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The best #vegan #foods to eat if you're trying to tone up and more!
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Food Food Recipy

You can make major gains without eating meat.

When you think of toning up, a tofu scramble might not come to mind as the buff breakfast of choice. Well, it’s time to reconsider the power of plants. They’re an excellent source of hunger-curbing protein that’s the perfect fuel to sculpt those quads and biceps. “Vegan athletes don't actually have very different protein needs than athletes who include meat in their diets,” explains Ginger Hultin, R.D.N., a nutritionist from Seattle. “There are a lot of protein sources equivalent to meat that have the added benefits of different vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.” Those nutritional extras might partially explain why vegans are believed to live longer and experience lower rates of chronic diseases.

Although the USDA recommends that a 75 kg woman consume 54 grams of protein daily (you can calculate your needs on their website), some experts believe we’re too obsessed with protein and that we will get more than enough nutrients by eating a varied vegan diet. (That’s a position supported by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.) “If you’re eating healthy whole foods in a plant-based diet, it’s impossible not to get enough protein,” says Julieanna Hever, R.D., a vegan dietitian from Los Angeles and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition. Her argument: The world’s largest muscled animals, such as elephants, gorillas and hippos, eat mostly plants. She also points out that if you’re working out hard, you’ll likely eat more calories overall, which will end up boosting your protein consumption anyway.

Just like meat-eating exercisers, what and when you eat your vegan vittles can help you maximize your body’s performance. Aim for small, frequent meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels steady and eat a variety of protein sources, says Vandana Sheth, R.D.N., a Los Angeles-based dietician who specializes in vegetarian nutrition. “You want a combination of protein, healthy fats, and carbs to give you the right amount of energy to push through a workout,” says Sheth, who’s also a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Her pre-gym favorites include a peanut butter and banana sandwich or oatmeal with soy milk and fruit. After your last squat, she recommends a meal containing 15 to 20 grams of protein within an hour to help your muscles recover. Good options include a bean burrito or lentil soup. You can always stash a few vegan protein bars in your bag.

Here are the experts’ top food choices to help you stay pumped:

Protein powder
Vegan Food protein powder
Smoothies made with protein powders are easy to drink and carry on the go. Plus, protein powders are remarkably versatile because they can be mixed with everything from nut butters, soy yogurt, or even that quarter-bag of leftover frozen strawberries at the back of your freezer. “Vegan protein powders include hemp, pea, rice, or soy,” says Hultin. “This can be a convenient way to get a concentrated source of protein, and some have 20 or more grams per serving.” Skip powders made from whey and casein, both of which are derived from cow's milk.

Tofu
Vegan food, tofu in a brown bowl
Soy is an excellent source of vegan nutrition because it’s higher in protein and fat while lower in carbs than other legumes, says Hultin. Soybeans (the base of tofu) are also bursting with antioxidants called isoflavones that research shows are linked to reduced heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain forms of cancer. “That combo could also boost your athletic performance,” she says. Try stir-frying your tofu with veggies and wrapping it inside a whole-grain tortilla, says Sheth. A half-cup of tofu has 10 grams of protein.

Beans
Vegan food, beans, in a bowl
Beans just might be the perfect food. Not only are they filling and tasty, they’re bursting with fiber and important phytonutrients, which tame disease-causing inflammation and oxidation, says Hever. Studies also show that beans reduce bad cholesterol and the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Plus, at 15 grams of protein per cup, beans are good workout fuel. “When athletes eat beans and lentils, they get complex carbohydrates in addition to protein for a sustainable, slow-burning energy boost,” adds Hultin. Make a Sunday pot of black bean soup or sprinkle some chickpeas on your salad.

Nuts and seeds
Vegan ffod, nuts and seeds in 2 glass bowls
Nuts are highly portable and a great choice to eat after a workout, says Hever, who recommends noshing on one to two ounces daily. “They also have essential fatty acids, which help with inflammation, support muscle recovery, and are good for weight management,” she says. Those amazing omega-3s can also power your athletic performance, adds Hultin. She suggests walnuts, chia, hemp, and flax seeds to get the most omega-3 fats. As for protein, almonds and cashews have about six grams per serving, and peanut butter has eight grams. Spread some nut butter on your toast or sprinkle some peanut butter powder on your berries.

Extra! 5 Vegan dinners with as much protein as a chicken breast

Do you whip up vegan smoothies for breakfast and hummus six ways for lunch, only to lose your love of plants when dinnertime rolls around? Understandably, it can be harder to get excited about another pasta or rice bowl. Not only does the idea of eating all those carbs after 3 p.m. fly against well-worn diet advice, you might worry that you’re not getting enough protein to fuel your body, especially after a long evening run.

