“Where do vegans get their protein?” is one of the most frequently asked topics, as many consumers decide to give up meat and dairy products for the environment, their health, or animals. “Can they get enough of it?” is often followed by “Is it of the same quality as animal protein?”.
According to numerous sources: Yes, they can be, and yes, they are. We’ve created a comprehensive guide that begins with what protein accomplishes for the body and ends with why protein isn’t a problem for vegans.
- 1 What exactly is protein?
- 2 How much protein do we need?
- 3 Is vegan protein equivalent in quality to animal protein?
- 4 How to get enough protein as a vegan athlete?
- 5 What protein sources do vegans use?
- 6 Why protein isn't a problem for vegans
What exactly is protein?
According to the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), protein is a macronutrient composed of amino acids. It is necessary for the body’s growth and repair and maintaining good health. Protein makes us feel fit, efficient, and complete while giving us the energy we need to get through the day.
How much protein do we need?
According to dietitian and nutritionist Reed Mangels, American consumers are “obsessed” with protein – perhaps unnecessarily so. Only about one in ten calories consumed needs to come from protein to meet the body’s needs. According to the nutrition expert, a male vegan should consume about 63 grams of protein per day, while a woman should consume about 52 grams. The exact amount varies depending on weight, muscle mass, and other factors.
“This fear of protein is wrong,” she says. “Although protein is an essential food that plays several important roles in the functioning of our bodies, we do not need large amounts of it.”
In the United Kingdom, the situation is similar. Men consume 88 grams of protein per day, and women 64 grams. According to BNF, this is “more than adequate.”
According to Mangels, eating too much protein can even have harmful effects.
“More (than the recommended daily allowance) protein is not always healthier,” she explains. “A high-protein diet does not appear to have any health benefits.” A high-protein diet has been linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis and kidney disease.
Is vegan protein equivalent in quality to animal protein?
Humans require nine amino acids in their diets since they are the building blocks of protein. These amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, histidine, valine, threonine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, and lysine.
Protein, on the other hand, contains 20 amino acids. The remaining 11 are considered optional.
“The [nonessential] amino acids do not need to be supplied in the diet,” according to BNF. This is due to the transamination process, which allows the amino group of these amino acids to be transferred to another amino acid with a different amino group. In this way, the body can produce some amino acids itself.
According to experts, we need to get the essential amino acids from food, so the type of protein we eat is crucial. Animal proteins have an amino acid pattern similar to that of human cells, suggesting a higher biological value than plant proteins.
However, this does not mean that plant sources are a “second-rate” protein, as was previously thought. If we consume a varied and balanced diet, we can acquire all of the amino acids we need from a vegan diet. The body keeps a kind of “pool” of amino acids from each meal, so it is not necessary to combine plant protein sources in one meal, as was long assumed.
How to get enough protein as a vegan athlete?
Because protein is required to increase muscle mass, an athlete must consume more protein than a non-athlete who exercises moderately. Some believe that an athlete must consume large amounts of meat, such as steak, to get enough protein. However, this is not the case.
Many athletes choose a vegan diet to maintain their performance, and some even improve. Take Hulda B. Libra, for example, who has been called a “vegan Viking.” Waage, a powerlifter, broke three of her own national records at her second European competition in May, and she did so despite eating an exclusively plant-based diet, as her name suggests.
Other well-known athletes who go without animal products in their sports include car racing driver Lewis Hamilton, soccer player Héctor Bellern and rugby player Timana Tahu.
Vegan athletes, Mangels says, can easily get enough protein without using supplements. They just need to eat a variety of the right meals (more on that later).
“Protein requirements for vegan athletes range from 0.36 to 0.86 grams per pound,” she explains. “Protein supplements are not necessary to achieve even the highest protein levels.”
What protein sources do vegans use?
Vegan protein options abound, with new, exciting, and delicious products hitting the market regularly.
Here are seven plant-based protein sources that you can easily incorporate into your daily meals, drinks, smoothies, and snacks.
1. Nuts and seeds
Nuts, nut butter, and seeds are excellent sources of protein to always have on hand. That’s because you can easily eat them plain, spread them on toast, or mix them into a smoothie or shake.
Protein is also found in hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, cashews, and pistachios.
