Advantages and disadvantages of a vegetarian/vegan diet

I encounter a lot of vegan and vegetarian athletes and individuals and always have done. Recently there’s no doubt that more athletes and active individuals are turning towards a vegan approach sometimes later in the careers or sometimes in their 20’s. One can forget that these players and athlete often built themselves up and grew up on high intakes of animal products, fish and dairy. 
That might actually be the longer-term way forwards in that you might have a more animal protein and vegetable growth diet then a more specific plant based and fish diet / disease prevention diet as you age.
Key take home messages;
  • Vegan diet needs to be supported in key areas
  • Wasting food is bad we waste 33% of our food in the UK at moment
  • Plant based diets rock – just add some fish and other bits to round them off – or supplement
  • All my Amino Blends are vegetarian, most are also vegan friendly
  • The multi vitamin is vegan
  • Everything that can be is organic = that means sustainable
  • Mass food production is flawed and bad for the planet, eat and consume less, waste less and support properly run farms, properly raised animals – generally we need to all care more about what we eat and how it’s grown and raised

Wanna be vegan or vegetarian? – there’s a 4,000 word article on what you need to consider below – you are most welcome.  Please share with anyone who is interested or get them to sign up to the newsletters.
I will always try to offer the best advice I can to support someone’s belief system, ethics or personal preferences when it comes to selecting a way of eating. 
I’ve written a couple of pretty in depth documents on vegan and vegetarian approaches to food selection. You should find these useful if you are considering this or are already following this approach. These are included at the end of this blog.

I make a class Organic Vegan Protein also which is heavily discounted still until the end of this month. Code: PROTEIN40 gets a MASSIVE 40% off. Just pop the code in the box at the check out. 

My personal approach is to follow an 80% plant-based diet with the inclusion of animal proteins and things derived from animals. However, I select where and how these animals are raised as far as practically possible. So, example I won’t eat in KFC, or Nandos or purchase non organic chickens or other meats. I don’t like how battery chickens are raised, fed or looked after.
I do think if you eat meats or fish you should be prepared to kill them yourself. I think quite a few people would struggle with the idea of doing this until they got hungry enough. 
Vegan isn’t the only popular diet at the moment, Keto and Paleo are still pretty widely followed, even if you don’t follow a dietary system you will probably be deficient in certain areas, there are bigger likely gaps in many of the other popular ways you can approach eating for example;
Paleo, high protein, higher acid load, can lack vegetables at the expense of protein and fat.

