Vegans and Protein, protein, protein. When you enter the world of sports nutrition and fitness, it seems like all anyone talks about is protein. I work with a lot of vegan athletes (and non-athletes) who are able to get all their needs met without meat! It is not easy, but careful planning, and an understanding of food combining and cooking can take any athlete from a meat-heavy diet to meeting their needs with plants!

Common plant based foods contain proteins:

Food Amount Protein in Grams

  • Chia Seeds: 3 Tbsp = 9g
  • Corn: 1 cup = 4.3g
  • Garbanzo Beans: 1 cup = 14.5g
  • Goji Berries: 3 Tbsp = 4g
  • Hemp seeds: 3 Tbsp = 11g
  • Lentils: 1 cup = 18g
  • Oatmeal (cooked): 1 cup = 6g
  • Peas: 1 cup = 8g
  • Pumpkin: 3 Tbsp = 6g
  • Quinoa (cooked): 1 cup = 8g
  • Spinach: 1 cup = 1g
  • Whole Wheat Noodles: 1 cup = 7.5g

It is important to note that proteins are chains of amino acids that all have unique functions within the body.  They are the building blocks of tissues, enzymes, and hormones, and will allow you to both recover and build muscle faster. There are 9 essential amino acids that the body needs from dietary sources to construct complete proteins; histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonin, tryptophan, and valine. Animal products like meat, cheese, and eggs contain all essential amino acids needed to build proteins and two plant-based proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids: soy and quinoa. When following a vegan diet, food combining becomes a crucial part of ensuring the body is getting all 9 of the essential amino acids needed to build protein.

Legumes, for example, are low in methionone and cysteine, however grains, nuts, and seeds are high in these amino acids. Grains lack lysine but legumes have high levels. Vegetables lack threonine but grains have just the right amount. While you may not receive all essential amino acids from one plant source, combining 2 or more has been shown to get the job done. Try some of these combinations:

  • Pinto Beans + Whole Grain Pasta
  • Corn + Black Beans
  • Peanut Butter + Whole Grain Bread
  • Kidney Beans + Sauteed Kale + Millet
  • Oatmeal + Sliced Almonds
  • Garbanzo Beans + Tahini (AKA Hummus!)
  • Brown Rice + Lentils

When taking on a vegan diet, plan out your meals for the week. Look at the food combining rules to make sure your meals contain all 9 essential amino acids. By covering all your nutrient bases you are setting yourself up to feel amazing, properly fuel the body, and hit your greatest potential!

If you are interested in further information about following a vegan diet or decreasing animal protein in your day to day intake, please email me at or visit

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About The Author

Sarah Lefkowitz's picture

Sarah Lefkowitz, Registered Dietitian (RD) was raised in an “organic foods only” home which taught her first hand the importance of a healthy diet. She developed a passion for cooking, farmer’s markets, food nutrient composition, yoga, nutrition education, and living a healthy and active lifestyle. Her philosophy revolves around the idea of food as medicine; looking at the properties of individual foods and harnessing them into life-long health and vitality. Earning her Bachelor of Science from the Pennsylvania State University in Nutritional Science she moved to LA to study nutrition in the UCLA Medical Center Dietetic Internship Program. She has worked within health care as part of the patient care team, rounding with doctors in ICU (intensive care unit) and trauma centers. Additionally, she provided outpatient counseling in a digestive disease clinic, wound care clinic and center for geriatric health. One of her greatest accomplishments within health care, was starting a hospital funded garden in Lynwood, CA, that provided low income families with locally grown fruits and vegetables. Stepping out of health care was a highly anticipated change of pace within her career and opened her eyes to a world beyond the hospital. Working with a start-up company run by the former CEO of AOL and Myspace, presented an exciting amount of new challenges. She was involved in education, branding, social media and marketing of a widely popular woman's athletic wear company. Going further into her career she led the Los Angeles Dietetic Association as President and continues to build a community under the name FearlessFig that is focused on health and wellness, creating a support system for a healthy lifestyle.

"My passion for nutrition and helping others has taken me on an incredible journey and I want to share that with you.” 

Instagram: FearlessFig

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