Question:

I’m a 23-year-old, 150lb, male triathlete that trains pretty heavily, about 20 hours on a normal week, and when in Ironman training it’s around 25+. I’ve read several books that cite vegetarianism as a good move for distance athletes, and I want to give it a try for a couple of months after my next race. How much protein do I need daily? I read some sources that state 60 grams daily, others state 140+.

– Chis C.

Answer:

I am glad you are doing your research before embarking on your endeavor! Vegetarian athletes can meet their protein needs exclusively with plant foods*. Estimated daily protein needs for a 150-pound male triathlete that trains four hours five times a week are 1.7-2.0 grams/kg body weight. This equates to 116-136 grams protein per day.

Although it’s possible, you shouldn’t get all of that from one source. Protein quality matters – it’s important to consume adequate essential amino acids. Since plant proteins may be limited in one of those amino acids, eat a variety of grains, beans, legumes, and vegetables. Here is a sample vegan day with approximately 120 grams of protein and 3500 calories, divided into 3 meals and 3 snacks:

  • 2 vegan sausage patties
  • Medium waxy potato with onion and peppers cooked in tablespoon oil
  • Banana
    • Multigrain bagel with tablespoon peanut butter
    • 1.5 cups of soymilk
  • ½ cup whole beans, two 8” wheat tortillas, 2 oz cheese substitute, ½ avocado, unlimited salsa
  • 1 cup broccoli
  • Orange
    • 6 oz. plain non-fat Greek-style soy yogurt with ¼ cup dried fruit and ¼ cup granola
  • 1 cup mixed vegetables and 3 oz meat substitute, stir-fried in teaspoon oi
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • Apple
    • One bag of low-fat microwave popcorn

* Lacto-ovo vegetarians may include some milk, yogurt, and eggs.

Sources:

  1. Nutrition for Triathletes: Adding Protein Into A Vegetarian Diet. Triathlete.com, 7.30.2010. https://www.triathlete.com/2010/07/nutrition/accomplishing-the-feat-of-being-a-vegeterian-triathlete_11093
  2. The Triathlete’s Guide to Protein. Ironman.com, 1.19.2016. http://www.ironman.com/triathlon/news/articles/2016/01/triathletes-guide-to-protein.aspx#axzz5S2QQPAa1

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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