Keto, as paleo, along with key alkaline minerals and additional fibre needed – it’s designed for starvation survival or certain disease states, should be cycled and not followed long term IMO.
VLCD (very low calorie diet) generally lower in all nutrients although not in any particular nutrient good for dropping fat – need sufficient protein to protect muscle mass.
LCHF (low carb high fat) can be good, might lack sufficient protein or carbs for high intensity sports, better longer term approach than keto.
Vegan, lacks b12, iron, omega 3 – high in fibre, minerals and nutrients, protein balance harder to achieve in relation to carbs. Great for vegetables and interesting ways to make plants and soya taste good.
Vegetarian (no fish) can be balanced, needs omega 3 and sometimes iron and B12, adding fish and eggs makes this sustainable and balanced.
If you decide or are Vegan then you’ll likely need to supplement with a good quality multi vitamin, an iron supplement (test your blood to see how much you need) Floradix is a gentle low strength iron. It’s not good to take higher doses unless you know you need them.
It’s likely you’ll also need more omega 3 – flax seed oil is the best source of plant based omega 3, but it’s harder for humans to convert into usable omega 3. To make it more usable you need to take with an emulsification base. Vegetarians can use quark a spreadable low fat dairy cheese. Vegans would need to use lecithin derived from sunflower or soya and make a fatty paste. Johanna Budwig pioneered the quark mix and I’ve seen a few clients with optimal omega 3 levels who take flax + quark and no fish oils. That’s super unusual for most people, let alone vegetarians or vegans.
A decent plant based protein is also key if you are watching protein intake or seeking to achieve a Magic Macros ™ of 2:1:1 for faster fat loss and muscle retention.
The 40% off code still works. Use:  PROTEIN40 
And so on. Many of them need bits filling in or need to be approached careful (usually a good thing) in order for them to be balanced and not require too much filling in from external supplementation. 
However, because of modern food production techniques, and living conditions it’s rare to see anyone’s bloods which are completely balanced without the use of some supplementation. 
Following a dietary filter which makes nutrient ingestion harder just means you need to take more specific supplements. 
If you are engaged in a high energy cost sport or growing – or both – it would seem sensible not to imposed too many limitations on how well you can nourish yourself from a nutritional perspective. 
If you are looking after a vegan teenager involved in sports then you have to do regular blood tests the last handful of people I looked at were all terribly deficient in iron, most anaemic (in spite of supplementing) all has terrible levels of omega 3 intake (in spite of supplementation) and also B12 and zinc were also low. On the plus side they had normal magnesium.
This was with well educated on the face of it well fed individuals who had a good working knowledge of food and cooking. When you factor in growth nutrients plus the level of time spent in sports it really takes a dedicated professional to support these kinds of endeavour. You need a full time cook – parents are often busy people.
Even diets which apply not filters at all are often deficient in key nutrients as vegetables and fruits intensively grown in mineral depleted soils lack, well minerals of course! Even non-vegans don’t eat enough fish. 
In fact the national standard diet is worse than any of the diets I listed above for nutrient intake!
I think it’s a mistake to say any of these approaches are more natural than others, in that nothing is really natural in our current environment. We can adapt quickly and efficiently to different fuel mixes up to a point. The biggest challenge most western populations have from a health perspective is keeping our calories balanced with our energy expenditure.
There are of course arguments from an environmental perspective. There’s no doubt that current waste and over consumption cannot continue on this scale, however lots of foods have environmental impact not just beef – even cooking a loaf of bread is less environmentally friendly than most people might consider. In fact weight for weight has been shown in some studies to be worse than beef. It’s the cooking and baking energy as well as the growing of the wheat which adds the environmental impact.
If we reduced the total amount of food and animal products we consumed whilst being better at wasting less food and growing in a sustainable organic manner we could probably reduce our current environmental impact by 25-30%. Current research suggests we waste 33% of the food we grow and buy…..
Here’s a few easy things to do to avoid waste;

  • Cook on a schedule, e.g. roast on Sunday, risotto Monday….fish on Wednesday.
  • Eat your leftovers for breakfast or lunch the next day, put them into a sandwich or omelette.
  • Use your leftovers to make soups.
  • Feed your dog leftovers.
  • Cook about what you need to eat, unless you are purposely over cooking for extra meals or snacks.
  • Use your freezer.
  • If you have time, buy and eat the same day this saves cash as you can get short dated items.
  • Don’t go shopping hungry as you might over purchase.
  • Grow your own vegetables – in tubs if you are stuck for space.
  • Get reusable cups for coffee and water, this is easy and important.

Topic 01: Introduction

Individuals may choose to be vegetarian or vegan:
  • For ethical reasons – don’t agree with eating animal flesh or with how animals are treated
  • For religious reasons
  • For health 
  • For taste preferences.
The two main categories of vegetarian are:
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: eats milk and eggs but no animal meat or fish
  • Pescatarian: eats fish (generally in addition to milk and eggs), but no animal meat

Technically, the term vegan refers to more than just the diet alone. A vegan doesn’t consume any animal products, which includes eliminating eggs, dairy and any foods that contain ‘hidden’ animal by-products (wine, for example is often made with animal by-products). A strict vegan also avoids non-food items made from animal products, including wool, silk and leather.

Advantages of a vegetarian/vegan diet

For vegetarians and vegans who eat lots of vegetables (most do, but not all!) there can be great advantages to a primarily plant-based diet. These include:
  • Higher phytonutrient / antioxidant intake
  • Higher fibre intake
  • Having a higher intake of plant foods may help support a healthy pH balance in the body.

A primary reason vegetarians as a population group are often healthier than the general population is simply that they often become vegetarian at least partly for health reasons. This means that they are automatically more conscious of their health and making healthy choices.

