Ask NoFair: No Meat Athlete – Where’s My Protein Coming From?

Posted on: February 26th 2017

We’re always cooking up new stuff at Derby in the Kitchen, so here’s something brand new! Reader questions answered right here on the blog!

As you know, we love hearing from you and we do our very best to answer any questions you might have in the comments and on Facebook. But sometimes, there are questions that are just too good not to share with everyone, or questions that we seem to hear over and over again.

The first instalment of “Ask NoFair” aims to answer one of the most popular questions I get:

“I’m a vegetarian/vegan, how on earth do I get enough protein?”

First of all, it is TOTALLY possible to get enough protein without eating animal products. The key to optimizing your protein intake without meat is planning and preparation. Make sure you’re reading labels and aiming to eat whole proteins (we’ll get into what whole proteins are in just a bit).

Often, as derby athletes, we are not getting nearly enough protein to meet our muscle rebuilding needs, especially during our heavy training periods. Protein is super important – it does a lot of great things for your body, like repairing muscle tissue, making enzymes, hormones and other essential body chemicals.

To get a sense of how much protein you need, you can use a tracking app like myfitnesspal, or you can aim to eat 0.8-1g protein per pound of bodyweight per day as a rough guide. You could also aim for 20-30g/per meal or snack (assuming you’re eating 5 times per day).

When you’re reading food labels, keep this in mind:

  • A low percentage of protein in a food would be <12%
  • An optimal amount of protein in a food would be >20%

What’s a complete protein and how do I get them?

Complete proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids that we need to get from our diet (our bodies can’t make them). While they are predominantly found in animal products, you can find them in both vegetarian and vegan sources as well. The following are all complete proteins:

  • Dairy products (milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, whey protein)
  • Eggs
  • Soy (plant-based – tempeh, tofu, TVP)
  • Quinoa (plant-based)
  • Buckwheat (plant-based)
  • Hemp and chia seed (plant-based)
  • Spirulina (plant-based)

Incomplete proteins don’t contain all 9 essential amino acids, but they can if you combine them. This is why vegan protein powders are often made with a blend of different veggie proteins (like pea, brown rice, chia, amaranth, etc.). Incomplete proteins can be found in:

  • Nuts & seeds
  • Legumes
  • Grains
  • Vegetables

So, to get a complete protein you could try:

  • Rice and beans
  • Spinach with slivered almonds
  • Whole grain noodle pad thai with peanut sauce

Let’s get into it – how do your vegetarian favourite foods stack protein-wise?


  • Spinach 39%
  • Asparagus 34%
  • Broccoli 27%
  • Squash 24%
  • Celery 17%
  • Seaweed (most varieties) 20%
  • Cucumber 14%


  • Hemp bread 30%
  • Sprouted grain bread 20%
  • Oats 17%
  • Amaranth 16%
  • Quinoa 14%


  • Soy sausage/bacon 53%
  • Veggie/soy burgers 50%
  • Tofu 40%
  • Lentils 30%
  • Tempeh 34%
  • Edamame 30%
  • Peas 26%
  • Kidney beans 25%
  • Refried beans 24%
  • Chickpeas/Hummus 19%

Protein Powders & Seitan

  • Soy protein powder 84% (soy milk 30%)
  • Pea protein powder 80%
  • Seitan (wheat gluten) 77%
  • Rice protein powder 77%
  • Hemp protein powder 45% (hemp milk 18%)

Nuts and Seeds

  • Hemp seeds (and hemp seed butter) 27%
  • Pumpkin seeds 23%
  • Flaxseeds (flax meal) 17%
  • Peanut butter 15%
  • Almonds 14%
  • Walnuts 14%
  • Pistachios 14%

Look at all of those veggie protein options! So much variety! All it takes is planning to make sure that you’re including protein with each meal and snack.

Here’s a recipe that is all of my favourite things: Easy, low in starchy carbs, full of protein and delicious!

Mango & Tempeh Lettuce Wraps (8 wraps) (from Oh My Veggies)

Ingredients: EVOO or other oil, 1 8-oz package of tempeh, 2 tbsp hoisin or soy sauce, splash lime juice, 3/4 C diced mango, 1/2 C diced cucumber, roasted peanuts or cashews, a few torn mint leaves, 8 butter, bibb, or iceberg lettuce leaves, Sriracha or chili sauce.

How to make it: Stir-fry the tempeh in the oil until it starts to brown, add in the hoisin/soy sauce and lime juice and mix well. Remove from the heat and stir in the mango, cucumber, nuts and mint leaves. Divide the mixture into the lettuce leaves, roll the leaves up and top with hot sauce (if you like it spicy)!

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, do you feel like you’re getting enough protein? What’s your favourite recipe – we’d love to know!

Do you have a burning question about sports nutrition or optimal derby fueling? Send it our way, and you might become our next post!

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