Eating to build more shapely muscle doesn’t need to become an all meat, all the time affair.
Here are 5 plant-based, natural foods that offer ample protein and energy to fuel your efforts in the gym.
1. Red beans
Red beans, the most common of which are red kidney beans, packs a double whammy as they’re a great source of carbs and protein.
A one cup serving (177g) of these legumes contains 16g of protein and 40g of carbs, and packs a whopping 210 calories.
When these beans are combined with whole grains such as brown rice or whole wheat pasta, they provide a high quality complete protein that has an amino acid profile comparable to red meat.
They also have a favourable omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, which is important to reduce inflammation. Omega-3 also inhibits muscle breakdown while increasing the anabolic capacity of amino acids.
Red kidney beans are also a rich source of important vitamins and minerals, including calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium, which are vital for optimal muscle function and metabolism.
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2. Sprouted grain bread
Sprouted bread is made from whole grains or legumes that have been allowed to sprout (germinate). When the grains are allowed to sprout they become ‘living’ food, which significantly boosts their nutrient-density, as well as their protein and enzyme content.
A comparison of nutritional analyses shows that sprouted grains contain about 75% of the energy (from carbohydrates), a slightly higher protein content, and about 40% of the fat compared to whole grains.
You can make sprouted bread from a combination of whole grains and legumes such as millet, barley, oats, brown rice, corn, rye, lentils and soy.
One slice of a sprouted bread that contains a variety of whole grains can contain up to 80 calories, with 15g of carbs and 4g of protein.
The protein content is also highly bioavailable, and contains up to 18 amino acids, including all nine essential amino acids.
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Nuts are a calorie-dense, nutritious food source, many of which are rich in protein. A serving (28g) of cashews or almonds, for instance, contain 150-170 calories, and offer an ideal blend of protein, healthy fats, and fibre.
Almonds are also a great choice as they have one of the highest protein contents of any nut, and are one of the more inexpensive nut varieties. They are also a rich source of manganese and vitamin E.
Walnuts are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for all the reasons already mentioned. In fact, a single serving (28g) of walnuts contains more omega-3s than a 114g piece of salmon.
With about 30% of their calories derived from protein, lentils have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any legume or nut, after soybeans and hemp. They’re also a great source of carbohydrates.
One cup of cooked lentils contains 18g of protein, including the essential amino acids isoleucine and lysine, and 40g of slow digesting carbohydrates.
Lentils also contain folate, vitamin B1, and other important minerals. The insoluble dietary fibre in lentils will also help prevent constipation and other digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.
The chickpea is another legume that offers a beneficial source of plant-derived amino acids. The protein comes from the seeds, while the chickpea itself contains 45g of slow-digesting carbs per cup, along with 12g of fibre. It also contains certain dietary minerals, including iron and phosphorus.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.