Challenges of a vegetarian/vegan diet

The challenges of a vegetarian or vegan diet – especially for athletes – can include:
1. Protein intake – getting adequate protein and getting the right balance of essential amino acids.
2. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
3. Fatty acid imbalances
4. High carbohydrate intake
In the next topics we look at each of these in turn. 

Topic 02: Protein

A primary concern for vegetarians and vegans is getting enough protein. Getting the right balance of essential amino acids is also an issue, as many plant proteins are ‘incomplete’ in terms of their amino acid profile (more on this below).  
The issue is greater for athletes than non-athletes, and greater for vegans than for lacto-ovo vegetarians and pescatarians. 

Comparison of protein quantities in animal and plant foods

In this quick comparison below, we see how it can be a lot easier to reach a higher intake of protein when eating animal meat and fish in addition to other protein sources:
  • 1 medium serving of fish (150g) provides 30 to 35g of protein
  • 1 chicken breast or thigh (120–140g) can provide up to 35g of protein
  • 1 fillet steak (200g) can provide over 50g of protein, and 1 large beef burger 25–30g
  • 3 pork or venison sausages provide around 27g of protein.
  • 200g serving of cooked beans or lentils (= 1 cup, a large serving) provides 15 to 18g of protein 
  • 200g serving of cooked quinoa (= 1 cup, a large serving) provides 8g of protein
  • 25g of nuts or seeds (= approx. 1 handful) provides between 3g and 6g of protein
  • 150g pot of natural yoghurt provides up to 9g of protein.

Complete vs. incomplete protein 

Most animal meats and fish are ‘complete’ proteins. This means they provide a range and distribution of essential amino acids that is very close to what our body needs. Our body can use that protein very effectively. 
Many plant proteins and some dairy proteins are low in one or more essential amino acids. This means they are classed as an ‘incomplete’ protein. This is true for the protein in most (not all) grains, vegetables, beans and legumes, and nuts and seeds. For example, we saw above that lentils can provide up to 18g of protein in a cup. However, they are low in the amino acid methionine, an essential sulphur amino acid, which means that protein won’t be used as efficiently in the body compared to the same amount of ‘complete’ protein from a chicken breast or from an egg. 

Incomplete proteins

Here are some examples of foods that tend to be primary protein sources for vegetarians and vegans, but that provide incompleteproteins. We have included their protein quality measurement in the table (>100 = complete protein; the higher the score, the better the profile) and the amino acids they are lacking. (Note: cysteine is included in brackets as it is not classed as an essential amino acid, but is ‘conditionally essential’ meaning it becomes essential in certain circumstances.)

Protein source Protein quality (>100 = complete protein) Lacking amino acid(s)
Legumes Kidney beans
Mung beans
Aduki beans
Green lentils
Red lentils
Methionine (cysteine)
Methionine (cysteine)
Methionine (cysteine)
Methionine (cysteine)
Methionine (cysteine)
Nuts Almonds
Brazil nuts
Lysine, methionine (cysteine)
Lysine, methionine (cysteine)
Seeds Sunflower seeds
Sesame seeds
Flax seeds
Grains  Wheat flour
Rye flour
Dairy Yoghurt
Mozzarella cheese
Complete non-meat/non-fish proteins
Here are some of the primary non-meat/non-fish protein sources that areconsidered ‘complete’ as a single protein source. Their protein quality is given a score of 100 or more.
  • Eggs
  • Dairy: most except that noted in the table above
  • Grains: Quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat (buckwheat has a score of 99, so is on the borderline)
  • Nuts:Cashew nuts
  • Seeds:Pumpkin seeds and chia seeds
  • Legumes:Soya beans, black beans, split peas
  • Spirulina – a 2-teaspoon (10g) serving of spirulina powder provides just around 6–7g of protein, but it is a high-quality complete protein, that is easily absorbed.

What to do? Protein sufficiency strategies for vegetarian and vegan athletes

1. Getting enough protein
As you will know, protein needs can vary a lot depending on the type of activity and training, on the person’s goals and on their body type.
For someone who small or slim (and wants to stay that way), who is not doing intensive training every day, or who is training for an endurance event rather than a strength-based sport, they may only need between around 80g and 100g of protein a day. This is still not easy to reach with plant proteins only, but can be achievable. 

