Probably the most common question I’ve been asked by friends and peers since going Vegan is simply can I get enough protein as a vegan? It’s a fair question; all our lives we’ve been fed the myth that the only sources of protein are meat dairy and eggs, without realising just how much protein really comes from plants. In this post I’m going to break through any misconceptions around protein and plant based foods, and give some examples of how easy it is to get enough protein as a Vegan.
What is protein?
Keeping things simple, Protein is one of the three main macronutrients that we absorb from foods (protein, carbs & fats). It has a caloric value of 4 calories per gram, and is composed of Amino acids. Protein is the building block of the human body; it helps us to build and maintain tissue, and repair our muscles after we’ve broke them down from exercise.
But plants don’t contain ‘complete’ protein!
A common myth among the health and fitness community is that plants contain ‘incomplete protein’ and so you must combine different plants in order to make up a ‘complete’ protein source. Remember earlier I stated that protein is combined of Amino acids (22 to be exact)? This common misconception states that plant protein doesn’t contain all of these amino acids, thus leading to the belief that plants are an incomplete protein source. This seems to of stemmed from ‘vogue magazine’ quite some years ago; claiming that you must combine foods such as rice & beans in order to ensure your body gets all of the essential amino acids and complete protein. Well, it turns out that this has been disproven and our bodies are actually smarter than we think. Whilst some plants might be slightly lower in certain amino acids, our bodies actually maintain pools of these amino acids to compensate for the lower intake. We also have a recycling process whereby we can break down and reassemble protein, in order to ensure we gain all of the essential amino acids. However, don’t take my word for it. Dr Michael Gregor debunks this whole myth in much more detail in this video.
How much protein do I need per day?
When it comes to calculating your protein needs for the day, it’s entirely dependant on whether your goal is to build/maintain muscle or not. If you’re someone that has no interest in training and simply just wants to eat healthily day to day, the general guidelines tend to be around 55g of protein, but of course this is dependant on age (more here). On the other hand, if you were someone that was looking to build muscle, I’d opt for a range of anywhere between 1.6/1.8g (maybe even 2g) of protein per kg of bodyweight. I’d tilt towards the lower end of the spectrum if you were bulking, and the higher end if you are cutting and trying to preserve muscle. This is due to the fact that when you cut your body is more likely to use your muscle mass as energy to make up for lost calories, so more protein is required to ensure that you can preserve muscle mass.
But that protein intake is too low!
A popular argument among the fitness industry is that you should strive for much higher protein intakes when it comes to building/preserving muscle mass. We’re talking consumption of 1g protein per pound of bodyweight and upwards, which in my opinion is far too high. There are a tonne of studies suggesting different amounts of protein; many of these studies are flawed/of poor quality for a number of reasons. I tend to stick within my suggested range because I know that this is what works for me and my clients, and it’s a suitable range that can lead to some great results.
Can I get enough protein as a Vegan?
So now we can get to the whole point of this post, which is to prove how easy it is to get enough protein as a Vegan. Below I’m going to give you an example of a full day of eating for a 72kg male looking to get about 122g protein (1.7x72), for around 2500 calories a day.
As you can see we’ve hit 123g of protein with ease, with practically everything being nutritious other than the trek bar which is of course processed. With that being said, I still believe it’s important to allocate a small portion of your daily intake of food to ‘unhealthy’ snacks to save you from going insane and becoming obsessed with ‘clean eating’. If 95% of your other foods are healthy whole foods like above, you’ll still be getting an adequate amount of nutrition. Notice I’ve also allocated around 65calories to sauces for either meal; again something I believe to be important. Another important point that this example day of eating proves is that you certainly don’t need protein powder to achieve your daily protein requirements!
That pretty much wraps up this post; I apologise for how lengthy it has been but as you can see there was a tonne of information I wanted to put across to you and a fair few myths I wanted to bust. Next time someone asks you ‘Can I get enough protein as a vegan?’ You can share with them this post and point them in the right direction!