“Where do you get your protein if you don’t eat meat?”
If you’re vegan or have a plant-based diet for long enough, you’ve probably heard this question millions of times whenever your diet comes up. It might come as a surprise for most, but vegetarian diets often have high levels of protein as the people who follow it make a conscious effort to go looking for protein packed, plant-based foods. But it can be easy to miscalculate or become out of touch with information on protein for vegetarian diets. So let’s take it back to the basics and answer all your questions:
The importance of Protein
Protein is a component of every cell in your body, and your body needs it to build and repair tissue. This is extremely important, especially for someone who exercises which essentially breaks your muscles down. Not only does it help repair your body, it is also responsible for the growth and strength of your hair, nails, and teeth, as well as to make enzymes that create energy, hormones, and other natural chemicals.
What is the optimal Protein level? The recommended daily protein intake varies from person to person. Here are the recommended amounts for different lifestyles:
- An average healthy sedentary adult that doesn’t work out: 0.5-0.7grams of protein per pound of body weight
- An average healthy adult that exercises regularly, or trying to improve their body composition (e.g. losing fat, building muscles): 0.8-1grams of protein per pound of body weight
- Average healthy adult FEMALE whose primary goal is to build muscles and increase tone, increasing strength or improving performance: 1-1.2grams of protein per pound of body weight
- Average healthy adult MALE whose primary goal is to build muscles and getting toned, increasing strength or improving performance: 1-1.5grams of protein per pound of body weight.
P.s. for the calorie counters, 1 gram of protein contains 4 calories.
Where can I easily find high protein sources?
Many people still believe that protein only comes from meat (chicken, turkey, fish…) and animal sources, when in fact, there are some seriously high protein, plant-based foods out there! It is possible to build complete protein from solely plant-based foods, however, it is recommended for you to consume 20-25% more plant-based protein to reap the benefits of animal-derived sources.
- Seitan – made of gluten, the main protein in wheat
- Tofu, tempeh, and edamame – all originate from soybeans
- Lentils – contains 18g of protein per 240ml cooked cup
- Chickpeas, and most varieties of beans (Kidney, black, pinto..)
- Nutritional yeast – which has a cheesy flavour and tastes extremely similar to parmesan!
- Hempseed, chia seeds
- Quinoa, oats, oatmeal
- Soy, almond, or coconut milk – a great alternative to dairy
- Nuts, nut butters, and other seeds
If adequate protein consumption is your main worry before starting a vegetarian diet, or if your getting any of the signs of low protein while practicing a plant-based diet, don’t stress! It might require a little more effort on your behalf, and you might need to begin tracking your protein intake in apps like MyFitnessPal, but the strength and energy gained is worth it!