For those who have a bigger build, may want to put on muscle, or are strength-based athletes, their protein needs will be much greater – up to 200g or more of protein per day. It will take a lot more work (and a lot more chewing, especially if vegan!) to achieve this intake.

Let’s take as an example someone whose target protein intake is at the lower end – 100g, and look at how much of the non-meat, non-fish proteins they would need to eat to reach this target (without protein powders).

lacto-ovo vegetarian could achieve 100g of protein by eating, over the course of the day:

  • 3 large eggs (21g)
  • Half a 300g pot of cottage cheese (17g)
  • 25g chunk of cheddar cheese (6g)
  • 200g of cooked lentils – a large serving (18g)
  • 200g of cooked quinoa (8g)
  • 2x 25g handfuls of pumpkin seeds (13g)
  • 4x 150g (4 cups) of vegetables (16g)
vegan athlete could achieve 100g of protein by eating, over the course of the day:
  • 200g of cooked lentils – a large serving (18g)
  • 200g of cooked kidney beans – a large serving (15g)
  • 2x 25g handfuls of pumpkin seeds (13g)
  • 2x 25g handfuls of almonds (12g)
  • Half a pot of low-fat hummus (7-8g)
  • 5x 150g (5 cups) of vegetables (20g)
  • 200g of cooked quinoa (8g) 
  • 50g of buckwheat flour (e.g. in blinis or vegan pancakes) (6g) 

These amounts will obviously increase as protein needs go over 100g.

As an easy starting point, think about the athlete aiming for 2–4 servings of these protein foods with every meal and 1 serving in two or three snacks a day

2. Protein combining / getting enough ‘complete’ protein
As we saw above, many of the plant proteins in particular are low in one or more amino acids, making them an incomplete protein. The bodycanuse these proteins efficiently, but to do so it must get different protein sources with complementary amino acid profiles over the course of the day. This is called protein combining. As an example, beans or lentils, which are lacking methionine, can be complemented by Brazil nutsand sesame seeds, which are high in methionine. The amino acids the body takes in over the course of a day are said to go into the body’s ‘amino acid pool’ and may be used almost as well as a complete protein. 
Note that it’s not considered necessary to protein combine within a single meal or snack – simply over a 24 hour period. For this reason, the easiest way to approach protein combining – unless you want or need to give the person a specific detailed meal plan – is to make sure the person is including servings of beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, grains and if possible eggs and dairy foods every day – and bringing in as much variety to that as possible. 

It’s can also be helpful to boost the person’s intake of any proteins they can eat that are complete –plant or otherwise – such as those listed above (eggs, dairy, quinoa, amaranth, cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, split peas, etc.).
If you want to learn more about foods that provide complementary amino acids to a specific food, or if you’re putting together a detailed plan for a client, go to When you search for a food, there is a graphic on the Nutrition Facts page labelled ‘Protein Quality’, with a link to ‘Find foods with complementary profile’
3. Protein powders/supplements
There are some very good-quality vegan protein powders on the market, and these can be helpful (if not essential) for an athlete to reach their protein target. A scoop of protein powder can provide 20 to 30g of protein.

Look for vegan protein powders that combine a range of protein types, such as hemp, pea, cranberry and/or rice rather than just a single type. Another alternative is to buy single proteins and then make up their own blend. 

For non-vegans, some whey proteins, casein and egg proteins can be suitable too and will provide complete protein.

