Wanting to go vegan but nervous about keeping healthy muscles? The good news is you can live a plant-based life and have healthy, strong muscles!
A common myth is that the body needs meat in order to get enough protein to live and to build muscle. This is not the case! Many fresh, plant-based foods provide a great source of highly absorbable, easy to assimilate protein. Vegetables, in particular, are a great source of muscle-building proteins that not only work to build new muscle tissue, but also help boost all the functions and systems of the body.
The first thing to understand when it comes to protein is that protein quality is more important than protein quantity. Quality proteins are much better and more efficiently digested and assimilated than low-quality proteins. Poor sources of protein require the body to take additional time, energy, and resources to be able to use the protein to rebuild tissues.
Vegetables provide a high quality, easily digestible proteins. They deliver a source of the amino acids that are the building blocks the body needs to make protein. Vegetables also contain an abundance of the essential nutrients your body requires in order to properly use and assimilate protein. When these nutrients aren’t consumed in the food, the body has to rely on nutrient stores within the body in order to digest and assimilate the food. This is one reason why vegetables can actually be a superior source of protein over poor quality proteins, such as highly processed meats or highly processed whey protein bars and powders. Know that not all proteins are created equal. Make sure to use one that is organic and raw as possible. Sunwarrior protein is a great choice for that extra boost of protein without all the processing.
So, what are some of the vegetables highest in naturally occurring protein?
Broccoli: One cup of chopped broccoli has almost 3 grams of protein! In addition to the protein, it also provides almost all of the RDA of vitamins C and K. It’s also high in vitamin A, folate and fiber. And, all this for nearly no calories!
Peas: All peas, including snap peas or green peas, are high in protein; however, yellow and split peas are particularly high in easily digestible protein. One cup of peas contains approximately 9 grams of protein! Peas also supply the body with vitamin A, B, and C, as well as the minerals thiamin, phosphorus, folate, and iron. Along with the nutrients, peas also provide a great source of fiber, and all of this for next to no calories!
Asparagus: In a cup of asparagus, there is about 3–4 grams of protein! Many fitness competitors know the value of asparagus not only for its protein content, but for the abundant nutrition it provides. Beyond protein, asparagus contains a high amount of vitamin A, C, K, potassium, iron, and an array of antioxidant nutrients. It’s also another great source of fiber.
Beets: Beets not only provide fair amounts of protein, they also supply fiber and some needed nutrients including vitamin C, B6, magnesium, and iron. They are also high in antioxidant nutrients. In particular, beets are a great food for pre or post exercise because they contain naturally occurring nitrates, which convert to nitric oxide and boost cardiovascular functioning.
Dark Greens: Dark green vegetables, such as kale, collards, and spinach are perfect foods for protein and muscle growth. Not only are these foods filled with fiber, they also contain a dense supply of vital nutrients such as vitamins A, B, C, iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. They’re also very high in enzymes and antioxidants.
Brussels Sprouts: These little vegetables pack quite the punch! Not only do they provide protein, they supply a strong source of antioxidant nutrients, fiber, and an impressive array of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, B6, C & K, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, calcium, iron, thiamine, manganese, and copper.
Sprouts: There are a variety of sprouts, including alfalfa sprouts, bean sprouts, and others. Each different type of sprout has a slightly different nutrient profile, but they all contain a very easily digestible and efficient source of protein for the body. In addition to being easily digestible, sprouts are one of the highest nutrient-dense foods, containing fiber, water, antioxidants, and an array of vitamins and minerals.
Fresh Herbs: While maybe not all herbs are technically considered vegetables, we’ll put them in the same category. Many fresh herbs such as leeks, chives, cilantro, and parsley provide easily usable protein while also supplying vital nutrients. In particular, herbs like these are high in the amino acid Lysine, which is particularly helpful at supporting the health and growth of the body’s connective tissues.
Remember, the more naturally occurring nutrition you can get with your protein source the better, as these nutrients help the body to easily and efficiently digest, assimilate, and use the protein you’re eating!