What is the ideal protein diet?

This isn’t just a bodybuilding and fitness question; this seems to be on the minds of most people these days.

This article will address the most common protein questions and answers. If there are any protein questions you have, please send them on over!

Looking through the web today, the information available about protein is anything but clear. Which amino acids are you supposed to eat? Can vegetarian and vegan bodybuilders eat enough protein to put on muscle?

Striving to answer your protein questions on your own, you’re more likely to come away with a headache than with satisfying answers. But not to worry, your most burning questions about protein needs for vegetarians are addressed here.

Q: How much protein does a vegan bodybuilder need?

A: Probably less than you think. The majority of meat-loving bodybuilders have adopted a “more is better” mentality when it comes to packing the protein into their diet.

The truth is that going over recommended daily protein levels won’t be of much benefit to you and will likely leave you feeling overly full and uncomfortable after meals. Also, something about “vegan macros” keeps you light on your feet.

According to research, the optimal protein intake level for professional bodybuilders is between 0.7 to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean muscle. For example, a 200-pound bodybuilder that has 10% body fat should plan to eat between 126 to 180 grams of protein every day.

If you’re looking to gain lots of muscle, choose to follow the higher end of this recommendation.

Q: What are complete and incomplete proteins?

A: All types of amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are separated into two categories: essential and nonessential. Nonessential amino acids are naturally made by your body, while essential amino acids only come from food sources.

There are nine essential amino acids (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine) that your body can’t make for itself, meaning you need to get them from your daily diet.

The foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are considered to be complete proteins. They tend to be animal products like meat, eggs and dairy, and a few plant sources like soy, chia seeds, and quinoa. Incomplete proteins are found in plants and are usually lacking one or more of the essential amino acids required for building and repairing cells.

However, eating several types of incomplete protein foods within one day can provide your body with all the amino acids it needs to make complete proteins.

Q: Is seitan a complete protein?

A: Often compared in texture and taste to lean meats, seitan is a form of wheat gluten that is turned into a dense, chewy meat substitute. Almost 20 grams of protein in a 3-ounce serving makes seitan a smart protein pick for your plate, but it’s not a complete protein.

Seitan contains every essential amino acid besides lysine, so vegan eaters need to find alternative sources of protein (like cooked lentils or roasted almonds) to get their recommended daily level of 2,045 mg of lysine.

Q: Are beans a complete protein?

A: While beans vary considerably in their protein profiles between varieties, no variety technically can be considered a complete protein. Thankfully, it’s simple to adjust your diet accordingly.

Contrary to popular advice that keeps getting regurgitated, adding a few scoops to your plate of beans won’t do crap to make a complete protein. Rice has virtually negligible amounts of protein in it to have any substantial effect.

Instead, try adding Brazil nuts (we recommend these) with your beans, they are loaded with protein and have that healthy fat you need for fuel and recovery. This combo should absolutely be a part of your ideal protein diet!

Q: Is the protein in yogurt complete?

A: Because animal sources of protein are complete proteins, a serving of yogurt will provide you with all the amino acids your body needs to function. Greek yogurt tends to be the most protein-filled variety, with an average of 17 grams per serving to keep you full.

Q: Is milk a complete protein?

A: Though dairy products are mostly celebrated for its calcium content, milk is an excellent source of complete protein as well. In fact, milk is especially rich in the amino acid lysine, one that tends to be rare in vegetable and whole grain protein sources.

One 8-ounce serving of whole milk provides 7.7 grams of protein, while reduced fat milk tends to have slightly more protein, 8 grams and 8.2 grams of 2 percent and 1 percent respectively.

Q: Are almonds a complete protein?

A: Though almonds are filled with 6 grams of protein per one ounce serving (about 23 almonds), they are critically short on lysine, methionine, and cysteine, making them an incomplete protein source.

Nonetheless, snacking on almonds is a smart way for vegans and vegetarians to get their fill of protein throughout the day, so long as they are paired with other protein sources as well.

Q: Is quinoa really a complete protein?

A: Originally grown in the Andes mountains of Peru, quinoa is a whole grain food that is also a plant-based complete protein. In fact, the overall protein level in quinoa is a strikingly high 8 grams per one cup serving. This is an ideal protein for sure!

However, the levels of some amino acids tend to be low, meaning that a quinoa diet should still be supplemented with other sources of protein to ensure you get enough.

Q: Are chick peas a complete protein?

A: Like all other forms of beans, chick peas lack all the essential amino acids that would qualify them as a complete protein. However, a classic food combination is the perfect way to balance out your chickpea meal. The protein in wheat lacks lysine, which happens to be an amino acid chickpeas have plenty of. This means snacking on pita bread and hummus is a great way to fill your diet with a complete protein source.

Q: Is soy a complete or incomplete protein?

A: For many vegans, soy-based products are a staple of their diet, and for good reason! Soy is a plant-based source of complete proteins, and a half-cup serving of tofu provides you with 10 grams of complete protein.

Some experts say that we should stay away from soy, but I think the main thing to avoid is the GMO soy products.

It’s always best to choose the firmest tofu you can find, as it will have the highest protein content. For an even bigger protein boost, fermented forms of tofu like tempeh and natto have a staggering 15 grams per serving.

Q: What is an example of a complementary protein?

A: According to most nutritionists, complementary proteins are made from two or more incomplete proteins that are eaten together in a meal to provide you with all the essential acids that make up complete proteins.

While it’s not necessary to have every amino acid present at each meal you eat, combining your foods into complementary proteins is an easy way to ensure you get the proper amounts throughout the day.

Best of all, many complementary proteins provide from time-tested and delicious combinations that truly taste better together. In fact, cultures around the world often intuitively relied on complementary protein combinations for their health benefits.

Some winning combinations of complementary proteins include beans and Brazil nuts, whole grain noodles and peanut sauce, hummus and pita bread, and spinach salad topped with nuts.

The Ideal Protein Diet

It turns out that there is a diet called “Ideal Protein.” I wanted to offer some quick feedback on this overly restrictive diet since our article happens to be titled “Ideal Protein Diet.”

One major point of contention is that it’s ridiculous to eliminate nuts, fruit, and root vegetables, for any reason (unless you’re allergic). Women’s Health magazine offered this quote that I agree with even though I don’t personally eat dairy:

“It’s sending the wrong message that these healthy foods contribute to weight gain, when studies have shown that foods like dairy and nuts may help support satiety and weight loss.

“One study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that people who ate one-third of a cup of almonds a day lost more weight than those who avoided nuts.”

Even though I like that the Ideal Protein diet advocates dropping sugar altogether, swearing off several food groups at a time may not be the way to go for a sustainable lifestyle.

One final suggestion is to slow down and bring more awareness to the act of eating itself (i.e. mindful eating). Mindful eating has a practical application when it comes to weight maintenance, treating obesity, weight loss, and even diabetes self-management.