Adding some spirulina into the mix when making a protein shake or smoothie will also boost the protein content!
As well as made into a shake or added to smoothies, protein powders can be used in a variety of ways, e.g.:

  • Used to make protein pancakes, brownies, protein balls, flapjacks or peanut butter cups. There are many excellent recipes available online. 
  • Used to make ‘protein milk’ by shaking up a scoop of protein powder with a nut milk before using it on porridge or muesli.  
  • Stir a tablespoon of protein powder into coconut milk yoghurt to make a tasty dessert. 
What about soya?
Soya can be a good complete protein source. However, it’s best to eat traditional forms of fermented soya such as tempeh, miso and natto. 
Non-fermented soya such as soya milk, tofu and soya ‘cheese’ are OK to use in moderation, but should not be a staple in the person’s diet.
Potential problems with soya include:
  • It’s high in phytoestrogens – plant substances that have a weak oestrogen-like effect. These substances are not harmful in moderate amounts – and other plants and legumes also contain them – but a high regular soya intake may provide more than is ideal, disrupting our own endocrine function. 
  • It contains goitrogens– substances that can interfere with production of thyroid hormones. Again, these substances are in other plant foods too, but the amounts taken in with frequent soy consumption may cause problems. 
  • Soy contains significant amounts of ‘anti-nutrients’. These are substances that actually reduce our absorption of nutrients in food, such as phytates, which bind minerals, and protease inhibitors that reduce the activity of protein-digesting enzymes.
  • Soy isolates are produced using high temperature and pressure, which can denaturethe proteins.

Topic 03: Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies

1. Iron
A potential shortfall in vegan diets in particular is easily-absorbable iron. As discussed previously in the course, the iron in animal foods is partly a form called haemeiron, which is relatively well absorbed – up to around 30–35%. The form of iron in plant foods is non-haemeiron, which has a different structure, and only about 8–10% may be absorbed (some sources give a wider range of absorption rates). 
It is important to:
  1. Ensure the person is getting the best sources of iron possible in their diet. See below for the best plant sources. 
  2. Ensure the person is having their iron level tested regularly. This can be done through the client’s GP if necessary. Both ferritin and haemoglobin should be tested. 
  3. Advise on an iron supplement if necessary, with regular retests. 
The best plant sources of iron include:
  • Green leafy vegetables– especially kale, spinach and chard. These provide up to around 2 or 3mg per 100g. 
  • Beans and pulses:kidney beans, mung beans, lentils and chickpeas provide between 6 and 9mg of iron per 100g dry weight – about half this amount in a whole cup of cooked pulses.
  • Pumpkin seedsand sesame seedscontain up to 15mg of iron per 100g – this equates to about 3–4mg per handful. 
  • Some varieties of potatoeswith their skins can provide up to 3mg of iron per 100g (others provide less than 1mg).
Also refer back to our lesson on Female Athletes (Week 38) where there is a more comprehensive section on iron deficiency and iron supplementation – most of the same information applies. 
2. Vitamin B12
Contrary to most other B vitamins, B12 is not found in plant foods, apart from small amounts in some fermented foods. be found in significant levels in plant foods. According to the Vegan Society, only specific fortified foods provide enough to meet the needs of vegans. These can include breakfast cereals (unfortunately!) and fortified milk replacements, such as oat milk, coconut milk and almond milk. 
B12 deficiency symptoms may include:
  • B12-deficiency anaemia, with fatigue and weakness
  • Amenorrhoea in women
  • Nervous system problems (with more severe deficiency) including memory loss, unsteady gait, loss of reflexes, numbness and tingling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased homocysteine levels
It is important to:
  1. Ensure the person is having their B12 level tested regularly. Again, this can be done through the client’s GP if necessary. 
  2. Advise on a vitamin B12 supplement if necessary. Vegans are likely to need B12 supplements on an ongoing basis; lacto-ovo vegetarians and particularly pescatarians may not.
3. Other minerals and vitamins that may run low in vegetarian and vegan diets include:
  • Vitamin A.Plant foods are often said to contain vitamin A, but this is not actually the case; they contain beta carotene. Although beta carotene can be converted to vitamin A, the conversion rate is often be extremely low – as little as 3%! – and is often affected by factors such as low thyroid function, stress, and other nutrient deficiencies. The richest sources of vitamin A are liver and other organ meats, full-fat dairy foods from grass-fed animals, and cod liver oil. 
  • Vitamin K2.Vitamin K in vegetables is primarily in the form of K1. Vitamins K1 and K2 are thought to have different roles in the body: whereas K1 is primarily used to activate clotting factors, vitamin K2 activates proteins related to calcium metabolism: helping it to get into bones and teeth, and stay out of soft tissues such as the blood vessel walls. The best sources of K2 are butter, hard cheeses and egg yolks from grass-fed (pastured) animals. This means that it can be easy enough for lacto-ovo vegetarians to get enough K2, but not vegans. Fermented vegetable foods such as sauerkraut and kombucha can be the best source of K2 for vegans; and the Japanese traditional fermented soya food natto is one of the best sources – but it can be hard to stomach!
  • Zinc. Although plant foods can be rich in zinc,the same foods often contain anti-nutrients such as phytates that bind minerals, potentially reducing zinc absorption.  
  • Selenium.Most foods that are rich in selenium are animal foods – including oily fish, seafood organ meats and other meats. Brazil nuts and sunflower seeds are excellent plant sources, but a vegetarian/vegan who doesn’t pay attention to eating these on a regular basis may miss out. 
Because of this potential for micronutrient deficiencies, it can be wise for the person to take a good-quality comprehensive multivitamin and mineral on a regular basis. It should contain vitamin K2 if possible, and pre-formed vitamin A, which is found as retinyl palmitate or retinyl acetate in vegetarian/vegan-friendly formulas. Whether you choose a product containing iron and B12 will depend primarily on whether the person is taking an individual supplement(s) providing these (they should be given separately if the person is deficient).

