How To Meet Your Protein Needs On A Plant-Bas…


One of the first questions people may ask a new vegan is, where they get their protein. It’s a valid question, and an important one. Vegetarian diets may include dairy products and eggs, but how to get enough protein as a vegan can be a more complicated question.

You can absolutely fulfill your body’s protein needs with plant based protein. Once you know where to look for it, it will be easy, too.

Is Vegan Protein as Good as Animal Protein?

protein from plants

You might have heard that non meat protein is a lesser protein.

Let’s bust a few myths.

The first myth is that vegans and vegetarians are prone to protein deficiency in the first place.

It’s true that vegan protein sources are often less protein dense than animal based sources. This is why some experts advise vegans and vegetarians to eat slightly more protein than meat eaters. (1)

Overall, however, there is no evidence of widespread protein deficiency amongst people following vegetarian or vegan diets. (2)

The second myth is that animal proteins are “complete,” and plant protein is “incomplete.” 

A complete protein has all nine essential amino acids. There are both animal proteins and vegan protein sources that meet this qualification. The difference is that most animal proteins contain these essential amino acids in greater quantities.

There are, however, some powerful vegan sources of complete protein. These include:

  • Soy
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Hemp
  • Chia seeds

And if these are hard to find where you are, the time honored combination of beans and rice is a vegan source of complete protein enjoyed the world over.

The third myth is that vegetarians and vegans need to combine proteins to get all of the nutrients that the body needs. This was a common line of thought for a long time, but it’s not true.

The truth is, you don’t need to combine proteins to get everything your body needs. We’ll discuss this more in a bit.

Where do Vegans Get Their Protein?

plant protein

From a lot more, and more diverse places than you might think!

Here are just a few examples of protein rich plant foods.

  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Artichokes
  • Barley
  • Beans
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Bulgur wheat
  • Cauliflower
  • Chia seeds
  • Chickpeas
  • Collard Greens
  • Flax seeds
  • Kale
  • Lentils
  • Nuts
  • Nut butters (peanut butter, almond butter, and so forth)
  • Oats
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Rice
  • Soy (soy milk, tofu, tempeh, etc.)

For even more vegan protein sources, check out our article, 49 Amazingly Powerful Plant Based Protein Sources.

How Much Protein Should You Consume on a Vegan Diet?

For the general population, many experts recommend 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For a 68-kilogram (150-pound) adult, that would be around 55 grams per day.

For vegetarians and vegans, however, some experts recommend a slightly higher protein intake. This is because plant protein is slightly less bioavailable (easy for your body to access) than animal protein. (3)

For this reason, some experts recommend a daily protein intake of one gram per kilogram of bodyweight for vegetarians and vegans. That would be around 68 grams of protein per day for an adult weighing 68 kilograms (150 pounds.) 

Athletes and other people trying to increase their muscle mass may require even more protein than that.

Calculating Your Own Plant-Based Protein Requirements

vegan protein amounts

Everybody is different, and your optimal protein intake may vary due to lifestyle factors, body composition, health status, and more.

Here are a few tips for personalizing your protein goals. (4)

If you’re in good health and sedentary, aim for around 0.8 to 1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

You may need more protein if you’re:

  • Pregnant or nursing
  • Doing regular weight training or resistance training
  • Under stress
  • Recovering from an illness
  • A teenager
  • Over 60 years of age

So, under these circumstances, aim for 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

If you don’t want to mess with the math, an online protein calculator can give you an estimate of your body’s protein needs. (5)

What about Protein Supplements?

Because even protein rich plant foods are less protein dense than animal protein sources, you may find yourself eating a lot. This is especially true if your needs are on the higher end of the spectrum.

Vegan supplements, such as plant based protein powders and vegan protein bars can help you pack in those plant based proteins.

They’re not essential, but for people following plant based diets, they sure can be convenient. You can find a good selection in most health food stores.

Vegan Protein Powders

Many bodybuilders swear by protein powder. But a lot of protein powders are made from either eggs or whey, which is a byproduct of dairy milk production. 

