As all athletes know, proteins are the building blocks of life and a key nutrient in building muscle and strength. Protein fuels our workouts, aids our recovery, and even supports long-term brain functioning.

But contrary to popular belief, protein is found in more than just meat. Some of the healthiest forms of protein in the world come from plants and are incredibly efficient at synthesizing amino acids and promoting cell growth and repair.

When comparing the protein content of meat and plants, one thing to consider is how much protein a food contains compared with the number of calories and weight it has. For instance, chicken and other animal-based proteins are high in calories even though they contain a lot of protein. Vegan and vegetarian foods don’t typically contain as many grams of protein, but pound-for-pound, they’re a much more efficient source of it.

Take broccoli, for example. On hand, broccoli has more protein than beef and contains about 4.5 grams per 30 calories. But on the other hand, who wants to eat a pile of broccoli just to get decent amount of protein in one setting.

That said, this efficient protein-to-calorie ratio plant foods have is partly why it’s easier for vegetarian bodybuilders to build leaner-looking physiques without experiencing the drastic bodyweight swings like their meat-eating counterparts.

With plant-based proteins, it is important to distinguish between incomplete and complete proteins. However, this honestly isn’t as big of a deal as the media has made it out to be. Something we have learned in recent years is that our bodies are capable of using all sources of amino acids to form complete proteins.

In other words, eat a good variety of plant-based, whole foods that are protein-rich, and you will be equipped to build some serious muscle. Eating more protein isn’t necessarily better for your body, and in fact, an excess of protein is actually linked to several diseases. Unwanted weight gain, high cholesterol, and reduced brain and liver function are common side effects associated with too much protein in the diet.

So the big takeaway here is that more isn’t necessarily better. Protein efficiency should be your #1 goal over protein quantity, and plants are clearly superior in this regard.

Allow me to introduce you to 12 solid choices for vegan protein. All nutrition facts are based on the recommended serving size.