Fear not! That’s the advice of Joel Kahn, M.D., a Detroit cardiologist who’s been vegan for the last 40 years. He tells his patients that they can get plenty of protein from plants. “If you eat the colours of the rainbow, there’s no need to monitor protein grams,” says Kahn, who’s also the clinical professor of medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine. “But I’m talking about whole plant-based foods, not Skittles or Pringles.”

For the record, the USDA’s recommended dietary allowance for protein intake is your weight multiplied by 0.36, which comes out to 54 grams for a 75 kg person. (You can calculate your own on their website.)While a cooked boneless skinless chicken breast has about 24 grams of protein, many vegan staples will help you meet your daily totals pretty quickly. “Just eating nuts, seeds, beans, and greens provide more than enough protein for you to flourish,” says Kahn. “And you don’t need to add protein powders to your diet, unless you’re an endurance athlete burning 6,000 calories a day.” Some examples: A cup of cannellini beans has 15 grams of protein. A serving of tempeh (fermented soy) adds 19 grams. Even a sprinkling of some chopped almonds and roasted hemp seeds on your salads or quinoa can add 10 more grams. Don’t forget soy milk and vegan yogurt.

Check out these nutritionists’ go-to ideas for dinners bursting with flavour and protein:

Veggie burgers
Veggie burger on a white plate with bread and vegetables
All veggie burgers don't come frozen in a box. In fact, dietician Jessica Spiro's favourite recipe includes cooked lentils mixed with mashed butternut squash and onions and spices. "This is where you can get creative," says Spiro. "One of my favourite things is to form patties and pan-fry them in avocado or olive oil." Instead of using traditional raw eggs to bind the mixture, try her vegan chia seed trick. Soaking a tablespoon of chia (or ground flax) seeds in three tablespoons of water for five minutes creates a gel-like substance that keeps your burgers from falling apart on the grill. A cup of lentils packs on 22 grams of protein. A tablespoon of chia seeds add three more. Protein count: 25 grams.

Grilled tofu and veggies
Grilled tofu with vegetables on a white plate
Just because you're grilling tofu instead of tri-tip doesn't mean you have to lose your grilling cred. "If you eat tofu out of the block, it's not tasty. No one boils a chicken breast and then complains that it doesn't taste good," says Las Vegas-based dietician Andy Bellatti. "Tofu is a sponge. It soaks up other flavors. You have to know how to boost the flavor." Dazzle your guests with tasty marinades or sauces, such as peanut lime sauce for a Thai kick. A half-cup tofu has 10 grams of protein. Add broccoli, Portobello mushrooms, and a tablespoon of peanut butter in your sauce to bring up your total. Protein count: 23 grams.

Vegan vegetables lasagnes or enchiladas
Vegan vegetables with lasagnes or enchiladas on a white plate
The vegetable spiralizer has become a vegan chef's essential tool. However, there are many ways to slice and dice a zucchini to add variety to your dinners. Spiro recommends slicing zukes or yellow squash in thin layers and topping them with tomatoes and onions—and protein-packed vegan cheese, beans, or tofu—in lasagne or enchiladas. A serving of Trader Joe's soy cheese has six grams of protein. Add a half-cup of black beans for eight more and a cup of brown rice for five more. Protein count: 21 grams.

Vegan tacos with ‘mock meat'
Vegan tacos with mock meat on a white plate with a silver fork
Those vegan chicken nuggets look like chicken and taste like chicken, and they're a great substitute for times when you're craving chicken. "These days, if you go to most grocery stores, you can find a vegan version of everything from crab cakes to fajita steak strips," says Bellatti. So-called "mock meats" can be a godsend when you want to make your favourite tacos with vegan ground beef. Although they add a protein punch of soy, consider them a treat. They're still processed and tend to be high in sodium. A serving of soy crumbles like Gardein's has 18 grams of protein. Add some soy cheese for another six grams, and black beans for eight more grams, and you've got some seriously protein-powered vegan tacos. Protein count: 26 grams.

Chickpea and grain bowls
Chickpea and grain bowls vegan in a white bowl with a knife and fork
There are other ways to eat beans other than your beloved chickpea hummus. You can mix and match these protein powerhouses in three-bean chili or a more innovative version of those three-bean salads from your college salad bar with a sprinkle of olive tapenade, for example. Mix up your texture by tossing roasted chickpeas into salads. Bellatti suggests draining the water from the canned beans, tossing them with olive oil, lemon juice, soy sauce and your favourite spices. Roast them at 450 degrees for 30 minutes. "Now you have a delicious high-fiber snack ready to go." he says. A half-can of chickpeas has nine grams of protein. Sautee your roasted batch with spinach and add to your quinoa to pack on 10 grams. Drizzle a tablespoon of tahini for three more. Protein count: 22 grams. 

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards
Getty Images

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