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Just so you know we haven’t gone soft — lean meats are among the absolute best protein sources for bodybuilders. Chicken breast, turkey breast, tuna and lean red meat are all excellent sources of protein, and eating several meals a day that contain these foods is not a bad thing at all. We also highly recommend protein supplements, especially those made from whey or casein, for their ease of use and consumption, as well as their unique properties for assisting with muscle building.
Having said that, we want to point you in an additional direction. Simply put, consider including several meatless proteins in your day-to-day nutrition program.
Every food has a unique amino acid and nutrient profile, and the broader range of foods you eat, the better your health and muscle-building results are likely to be. In addition, the eight foods we present in this article also offer unique advantages. Knowing when and how to add these foods to your bodybuilding nutrition program can help make for a more well-rounded diet and improve your progress.
Here’s a rundown on some of the most common meatless protein sources and how you can use them to enhance your overall gains.
Eggs are such a bodybuilding staple that it’s almost hard to think of them as a “non-meat” protein source. Boiled eggs travel well and can be consumed as part of a whole-food meal or any time throughout the day.
Egg whites are among the fastest digesting whole-food protein sources, making them ideal pre- or post-workout. For appreciable benefit, you’ll need up to a dozen of them before a workout (an egg white has about four grams [g] of protein), but you can also buy egg whites separately and precook them. Egg yolks are loaded with lecithin and healthy fats (and saturated fats, too). They should not be consumed shortly before or after a workout because they slow down digestion, but they are an excellent protein source for meals.
One of the great advantages of eggs is that they contain almost no carbs. Egg whites are virtually pure protein, and egg yolks are almost wholly protein and fats. Knowing that allows for close and careful manipulation of macronutrient ratios.
Milk is one of the best sources of protein because it’s easy to consume in large quantities, helping you to get all the protein you need each day — the recommended amount is at least a gram per pound of bodyweight. A cup of nonfat milk has 8 g of protein, and a quart has 32.
Nonfat milk, obviously, has no fat, and the 1% and 2% varieties are relatively low in fat. Whole milk, on the other hand is high in fat (much of it saturated), making it higher in calories. This is a good option for bodybuilders trying to increase caloric consumption to boost weight gain.
The lactose in milk is a simple carbohydrate, but it’s not as quickly digested as some others, such as glucose (dextrose). This means that milk is OK around workout time, but it’s not perfect. Also, milk with fat in it digests more slowly, making it a less effective option for this critical time of your day.
3. CHEESE PRODUCTS
Cheese products come in a variety of choices for bodybuilders, ranging from high in fat to nonfat. Few bodybuilders rely on cheese as a major protein source, but it’s nonetheless a good one. Cheese, especially low-fat cheese, offers a good ratio of protein, carbs and fat as percent of calories — along the lines of 60/5/35, depending on the cheese. That means it’s high in protein, low in carbs and moderate in fat.
Cottage cheese is a top option in this category, as most of its protein is casein, a slow-digesting milk protein that’s ideal for times when you aren’t going to eat for a while and want to have aminos constantly present in your system (for instance, before bedtime). Cottage cheese is a less desirable food for a pre- or post-workout meal because it is slowly digested; at those times, you want a faster option, such as whey.
4. NUTS AND SEEDS
Nuts and seeds are high in protein, fiber and healthy fats, something that few other whole foods can claim. Among the best choices are walnuts, almonds and sunflower seeds.
Nuts make an excellent snack, as they’re versatile and easy to carry. They can tide you over to your next meal, they can be added to a meal that’s low in one or more of the beneficial nutrients nuts contain, or they can be eaten before bedtime. Their fiber and healthy fat content helps slow digestion so that their aminos stay with you longer, helping protect your muscle mass from breakdown as you sleep.
The amount of protein in different types of nuts and seeds varies somewhat. Walnuts have a little more than 4 g of protein per ounce; sunflower seeds have more than 5 g per ounce; almonds have a little more than 6 g per ounce; and peanuts (technically legumes, but eaten like nuts) have nearly 7 g per ounce.