Vegan protein powder is typically made from soy or pea protein. Other base ingredients may include:

  • Brown rice protein
  • Hemp protein
  • Almond powder
  • Peanut powder
  • Oats

When choosing a plant based protein powder, your first stop is the nutrition label. The amount of protein in any given product can vary, so pay close attention to serving size and grams of protein per serving.

Also be on the lookout for fillers and sweeteners. Many protein powders have shocking amounts of sugar, or even artificial sweeteners. If possible, choose unsweetened protein powder, or protein powder sweetened with Stevia.

For more information, check out our article on Plant Based Protein Powders.

Vegan Protein Bars

Protein bars are another way to get your protein in. As a bonus, a lot of them look and taste like candy bars! But, as with protein powder, make sure you know how much protein you’re getting, and watch out for sugar and artificial sweeteners.

You can see some examples in our article on Dairy Free Protein Bars.

Do You Need to Supplement Amino Acids, Too?

Amino acids are compounds found in foods that play a variety of roles in the healthy functioning of the body. They’re sometimes called the “building blocks of protein,” and it’s in protein rich foods that you’ll find them. (6)

Amino acids play important roles in muscle building, immune function, healing and recovery, metabolism, sleep, mood, appetite, and more. 

There are 20 amino acids. Of these, nine are considered “essential”:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

Your body can make other types of amino acids, but not these. The only way to get these is from food.

According to the World Health Organization, the average healthy adult needs the following: (7)

  • Histidine: 10 milligrams per 1 kilogram of body weight
  • Isoleucine: 20 milligrams per 1 kilogram of body weight
  • Leucine: 39 milligrams per 1 kilogram of body weight
  • Lysine: 30 milligrams per 1 kilogram of body weight
  • Methionine: 10.4 milligrams per 1 kilogram of body weight
  • Phenylalanine combined with the nonessential amino acid tyrosine: 25 milligrams per 1 kilogram of body weight
  • Threonine: 15 milligrams per 1 kilogram of body weight
  • Tryptophan: 4 milligrams per 1 kilogram of body weight
  • Valine: 26 milligrams per 1 kilogram of body weight

But do Vegans Need to Supplement?

No.

The fact is, it’s perfectly possible to meet your daily requirements for essential amino acids by eating a varied diet filled with different types of plant proteins. If you’re getting enough protein, chances are you’re getting your fill of the essential amino acids, too.

Some reasons people may choose to supplement with different amino acids include:

  • Enhancing athletic performance
  • Recovery from illness
  • Improving sleep or mood

Otherwise, if it ain’t broke, there’s no need to fix it.

3 Tips to Ensure You’re Getting Enough Protein on a Vegan Diet

high protein vegan dish

You can get all of the nutrition your body needs on a plant based diet. But you may have to adjust your way of eating and thinking about food. Here are a few tricks.

Include Protein with Every Meal

If you’re trying to get your 68 grams of protein per day, try adding some of these to your next meal. (8)

Breakfast:

  • One cup (284 milliliters) of soy milk: seven grams of protein
  • 1/2 cup (156 grams) of dry oats: six grams of protein
  • One ounce (30 grams) of pumpkin seeds: 8.5 grams of protein
  • One cup (145 grams) of blackberries: two grams of protein
  • One cup (165 grams) of guava: 4.5 grams of protein

Lunch or Dinner

  • 1/2 cup (80 grams) of black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, green peas, or lentils: 8 grams of protein
  • 3/4 cup (100 grams) of tempeh: 13 grams of protein
  • Three ounces (100 grams) of seitan: 19 grams of protein
  • One half cup (100 grams) of uncooked barley: 12.5 grams of protein
  • One Impossible Burger: 19 grams of protein
  • One small artichoke: three grams of protein

Switch to Whole Grains

Unprocessed grains have three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.

The bran is the outer layer, which is packed with fiber and nutrition. The germ is the embryo of the seed, and it, too, is rich in nutrients. The endosperm provides food for the growing germ, and that food is starchy carbohydrates.

Processing grains, for example into white flour, strips away the bran and the germ, leaving only the starchy endosperm.

That’s a lot of wasted nutrition.

