When you cut meat, eggs and dairy from your diet, you’re cutting easy sources of complete protein.
But there’s plenty of protein to be found in the plant world, said Elizabeth Abbey, a registered dietitian in Spokane. You just have to know where to look and how to eat foods in the right combinations to get what you need.
Long-distance runners in general need more protein than other people, Abbey said. In the U.S., though, most people get more protein than they need in a day, she said. And people who don’t eat meat tend to be more vigilant about their protein consumption than others.
The key for non-meat-eaters is to eat complementary plant proteins.
A complete protein source contains all nine “essential” amino acids, which the body can’t make on its own and which it needs to build and maintain muscle, bones, cartilage, hair, nails, skin, blood and hormones and other chemicals.
Food derived from animals – meat, seafood, eggs and dairy products – are sources of complete proteins, also known as perfect or whole proteins.
Vegetable sources of protein usually contain some, but not all, of the nine amino acids, making them incomplete protein sources. “Plant-based proteins – legumes, nuts – won’t have all those, so it’s important to get a variety of those (amino acids) to get your bases covered,” Abbey said.
There are exceptions. Complete proteins include quinoa, soybeans and buckwheat. But after tiring of quinoa, soybeans and buckwheat, vegans can eat a mix of protein sources to make sure they’re getting all nine amino acids.
One complete protein source eaten ’round the world: beans and rice. Beans alone and rice alone don’t contain complete proteins. But eat them together, and you get all nine amino acids. You don’t even have to eat them at the same time, Abbey said – just within a 24-hour period.