Topic 04: Fatty Acid Imbalances 

Vegetarians and vegans can be at risk of:
  • Imbalance between omega 3 and 6 (too high levels of omega-6 intake and lack of omega-3)
  • Low omega-3 EPA and DHA levels, due to lack of oily fish in their diet.
Imbalance between omega 3 and 6
We’ve discussed previously in the course the problems that may arise from having high levels of omega-6 fatty acids in the body and low levels of omega-3. This may be a particular problem for some vegetarians and vegans, due to:
  • High intake of nuts, seeds and grains, most of which are a lot higher in omega-6 than 3. Flax seeds and chia seeds are the only commonly eaten plant foods which contain more omega-3 than omega-6. 
  • Lack of oily fish consumption for the omega-3.
The importance of EPA and DHA
As well as a general imbalance between omega-3 and 6 in the diet, vegetarians (non-pescatarians) and vegans miss out on the longer-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA that are found in oily fish. These omega-3s have very individual and specific roles for our health:
  • DHA is abundant in the brain and nerve tissue– it is vital for normal brain development in infants, and contributes to the maintenance of normal brain function at all ages.
  • DHA is concentrated in the retina of the eyeand is necessary for normal vision.
  • Both EPA and DHA are important for heart health, including heart function and maintaining normal blood pressure and triglyceride levels (triglycerides are fats that are associated with heart disease in high levels). 
  • EPA and DHA may have an anti-inflammatory effect. EPA can be converted into specific types of ‘eicosanoids’ (signalling molecules) that have anti-inflammatory activity in the body.
  • EPA in particular may be beneficial for mood.
We do, of course, get omega-3 fats in plant foods, as we saw above. However, the plant omega-3s as found in flax and chia seeds and their oils are shorter-chainfatty acids that have to be converted through several stages in the body to be made into EPA and DHA. Like the conversion of beta carotene to vitamin A, this process can be very inefficient in some people, with as little as 1% being converted all the way to DHA. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, and other factors such as stress, smoking, poor diet, chronic illness and even genetic differences may affect the conversion. So anyone who does not eat fish may struggle to get enough EPA and DHA. 
Action steps to improve fatty acid ratios include:
  • Eliminating all standard vegetable cooking oils,and avoiding any foods cooked in vegetable oils (crisps, chips, etc.). Olive oil can be used for home cooking at lower temperatures, and coconut oil at higher temperatures. 
  • Consuming more chia seeds and flax seedsin place of some other seeds and nuts. The seeds ideally need to be ground to release the oils (or buy cold-pressed chia or flax oils directly).
  • Choosing walnuts andmacadamia nuts over other nuts: they have a much lower ratio of omega 6 to 3 compared to most other nuts and seeds (with the exception of chia and flax of course).
  • Encouraging fish oil supplementation.Some vegetarians and even vegans may be willing to consider this if they understand the potential benefits for their health. As a next best, some brands make vegan-friendly DHA and EPA supplements made from algae. They are lower-strength than most good quality fish oils – and are more expensive – but they can be better than nothing.  