Whole grain foods are made from grains that have all three layers intact. A diet rich in whole grains has been linked to lower rates of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and more. (9)

Whole grains can also add to the protein content of your diet.

Quinoa, barley, spelt, and oats, which are left whole, can be a tasty way to add more plant based protein to your diet.

And when it comes to bread, choose bread with nutrition packed sprouted grains. (10)

Be Mindful of Protein When Snacking

Don’t just snack on any old thing. Why not use your afternoon pick-me-up to add some protein to your day?

Check these out:

  • One serving of sprouted grain bread: 15 grams of protein
  • Two tablespoons (30 grams) of nut butter: four to eight grams of protein
  • 1/4 cup (35 grams) of almonds or pistachios: seven grams of protein
  • 1/4 cup (35 grams) of peanuts: 9.5 grams of protein
  • One cup (155 grams) of boiled, shelled edamame: 18.4 grams of protein
  • One half cup (140 grams) of Greek style soy yogurt: around 8 grams of protein

Can You Eat Too Much Protein on a Vegan Diet?

It’s possible to consume too much protein, and doing so has its risks, including constipation, weight gain, dehydration, and kidney damage. (11)

However, if you’re getting all of your protein from real food, rather than from supplements, then it would be difficult to get too much protein from a vegan diet.

For the best health benefits, eat a varied diet that includes protein rich plant based foods. This should provide adequate, but not excessive, protein content.

Do I Need to Worry About Protein Combining?

Short answer: no. As long as you’re eating a variety of protein rich plant foods, you should be getting all of the protein, amino acids, and essential nutrients that your body needs. (12)

The idea of protein combining goes back more than 100 years. It was made popular in Frances Moore Lappe’s vegetarian manifesto Diet for a Small Planet, which was first published in 1971. The idea was also taught in nutrition classes and medical schools for a long time.

However, the myth has since been debunked. 

Final Thoughts

Do vegans and vegetarians need to be careful to get enough protein? 

Yes!

Is it a difficult or onerous task?

Not in the least! In fact, it can be a delicious one!

What’s your favorite way to sneak a bit of protein into your diet? Tell us all about it!

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vegan get enough protein
About The Author:
Jess Faraday

Jess Faraday is a vegetarian from a family of vegetarians. A recent vegan, she wants to spread the word about the benefits of plant-based eating for health, for animals, and for the planet.

REFERENCES

  1. Healthline | Incomplete Protein: Is it a Myth? | https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/incomplete-protein#definition
  2. Mariotti, F. et al. | Dietary Protein and Amino Acids in Vegetarian Diets: a Review | https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6893534/
  3. Kniskern, M. et al | Protein Dietary Reference Intakes may be Inadequate for Vegetarians if Low Amounts of Animal Protein are Consumed | https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21167687/
  4. Waehner, P. | Determining How Much Protein to Eat for Exercise | https://www.verywellfit.com/protein-recommendations-for-exercise-1229792
  5. Gigacalculator | Protein Calculator | https://www.gigacalculator.com/calculators/protein-intake-calculator.php
  6. Healthline | Essential Amino Acids: Definition, Benefits, and Food Sources | https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/essential-amino-acids
  7. World Health Organization | Protein and Amino Acid Requirements in Human Nutrition | https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/43411/WHO_TRS_935_eng.pdf?sequence=1
  8. Healthline | A Comprehensive Chart of Vegan Protein Sources | https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vegan-protein-sources-chart#nondairy-milk
  9. Healthline | 14 Healthy Whole Grain Foods (Including Gluten Free Options) | https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/whole-grain-foods
  10. Healthline | 7 Great Reasons to Add Sprouted Grain Bread to Your Diet | https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sprouted-grain-bread#TOC_TITLE_HDR_4
  11. Healthline | What Happens if you Eat Too Much Protein? | https://www.healthline.com/health/too-much-protein
  12. Ecowatch | Hey Vegetarians and Vegans, It’s Time to Debunk the Protein Combining Myth | https://www.ecowatch.com/hey-vegetarians-and-vegans-its-time-to-debunk-the-protein-combining-my-1891129518.html
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