“Since I’ve given up meat, I’ve been eating lots of nuts and peanut butter for protein” reported my client. She thought she was eating TONS of protein, but the reality is, nuts and peanut butter are not as protein-dense as many people think. While nuts do offer protein, only about 5 to 10% of their calories come from protein and about 70% of their calories come from fat. (The good news is, the fat in nuts is health-protective so is a positive addition to a sports diet.)
Most athletes need at least 60 grams of protein. Two tablespoons of peanut butter offers only 8 grams of protein for 180 calories. You could get three times more protein—26 grams of protein—in the same amount of calories of Greek yogurt!
Beans (as in kidney beans or hummus) are also lower in protein than many vegetarians realize. Beans offer about 6 grams of protein in a half-cup. While they are a smart choice for athletes because they offer a hefty does of carbs and can both fuel the muscles and heal/build muscles, they only offer about 12 grams of protein per 180 calories.
You also have to eat big portions of tofu and garden burgers… read the food labels for protein information!
The trick to getting enough protein as a vegetarian is to consume generous amounts of plant proteins at each meal and snack. You can successfully consume a balanced vegetarian diet as long as you educate yourself about the protein content of the foods you choose.
Nancy Clark MS RD
Sports nutritionist and author, Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook
Information provided by Nancy Clark, MS, RD CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics), Chairperson of the Nutrition Committee of the Female Athlete Triad Coalition. Nancy Clark counsels active people at her private practice in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). For more information, read her popular Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for new runners, marathoners, soccer players and cyclists, available via www.nancyclarkrd.com.