5. BEANS AND LEGUMES
Beans and legumes are high in fiber, and they are also relatively high in protein. They do contain carbs, but these carbs are mitigated by the high fiber content, meaning that beans and legumes won’t spike blood sugar like starchy or simple carbs do. Still, beans are not an ideal source of protein because they are not considered a “complete” protein — they are high in most essential aminos but lack methionine, rather than offering a broad range of all the key aminos.
This, however, is not a problem as long as you’re consuming protein foods from other groups. A good match for beans are grains, such as rice, since grains lack lysine (beans do contain lysine) and beans lack methionine (which grains have). The combination of red beans or black beans and rice provides a complete protein meal. As long as you have a modest amount of all the aminos, it doesn’t matter that you’re taking in far more of one amino versus another (i.e., consuming foods such as milk, soy and eggs help make the protein from beans more effective).
The most significant benefit of beans and legumes is that they are among the best sources of fiber, a nutrient most bodybuilders’ diets are deficient in. Considering the reasonable protein count in beans and legumes, they’re a food group well worth adding to every bodybuilding diet. On average, a four-ounce serving of beans contains about 9 g of protein.
6. SOYBEANS AND TOFU
Soybeans and tofu have been verboten in the bodybuilding world for quite some time. Early research indicated that soy was beneficial for women’s health issues, but there was a concern that it undercut a bodybuilder’s ability to add muscle mass. More recent studies, though, have demonstrated that soy is a fast-digesting protein that is nearly as effective as whey. Because of the emerging science, soy protein supplements are making a big comeback.
Soy foods may also become more popular among bodybuilders, but they offer somewhat different advantages than soy protein alone. Soybeans, including foods such as edamame (Japanese soybeans), are high in fiber and healthy fats in addition to their protein content.
That makes them a slower-digesting protein source than soy protein itself. As such, these foods make powerful snacks, meals and bedtime options, but they are less effective around workouts. Use soy protein after training, but consume soy foods at other times of day.
Tofu, made from soybeans, is a love-it-or-hate-it food. If you can’t handle the taste or reputation of tofu, skip it. However, if you learn how to properly prepare it, you might be surprised by how tasty it can be — tofu can take on the flavor and texture of many different foods, and it is often used as a meat replacement in chili and other dishes. If you like it, or even if you just don’t mind it too much, try to include more tofu in your diet. It’s high in healthy fats, has a moderate amount of fiber and is a surprisingly good source of protein.
Yogurt is one of those all-or-nothing bodybuilding foods. As a bodybuilder, you probably either eat a lot of yogurt or none. It’s a relatively good protein source, but it’s not as good a source of protein as many other bodybuilding staples and many of the foods on this list. Yogurt does have an advantage over virtually all of these other foods: it’s high in beneficial bacteria, which help improve the efficiency of your digestive system, allowing for better absorption of the foods you consume. These healthful bacteria can also strengthen your immune system, helping to ward off illness and aid recovery.
Keep in mind that many types of yogurt are loaded with added sugar. These can be OK pre- and postworkout, but yogurt with little added sugar is a better choice for bodybuilders in general. If you can’t handle the taste of plain yogurt, consider adding juice, soy protein and whole pieces of fruit; blend the mixture as a smoothie for a terrific postworkout shake.
Quinoa might be considered a supergrain nutritionally, although technically it’s not really a grain. Quinoa is actually the seed of a leafy plant that is distantly related to spinach. It has excellent reserves of protein and, unlike other grains, it is not missing the amino acid lysine, so the protein is more complete — a trait it shares with other such “grains,” like buckwheat and amaranth. The World Health Organization has rated the quality of protein in quinoa at least equivalent to that in milk.
Quinoa offers more iron than other grains and contains high levels of potassium and riboflavin, as well as other B vitamins — B6, niacin and thiamine. It is also a good source of magnesium, zinc, copper and manganese, and it has some folate (folic acid).
An ancient grainlike product that has recently been rediscovered in the United States, quinoa has a light taste and can be substituted for almost any other grain. A halfcup of dry quinoa provides 11 g of protein. – FLEX