proteins that contain all the essential amino acids and are thus considered “complete” proteins are soy and quinoa. Soy comes in many forms: soy milk, tofu, edamame, and many meat substitutes found in the frozen food aisle. Some of these products have the taste and texture of meat, like burgers, chicken patties, and sausage and are good choices to get quality protein. In my house, although we do eat meat, Morningstar Farms* Chick’n patties are real favorites. Don’t fear soy. There are many who think soy is feminizing for boys or increases breast cancer risk for girls, but not so.

Quinoa is also becoming more mainstream; this Peruvian grain is great in soups and as a grain main dish or side.

You probably know that beans, peas and lentils (collectively known as pulses) are higher in protein than other veggies. Add chick peas to salads, use hummus as a sandwich spread with veggies, and add lentils to marinara sauce to boost protein in a spaghetti dinner. And, to add protein to that spaghetti dinner, try ProteinPlus pasta by Barilla* (look for it in the yellow box). A serving of protein-enriched pasta has 10 grams of protein, plus added fiber and healthy fats.

There are some newer meat alternatives showing up, too. Products like “Beyond Meat” or “Impossible Burgers” are being featured in some restaurants, as well as the meat counter. These products are usually made with pea protein, but beware, some add coconut oil, making them less healthful.

Lastly, don’t forget nuts. Peanuts, while technically not a nut but a legume, get grouped with nuts because of their similar nutrient content. Peanuts have the most protein per serving of any nut with 7 grams. And, here’s a good trivia question for you. How many peanuts are in a 12-ounce jar of peanut butter? The answer is 540, so peanut butter also packs a good protein-punch.

For some good ideas and recipes on plant-based eating, see the website of registered dietitian, Sharon Palmer, the Plant-Powered Dietitian.


*I have no affiliation with either Morningstar Farms or Barilla pasta, but I do like their products.

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and professor emerita of nutrition at Georgia State University. She welcomes questions from swimmers, parents and coaches. Email her at; follow her on Twitter @chrisrosenbloom or visit her website at

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