You need protein to build muscle after a workout, and plant-based proteins can help. Most experts suggest you take in carbohydrates in a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. This is essential to restore glycogen stores, recover properly, and build muscle. Unlike most traditional thinking, however, you can actually get all the plant-based proteins needed for recovery. Try out these healthier options after your next workout to boost your recovery speed the whole foods way!
This dark leafy green is good for you in so many ways that it’s hard to count. This is one of the most surprising plant-based proteins, with one cup of chopped kale containing a whopping 3g of protein! That is pretty good for a leafy green if I do say so myself. It is also loaded with vitamins K and C to help with the oxidative stress after exercising. Let’s be honest though, not everyone wants a kale salad right after working out. Some people may grab chips or treats to reward themselves with, but there are still tasty and quick ways to eat kale. Buy a bag of kale chips instead of potato, or make your own in the oven ahead of time so you can grab them post-workout. You can also add kale to your protein smoothie or shake.
You are probably used to seeing quinoa get all the credit as the “high protein grain,” but there are actually two problems with this logic. Quinoa is not actually a grain, it’s a seed, and although it is high in protein, amaranth actually contains more. Like quinoa, amaranth is not really a grain at all. Plus, one cup of cooked amaranth has 9g of protein while quinoa only has 8g per cooked cup. This difference is not very significant, but I think it’s time we give amaranth some credit! In reality, you should just eat the one you like more. They make nice porridge after morning workouts for a more stabilizing breakfast.
Did you expect me to suggest almonds or some other nut said to be higher in protein? It turns out that lovely cashews are rich in protein as well. In fact, they have five grams of protein per quarter cup, which is about the same as almonds! It’s about time cashews get the respect they deserve, because they also contain about 100mg of the electrolyte magnesium in a quarter cup, which helps muscles relax after working out. Just like potassium (which cashews also have plenty of), you need to replenish your stores of magnesium because both get depleted during strenuous exercise. Cashews are delicious plain and raw, but they can be ground into a butter (or just thrown in whole) for your post-workout smoothies or shakes.
This is just about the best source of plant-based protein you can get. There are 31g of protein in just 1 cup! What is tempeh, you may ask? Well, if you’ve heard of tofu, it is a very similar soy product. However, tempeh is a fermented form of soy, meaning it is so much easier to digest. Tempeh is also a lot less processed than tofu, as you can actually see the soybeans in it (with most brands). You can make a post-workout meal by adding tempeh to stir-fries, salads, chili, or just serving it over rice.
Lentils also have so much muscle-building protein in them. In one cup of cooked lentils there is 18g of protein! That’s about as much as any protein powder on the market. So why use that processed protein powder when you can just eat a whole food instead? Protein powders are fine sometimes, but you might as well choose a whole food when you can. You are also getting the benefit of fiber from the lentils, and carbohydrates your body needs to restore glycogen. For a post-workout meal, make a chili or curry with lentils. You can even make a hummus-like lentil spread if you want to!
If you are new to hemp seeds, no worries! There are only trace amounts of THC in hemp protein products, which means you won’t get high on them. An unexpected source of protein, hemp seeds contain 10g of protein in 3T. This protein source is great for muscle recovery because it is easily digested and thus easy for your body to use. Add them to your protein shake (grind them first, unless you have a strong blender) or make protein bars with them. If you would rather have a post-workout meal, hemps seeds go great on salads or pasta.
This fruit, often thought of as a vegetable, is generally considered a fat source. Although it is rich in healthy fats, there are actually 4g of protein in one avocado. Avocados make a great workout recovery snack for other reasons as well, such as high potassium content for electrolyte restoration. They also contain main carotenoids that can help boost your immune system after you’ve slightly compromised it by exercising. Try adding avocado to your smoothie to make it taste like a creamy shake, make guacamole, or add it to a salad. You can also get a double boost (from cashews) by blending it with some cashew butter, cocoa powder, and a frozen banana.
You may not think of a high protein food when you hear the word peas. However, peas actually contain about 8g of protein per cup. I’m not talking about those split-peas either; I’m talking about traditional green peas! Although some manufacturers are coming out with pea protein powders, these are still an underdog source of protein in the vegetarian world. They shouldn’t be, because they provide an abundant amount of other nutrients and fiber as well. Have them post-workout by making some pea soup with them or adding them to curries.
You may know chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, as something used to make hummus. Hummus is a dip generally made from chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), and spices. It is so addicting, and that’s actually good news based on the amount of protein chickpeas have. In one cup of cooked garbanzo beans there are 15g of protein! That means you can enjoy your hummus after your workout without a sweat. However, if you (gasp) don’t like hummus, you can always add chickpeas to chili, stir-fries, salads, pizza, or just about anything really!
Now that you know you can get enough protein from plants, you can easily incorporate them into your recovery plan. Many of these options take little or no preparation at all, which means there aren’t many excuses for not getting in good nutrition. Do you make sure to recover properly after your workouts?
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