The Best Protein Sources (Other Than Meat, Fish, Dairy and Eggs)

January 22, 2012

Lately I’ve decided to try to cut my overall intake of meat (I’ve cut out pork completely for that matter). I’ve never been a big meat eater, but chicken and turkey have always been a main part of my diet. I was (and I am still) convinced that there’s nothing like meat to get your protein intake, but I’m also more conscious that eating too much meat (even if organic lean meat) is not ideal for your health. That's why I I decided to resort to other plant sources of protein.
Also, during one of my triathlons last year I met two vegan triathletes and one of them - to put it mildly - just “beat the crap” out of me during the race.  He was almost faster than me in the swimming segment (which for me is a big deal ) and when we jumped on the bike well, there was no match.
I was really impressed by this guy because he seemed to have some kind of secret source of energy that made him almost fly throughout the race.
Then I thought to myself: this guy is vegan and he’s an amazing triathlete, how does he feeds his muscles? Because let’s not forget that a vegan doesn’t eat meat, fish, dairy products or eggs. Hence, it can get quite tricky to get your proteins. I have many vegan friends, some of them are amazing yoga teachers, others are good athletes but none of them is even close to being a triathlete.
Training for triathlons (and triathlon races themselves) requires a lot of energy and the post-training/race recovery can become quite problematic if you can’t rely on readily available protein sources (such as whey protein, egg whites or chicken).
I asked him for some guidance on his diet and he replied that he relied heavily on quinoa, organic soy (including soy protein powder), hemp, legumes and brown rice.
All in all he made me realize that there are so many other sources of protein other than standard meat, fish, eggs and dairy products.
Let’s dig more into this!

Complete protein

First off we should remind ourselves what a complete protein is.
As per wikipedia definition: a complete protein (or whole protein) is a source of protein that contains an adequate proportion of all nine of the essential amino acids necessary for the dietary needs of humans or other animals.
Some incomplete protein sources may contain all essential amino acids, but a complete protein contains them in correct proportions for supporting biological functions in the human body.
Nearly all foods contain all twenty amino acids in some quantity. However, proportions vary, and some foods are deficient in one or more of the essential amino acids. Apart from some exceptions, vegetable sources of protein are more often lower in one or more essential amino acids than animal sources.

Which foods are complete protein

With few marginal exceptions, proteins derived from animal foods (meats, fish, eggs and dairy products) are complete.
On the other side proteins derived from plant foods (legumes, grains, and vegetables) tend to be limited in essential amino acids. But there are few very popular exceptions: soybeans, quinoa and spirulina.

Plant-based proteins

Even if they do not contain complete protein (except for soy and quinoa) plants bring a lot of proteins to the table. Here are some examples:

Most Popular Plant Based Protein Sources (in grams)
Black beans, boiled (1 cup)
Broccoli (1 cup)
Bulgur, cooked (1 cup)
Chickpeas, boiled (1 cup)
Lentils, boiled (1 cup)
Peanut butter (2 tbsp)
Quinoa, cooked (1 cup)
Spinach, boiled (1 cup)
Tofu, firm (1/2 cup)
Brown Rice (1 cup)
Tempeh (1/2 cup)

All you have to do is combine different kinds of plants foods in order to achieve complete protein.
For instance lentil soup with brown rice is an all time favorite, but also broccoli (or other cruciferous vegetables) with brown rice, tempeh or tofu can do the trick.
You just need to get creative and you can get alternative sources of complete protein.


I don’t think I will ever able to become a vegan but certainly I’m ready to rely more on plant based proteins. Whey protein, egg whites and yogurt will always part of my diet but I will eat chicken, turkey and fish less often then before.

The Iron You


  1. Great information, thank you for sharing this!
    Love from your follower.

  2. I really enjoy reading your posts! You have so much insight on nutrition and health. Thank you so much!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to leave such a nice comment. I really appreciate it!

  3. I have been wanting to go vegan/vegetarian for a while now, but do not understand how to combine the foods to get the complete proteins. I won't eat soy, so that takes out a big one. Also, I am confused as to how vegans don't get diabetes since they eat a ton of carbs in order to get their complete protein. Do you know of a book or website that can show me how much of one thing to combine with another in order to get the protein? Thanks!