Topic 05: High carbohydrate intake

Vegetarians and vegans may also consume higher-than-optimal amounts of carbohydrates. 
This can be because:
  • They are more likely to fill up on grains and grain-based foods.
  • Beans and legumes (and the higher-protein grains such as quinoa) are among the primary plant sources of protein, but they are also high in carbohydrates. The cup of lentils that provides the person with their 18g of protein also provides 40 gramsof carbohydrates; and the cup of quinoa with 8g of protein contains 39 gramsof carbohydrates. If the person is then having an additional serving of grains, this can easily push 100g of carbs in a meal.
The result of this high carb intake (in conjunction with lower protein intake) can include:
  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Difficulty balancing appetite and energy levels – need to eat frequently
  • Reduced insulin sensitivity
  • Difficulty losing fat and gaining muscle 
  • Hormone imbalances.
Action steps may include:
  • For non-vegans, making sure that they have at least one serving of any acceptable animal proteins with most meals (eggs, dairy, fish if pescatarian).
  • Always basing meals on protein sources rather than carbohydrates. In vegan-friendly meals, this can mean for example choosing a lentil stew or a dahl over a risotto or a pasta dish. 
  • Avoiding an additional grain serving in the meal if theprimary protein source is beans or legumes (unless for glycogen replenishment after training/event).
  • Cutting out all refined carbohydrates and replacing with whole grains to slow down carb absorption.
  • Including more of the higher-protein, ‘complete’ protein grains (quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat) and reducing over-consumption of the lower-protein grains (e.g. rice, oats, wheat, etc.).
Increasing Protein Intake – for Vegans
It can be particularly difficult for vegans (or anyone who eats little in the way of animal foods) to get enough protein. 
Our minimumprotein intake should be around 0.8–1g per kilo body weight per day – this means around 48–60g for someone weighing 60kg. You could get this amount by eating (for example) two 125g-portions of cooked lentils or beans, two tablespoons of nuts or seeds, a large serving of quinoa and six to eight servings of vegetables over the day. However, if you don’t pay attention to eating several servings of plant protein foods every day, you can quickly fall short.
Here are some of the best sources of plant protein and ideas for getting more of them into your diet. 


Amounts of protein provided in 100g of some common seeds and nuts:
Pumpkin seeds – 25g
Sunflower seeds – 21g
Almonds – 21g 
Sesame seeds – 18g
Flax seeds – 18g 
Cashews – 18g
Chia seeds – 16g
Hazelnuts – 15g
Walnuts – 15g
Brazil nuts – 14g 
Pecans – 9g
Divide these amounts by 6 to get the approximate amount of protein in a tablespoon serving, and by 4 for a ‘large handful’.
  • Have a large handful of seeds or nuts as a snack once a day.
  • Add a tablespoon or two of chopped or ground nuts or seeds to porridge or to a sugar-free muesli.
  • Add a tablespoon or two of nuts or seeds to smoothies to make them more filling.
  • Make healthy puddings using chia seeds and coconut yoghurt, coconut milk and/or nut milks – you’ll find many delicious recipes online.
  • Make dips and vegan pâtés with seeds and nuts.
  • Use nut and seed ‘butters’ such as cashew, almond, walnut or pumpkin seed, or tahini (sesame seed paste). They are delicious spread on toast, crackers or oatcakes. They can also be used to make dips, added to smoothies, stirred into porridge, or used in making healthy homemade desserts.
  • Seed bars can make good snacks. Make your own, or look for ready-made ones providing at least 8–10g of protein, and ideally containing less sugar than protein. 
  • Use ground almonds in baking instead of flour (look for specific recipes; you can’t usually substitute like-for-like).

