Struggling to Get Enough Protein?

There are two very polar sides to the protein debate. Side one says, as Americans, we get plenty of protein in our diet, in fact some say too much. Side two says, as athletes, particularly vegetarian or vegan athletes, we aren’t getting enough. So what do we do…?

The easiest way to think about it is this:

  • If you are an endurance/team sport athlete, you need about 1.2-1.5g/kg of protein per day
  • If you are a strength athlete, you need around 1.5-2g/kg of protein per day
  • The RDI is .8g/kg of protein per day

So, most of us reach the RDI, however some fall short. As a vegetarian or vegan, restricting animal products can be a bit more challenging to get the right protein in. It can certainly be done though. Also, the other category that needs to focus on getting more protein in, are those trying to lose weight. Protein adds satiety (keeps you feeling full), and will actually cause your metabolism to increase while breaking the protein down.

  • For weight loss, generally I recommend 1.5g/kg of protein per day

Years ago, and possibly still today, I’d hear and see athletes (and the general public) downing protein shakes. I am not opposed to protein shakes, in fact, I think they can make a great recovery tool, a quick and easy stand in meal, and are pretty yummy. That being said, I do not want my athletes depending on them solely for their protein intake. I’d love my athletes to get the majority of their protein from whole food sources. Since I hear “I can’t get more protein in without this bar or shake,” here are 45 different foods, 24 listed categories and their approximate protein level. I’ve included serving sizes and whether or not it is a complete protein.

Complete Proteins

Animal products are made up of complete proteins, so all the essential amino acids are represented. Grains, seeds and vegetables are often incomplete proteins, which means you have to eat from multiple sources to create a complete protein. A traditional meal to create a complete protein is beans and rice. Together, all essential amino acids are represented. I used to be more concerned with my athletes creating complete proteins, but as more research has come out, we’ve realized that it has less to do with creating the complete protein in the meal, vs just having the different foods throughout the day, which create complete protein. Several non animal products are complete proteins, including the highly touted quinoa and chia seeds.

Great Sources of Protein (In no particular order)

*denotes a complete protein

*For the meat, 3-4oz is the size of a small palm. 5-6oz is the size of a larger palm
1. *Chicken- 35g in 1 cup of chopped chicken (think on a salad)/4oz (the size of a small palm)
2. *Fish- 16g per 3oz serving
3. *Turkey- 34g in a 4 oz serving
4. *Beef- 22g in a 3oz serving
5. *Eggs- 6g per egg (large)
6. *Dairy-milk, yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese- 8g per cup, 15-20g for Greek yogurt
7. Beans-black, pinto, navy, kidney, white- 5-7g per ½ cup
8. Nuts-walnuts, almonds, cashews, pine, macadamia – 5-6g per ounce (1/4 cup)
9. Nut butter-almond, cashew- 4g of protein per 1 tbsp
10. Sunflower butter- 3g of protein per 1 tbsp
11. Seeds-sunflower, sesame, *hemp, *chia, flax- 5-7g per 2 tbsp serving
12. Legumes-peanuts/peanut butter- 4g per 1 tbsp
13. Lentils- 9g per ½ cup
14. *Tempeh and Tofu/Soy products- 15g per ½ cup
15. *Edamame- 8g per ½ cup
16. Seitan- 36g per ½ cup
17. Peas- 5g per ½ cup
18. Broccoli/Spinach- 4g per ½ cup
19. *Quinoa- 6g per 1/4cup uncooked
20. Millet/*Amaranth/Spelt/Farro- 6-7g per 1/4 cup uncooked=1/2-3/4 cup cooked
21. Oats- 4-5g per ½ cup uncooked
22. *Buckwheat- 11g per ½ cup uncooked (not actually wheat)
23. Brown Rice- 5g per 1 cup cooked (1/4 cup uncooked)
24. Spirulina- 4g of protein per 1 tsp

So now you have no excuse to be under consuming the correct amounts of protein during your meals and post workout/races. Be adventurous and try out different proteins on this list. You’ll find some that you thought unusual, pretty good.

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