Tofu, which is made from soybeans and contains nine necessary amino acids, is a fantastic source of protein to include in your diet. Depending on the variety, it contains 18 grams of protein per 100 grams. It is also a classic vegan staple for which there are plenty of interesting and innovative recipes. Like scrambled eggs, it even tastes like egg, but unlike eggs, it does not increase cholesterol levels.
However, sports dietitian Matt Lovell believes that eating eggs in combination with vegetable soup is one of the healthiest combinations. “This adds flavor and extra nutrients without adding salty, preservative-filled condiments that take away from the healthy benefits of tofu,” he tells Men’s Health.
3. Legumes & Beans
Legumes and beans are excellent protein sources that can be incorporated into a variety of dishes. They also contain lots of fiber and B vitamins. Kidney beans are particularly high in protein: one cup contains 13.4 grams. Peas are also an important source of protein, containing 8.2 grams per cup.
“Peas are a wonderful source of protein and fiber, which can help lower blood sugar levels and insulin resistance,” according to Healthline. Fiber and protein from peas also contribute to a healthy stomach.
Chickpeas and lentils, as well as black beans, pinto beans, soybeans, navy beans, and peanuts (yes, they are legumes!), are all good sources of protein.
4. Lentils and Chickpeas
Chickpeas and lentils, like other legumes, are very high in protein. Chickpeas are very high in protein at 19 grams per 100 grams. Lentils have even more protein at 26 grams per 100 grams. They also contain a lot of fiber, potassium, iron, and manganese.
Numerous studies have also shown that chickpeas, in particular, are good for the intestines, improving their function and reducing harmful bacteria in the colon, according to Healthline.
Chickpeas and lentils are also highly adaptable, allowing for the preparation of a variety of unique recipes, such as lentil stew, lentil soup, chickpea tuna, and chickpea curry.
5. Nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast, or Nooch, is a popular ingredient in plant-based cooking. You can use it to make vegan cheese sauces or sprinkle it on popcorn or macaroni and cheese. It is high in protein, as well as B12 and fiber.
It’s also a complete protein, containing all nine of the necessary amino acids our bodies need. One serving of Nooch (about two tablespoons) contains about nine grams of protein, but because it is so delicious, many people take much more.
Soy-based tempeh, a classic Indonesian food, is a tasty source of calcium, iron, manganese, and, of course, protein (15 grams per 84-gram meal). It also contains probiotics that can help lower cholesterol.
It can be marinated and seasoned to enhance flavor and then crumbled, baked, or fried to incorporate into a variety of dishes. In sandwiches or even in a classic English breakfast, tempeh is often used as a substitute for bacon.
7. Vegan Meat
There are many vegan meat alternatives on the market if you want the texture and taste of meat without the animal. They’re often prepared with soybeans, almonds, or legumes, making them a good source of protein as well.
Several companies that offer vegan meats, such as Beyond Meat, an American company that makes patties and sausages from peas and other plant-based ingredients, have described themselves as “the future of protein.” Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger contains more protein than a typical beef burger.
Beyond Beef claims its burgers have “the juicy, meaty deliciousness of a typical burger, but with the benefits of a plant-based diet.” The Beyond Burger contains 20 grams of plant-based protein and is GMO, soy, and gluten-free.”
Quorn, VBites, Field Roast, and Gardein are some other vegan meat brands.
This list can be helpful to anyone looking to incorporate more plant-based proteins into their diet.
Why protein isn't a problem for vegans
There is currently no evidence of protein deficiency among vegetarians or vegans, with the exception of a small percentage who consume too few calories or follow monotonous or restricted eating patterns, such as fruitarian or potato-based diets.
Protein deficiency is unusual among vegetarians and vegans, especially those who maintain a healthy, well-planned diet.
However, protein from plants may be slightly more difficult for your body to absorb than protein from meat and other animal-based foods. That’s why some people may be interested in increasing their plant protein intake.
Nonetheless, current evidence suggests that the difference in absorption is likely too minor to cause vegetarians or vegans to consume insufficient amounts of essential amino acids.
In short, as long as a plant-based diet contains enough calories and a diverse range of protein sources, there’s no reason to be concerned about getting too little “complete” protein on a vegetarian or vegan diet.