Beans and pulses

Amounts of protein provided in 100g (dry weight) of some common beans and pulses:
Green lentils – 26g 
Red lentils – 25g
Split peas (yellow lentils) – 25g
Mung beans – 25g 
Kidney beans – 24g
Black beans – 22g
Haricot beans – 22g
Pinto beans – 21g
Aduki beans – 20g
Cannellini beans – 21g
Chickpeas – 19g
Butter beans – 19g
This equates to about 10 to 12 grams of proteinper 125g of cooked beans or pulses (= approx. half a can).
  • Sprout smaller, non-split beans and pulses and add them to salads, stews, soups or any other meal. Green lentils, mung beans or aduki beans are among the best ones to sprout.
  • Make homemade falafel, hummus and dips made with other pulses such as butter beans or pinto beans. 
  • When making potato mash, replace half with well-cooked mashed cannellini beans or butter beans. You can use this in place of any normal mash, for example in veggie shepherd’s pie. 
  • Make plenty of stews, casseroles and curries with beans and pulses. These are perfect dishes to cook in large batches and freeze for quick dinners during the week. 
  • Always add beans or pulses to vegetable soups.
  • Make lentil-based stuffing for vegetables such as peppers or squash.


Grains are generally a lot higher in carbohydrates than they are protein, and therefore should not be used as a primary source of protein. However, it can be beneficial to swap other grains you may be eating for quinoa, amaranth or buckwheat, as they have a slightly higher protein content (although still should not be used as your ‘protein serving’ in a meal).
Here are their protein quantities per 100g (dry weight):

Quinoa – 14g
Amaranth – 14g
Buckwheat – 13g


  • Swap your normal rice or couscous for quinoa in any meal or as a side-dish.
  • Use quinoa or buckwheat flakes instead of oats to make porridge or homemade muesli.
  • Make amaranth porridge with whole amaranth grains cooked for about 20 minutes in water, adding coconut or nut milk and a teaspoon or two of honey to serve.
  • Use amaranth or quinoa to make a tabbouleh-style salad.
  • Blinis are traditional small Russian pancakes made using buckwheat flour. They are ideal as a replacement for normal pancakes – or even try them as a replacement for bread or crackers. You can make batches and freeze them.

Protein powders

Vegan-friendly natural protein powders can be an excellent way to boost your daily protein intake. Ideally, look for products containing a combination of plant proteins such as hemp, pea and brown rice protein as they will provide a better profile of amino acids compared to a single protein type. An alternative is to buy bags of single proteins and mix them to make your own blend – or alternate them. Avoid any with added sugars or artificial sweeteners; those sweetened with stevia are fine. (Note that whole brown rice itself is nota good source of protein; rice protein powders are concentrated protein extracted from the rice.)
  • For a quick snack or shake ‘on the go’, add a scoop (two tablespoons) of protein powder to shaker bottle with nut milk or other milk replacement. 
  • Add a scoop of protein powder to a homemade smoothie – ideally based on vegetables and low-sugar fruits. To make a complete meal, make sure it contains some healthy fats too. An easy example is:
-Half a large avocado
-A large handful of berries 
-1 cup of water, coconut water, nut milk or diluted coconut milk (or as much as needed to achieve the consistency you want)
-1 scoop/2 tablespoons of protein powder
-A tablespoon of pumpkin seeds (or any other raw nuts or seeds)
  • Make protein pancakes, brownies, protein balls, flapjacks or peanut butter cups with your protein powder. There are many excellent recipes available online. 
  • Make ‘protein milk’ by shaking up a scoop of protein powder with your nut milk before using the milk on porridge or muesli.  
  • Stir a tablespoon of protein powder into coconut milk yoghurt to make a tasty dessert. 


When it comes to soya, it’s best to eat traditional forms of fermented soya such as tempeh, miso and natto. 
Tofu is OK to use in moderation, for example in the odd salad or stir-fry, but should not be your staple source of protein. Soya milk is also OK to use in small amounts, such as in one cup of tea a day. 
Replace soya milk with homemade nut milks, or shop-bought sugar-free nut milk, oat milk or coconut milk. Replace soya spreads with olive oil or a combination of coconut oil and olive oil made into a spread.
Avoid processed soy items such as ‘fake’ meat or dairy alternatives. 

Cheers, Matt