Archive for the ‘Protein’ Category

Rhabdomyolysis in a Young Vegetarian Athlete

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Well, I’ve had pretty good news for awhile, so now it’s time for some that is not so great — but important to be aware of.

A case report of a lacto-vegetarian boy from Italy with rhabdomyolysis was published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (1).

Rhabdomyolysis is a potentially life-threatening disease of severe muscle damage.

Let me quote the authors:

“The patient is a 16-yr-old boy who was a nationally ranked swimmer at that time. In the 2 wks preceding this episode, he was undergoing training 5 days per week, 2–3 hrs per day, in addition to the 4 hrs per week of school-based physical activity.”

“During the week before the visit [to the doctor’s], the boy experienced progressive weakness and intermittent muscle ache particularly in the legs and reported those symptoms to his coach. At the time of the medical encounter, he also reported malaise, episodic tachycardia, and nausea.”

“A dietary history revealed that, since the age of 14 yrs, his diet had contained adequate energy but very little protein. In particular, he reported to have avoided eating meat, fish, eggs, cheese and dairy products, and legumes. The only source of protein was 100 ml of milk in the morning and soy-derived products once or twice a week. For unexplained reasons, his diet mainly and monotonously comprised pasta, bread, tomatoes, salad, carrots, fruits, white pizza, and potatoes.”

Laboratory results of interest were:

Reference Range
Vitamin B12   120 pg/ml 190 – 1200
Ferritin   12.5 ng/ml 20 – 300
CK   9952 units/L 39 – 308

CK is creatine kinase, which is a marker for muscular breakdown.

The authors believed that a low protein intake was the main problem with this boy. Upon adding meat four times a week as well as dairy to his diet, and a B12 supplement, he made a complete recovery.

I am not convinced that it was only, or even mainly, a low protein intake that caused this boy’s problems. It could have been another nutrient deficiency or a combination of deficiencies, including some that were not tested for (such as calcium and magnesium).

Of course, he could have gotten all the necessary nutrients and stayed with his vegetarian diet. Although the authors note that vegetarian diets can be healthy for athletes, they apparently did not find out why the boy was vegetarian or instruct him on how he could maintain a healthy vegetarian diet.

1. Borrione P, Spaccamiglio A, Salvo RA, Mastrone A, Fagnani F, Pigozzi F. Rhabdomyolysis in a Young Vegetarian Athlete. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2009 Aug 5. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 19661778.

Weight Training and Protein

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Question (from a woman who is not larger than average):

I have been vegan for over a year now and recently started to exercise on a regular basis! My personal trainer has told me that I need to significantly increase my protein intake. She wants me to get to close to 100 g of protein per day! I have been logging what I have been eating and have been finding my protein intake to be between 40 g and 60 g. How much plant-based protein is safe/healthy for me to eat? Is my trainer asking to much of me to get 100g of protein per day?


Unless you are training to be a competitive bodybuilder, 100 g of protein is much more than you need. I would suggest getting a vegetarian protein powder (natural foods stores will have them) and making one drink (smoothie, or just putting it in soymilk and blending it) per day with a couple tablespoons of the powder. That will boost your protein intake by about 20 g which is plenty for someone who is starting a weightlifting program. That way, you can tell your trainer you’re increasing your protein intake, but without going to 100 g. Once your muscles are where you want them, you can probably drop the protein supplement and maintain them at that level with just normal foods.

Response to CCF about Protein for Vegan Teenagers

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

I just put up a response to another Center for Consumer Freedom article, Response to CCF about Protein for Vegan Teenagers. I promise not every blog entry I write is going to be about protein.

How can I get plant protein without eating soy?

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Before I answer, I’d like to make everyone aware of a page on protein at It is a technical article and definitely not necessary to read in order to eat a healthy vegan diet. But, if someone out there is haranguing you about not getting enough protein, you might find it helpful. My one concern is that all the technical information might make it seem difficult to get the protein you need. The most important things to know are right here.

First of all, soy is an excellent source of protein for vegans and as long as you do not have an allergy or intolerance to soy, it should be safe to eat 2 to 3 servings of soyfoods per day. (See for more info on soy safety.)

In addition to soy, the best whole food sources of plant proteins are legumes, followed by nuts.

Legumes include a wide variety of foods including:

Garbanzo beans — falafel, hummus, chana masala
Pinto beans – refried beans, burritos
Black beans – soup, burritos
Lentils – dal, soup
Split peas – soup
Peanuts – peanut butter
Chili beans
Green peas

Almond butter is high in protein and other nuts are also decent sources.

While most grains have only moderate amounts of protein, quinoa is the exception in having quite a bit (8 g per 1 cup cooked). I found quinoa to taste unusual at first, but I quickly grew to like it. Make sure you rinse it thoroughly before cooking.

In terms of total protein content, products made from wheat gluten, such as seitan, are some of the highest in protein. Like soy, it’s probably good to minimize the wheat gluten products to 2 to 3 servings a day.

Finally, there are both soy and non-soy vegan protein powders on the market, such as Naturade Soy Free Veg Protein Booster (an Internet search will provide many places from which to purchase them).

As a general rule, if you eat 3 servings of the above foods per day, your protein needs should be taken care of.