Meeting Protein Needs on Vegetarian Diets

One can easily meet the protein requirement on a vegetarian diet even if the recommended levels are high. Once held belief that vegetarians need to eat a specific combination of plant proteins in the same meal has been dispelled, at least among non-athletic adults. Now the recommendations are to simply consume a variety of plant-based protein-rich foods over the course of the day. Amino acid balance at each meal is not necessary. Limiting amino acids in one meal can be supplied (at least over the short term) by small pools of free amino acids in the gut, skeletal muscle, and blood.

Although plant source foods tend to be low in certain amino acids, usual combinations of proteins consumed in the diets of many cultures tend to be complete by naturally providing all essential amino acids e.g., like idli, dosa, pongal, paneer pulao, dal, and chappathi.

Vegetarian athletes in intense training should consume a protein containing snack or meal soon after exhaustive exercise, when amino acids pools may be compromised. Eggs and milk are rich sources of good quality proteins. Soya bean gives good quality of proteins. Variety of vegetable proteins can be consumed.

Athletes who eat the balanced diet and meet calorie requirement even exceed their protein requirements without even trying. This is true for vegetarian and vegan athletes as well. Vegetarian diets generally derive 12.5 percent of energy from proteins, whereas vegan diets derive 11 percent from protein.

Athletes who tend to lack protein are those who focus too much on carbohydrates or who consume too little food in general. Vegetarian foods that are particularly rich sources of protein are legumes, tofu, quinoa, soya protein isolate, and texturized protein from soya bean like soya chunks.

Improvement in both strength and muscle mass occur as a result of training and are also dictated by genetic makeup. Studies have shown that mere adding protein to the diet does not increase muscle mass.

Protein when consumed in excess, the nitrogen group is removed and it is either used for energy or stored as fat. This makes for an expensive source of energy, both from personal metabolic and ecological viewpoint. Studies have shown that Atkin-style high protein diet increased the risk for both kidney stones and calcium loss from bone.

Reference: Exercise Physiology, Fitness, and Sport Nutrition

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