Where Do Vegans Get Their Protein ?

This is by far the most popular question for people who eat a plant-based diet and for good reason. Protein forms the building blocks of muscle repair and healthy skin, hair and nails. This essential macro nutrient is also critical to maintain a wide array of body functions, such as immunity, mental capacity, and even mood stability. And that’s just the start.

This isn’t an article about how awesome and important protein is (because you probably get enough of that through the hype of pop-nutrition) so let’s skip past the biology lesson, and answer what’s likely really on your mind: how much protein do you actually need and how can you get it from a whole food, plant-based diet?

How much protein do you actually need?

As with most things to do with protein, this is a highly debated question with many variables and no one, simple answer. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume you are not a high-performance athlete, body builder, or a pregnant woman. Protein needs can vary depending on our age, sex, activity levels, and even body weight, but it need not be so complicated.

Experts at Harvard Medical School say that to determine your RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for protein, you can multiply your body weight in pounds by 0.36.   For those of you on the metric system, the calculation is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.  If you’d like a simple tool, here is a link to an online protein calculator.  Do keep in mind that these are templates, and that the most reliable source is often how your body feels, and the symptoms you’re actually experiencing on a day to day basis.

How can you get enough protein from a plant-based diet?

The simplest answer to this question is:

As long as you’re armed with the right knowledge and are being relatively conscious of what you’re eating, you should not have any concerns about being protein-deficient. Just ask ultra-endurance athlete Rich Roll, who’s also a graduate of Stanford University:

“If you ate nothing but a variety of fresh fruit, you still would never suffer a deficiency of protein (or even any particular amino acid). Short of starving yourself, it’s almost impossible. Despite the incredibly heavy tax I impose on my body, training at times upwards of 25 hours per week for ultra-endurance events, this type of regimen <plant based> has fueled me for years, without any issues with respect to building lean muscle mass. In reality, I believe that eating plant-based has significantly enhanced my ability to expedite physiological recovery between workouts — the holy grail of athletic performance enhancement.”

Knowing that it is relatively simple to meet your daily requirements of protein, there are a few nuanced points to consider:

a. Quantity of protein – how much protein does plant-based foods actually have?
b. Quality of protein – how do plant and animal proteins differ, and is one better than the other?
Quantity of protein

Research has shown that all plants contain protein and at least 14% of the total calories of every plant are protein. Broccoli contains more protein per calorie than steak and, per calorie, spinach is about equal to chicken and fish.

 If you check out the Ground Leaf food guide you will find detailed information on the food groups of a plant based diet, including the protein sources such as nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, grains, and of course, fruits and vegetables.

Quality of protein

Yet another source of great debate, the plant-based community’s stance is that plant sourced proteins are better than animal proteins for a multitude of reasons. Not only are they easier to digest, and minimize inflammation instead of causing it, but they also come with the added “gifts” of fiber, antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals, whereas animal proteins come with saturated fat, cholesterol, and added hormones and antibiotics.

 After reading all of this, if protein continues to be a concern for you, plant-based supplementation is widely available in the form of pea proteins, hemp proteins, and even rice proteins. Many of these supplements come in the form of yummy protein shake powders, compact bars, and even little easy-to-take capsules. It’s best to try and get all of your nutrients from whole foods, but it’s also important to stay flexible.

The next time someone asks you “Where do you get your protein”, hopefully you’ll feel more equipped to answer the question. And if you’re having any doubts, you can always say:  “from pretty much every food I eat”.