How to Get Enough Vegan and Vegetarian Protein for a Healthy and Active Lifestyle
There’s a big misconception that it’s hard to get enough protein on a vegetarian and vegan diet. The good news is, there are some great sources of plant proteins. With just a little planning, you’ll get all the protein you need.
Why Protein Is So Important
Proteins are made up of different combinations of amino acids. Your body uses these special combinations to . .
- Repair and rebuild lean tissue, including muscles and bones
- Help maintain a healthy metabolism, and
- Stimulate your body to burn extra calories, reduce hunger,¹ and help stabilize blood sugar.
More Muscle Mass and Less Body Fat
The pituitary gland needs protein to make and secrete HGH (Human Growth Hormone). As we age, the body produces less HGH, and there’s a loss of muscle mass and an increase in body fat. Studies show that getting enough protein optimizes HGH levels.2
According to some scientists, another way to enhance HGH secretion is to consume 15 to 25 grams of protein after a workout.
The time of day that you eat protein can also make a difference. A recent study shows that protein in the morning can help you eat less during the rest of the day.3
How Much Protein Is Enough?
The USDA recommends you get the following amount of protein each day:
|Adults and children over the age of four||50 grams|
|Children under four||16 grams|
|Pregnant women||60 grams|
|Lactating women||65 grams|
From an 8-ounce cut of lean beef, you’ll get about 64 grams of protein. Can you get that much from plant sources? You sure can.
“Protein is especially important for the elderly to support a healthy immune system, prevent muscle wasting, and optimize bone mass.”Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, by Sharon Rady Rolfes, Kathryn Pinna, and Ellie Whitney
Do Vegetarian and Vegan Athletes Need More Protein?
There isn’t a separate protein RDA for athletes, but whether or not athletes and active people need more protein is up for debate.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the American Dietetic Association (ADA), and Dietitians of Canada have suggested that vegetarian strength athletes need 0.6 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight, while endurance athletes need 0.6 to 0.7 grams per pound.
How do you know if you’re getting enough protein? If you’re a runner, for example, and you’re consuming high–protein foods and not losing weight, then you’re getting enough protein.
Strength Training Tip: To build more muscle, eat a high–protein food right after working out.
If you’re into strength training and want to build more muscle, you’ll need to add more protein to your diet. This is where protein powders can help. Once you achieve your goals, you can cut back on the additional protein.
Because everyone is different, your best bet is to experiment to see how much protein your body needs.
Best Vegetarian and Vegan Sources of Protein
It’s not hard to get the RDA from vegetarian and vegan protein sources. Fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and dairy all have protein. For best quantity and quality, choose soy (especially Tempeh), Seitan, eggs, and beans.
To make Tempeh cooked soybeans are fermented.
Just four ounces of cooked tempeh gives you 22.23 grams of protein. That’s 41.3% of the Daily Value (DV). Plus, it has more nutritional benefits than Tofu.
Tempeh is easy to digest, and it doesn’t have the high amounts of phytic acid that unfermented soybeans have. Phytic acid interferes with the absorption of zinc and other essential minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and copper.
When eaten in moderation, Tofu is also a healthy protein option. You can get 6.63 grams of protein from 81 grams (1/4 block) of firm tofu.
It’s probably one of the most popular vegetarian and vegan sources of protein. You can find it in just about any conventional grocery store and there are several ways to prepare and cook it. But there are some real consequences for eating too much tofu, including creating nutritional deficiencies.
Seitan is seasoned wheat gluten. Wheat gluten is the protein component of wheat that gives bread the elasticity and structure that makes it rise. Every four-ounce serving of Seitan has 15 grams of protein.
Eggs that are free of antibiotics are an incredibly healthy food, especially for vegetarians. One large boiled egg has 6.29 grams of protein. Plus, they’re high in nutrients and have all the essential amino acids. Egg yolks are one of the few food sources of natural vitamin D.
Beans have loads of protein. With just one cup of cooked, black beans you get 15.25 grams.
Whole Grains and Nuts
Whole grains and nuts are delicious, high protein sources. Quinoa has the highest amount. One cup of cream-colored quinoa has 18 grams of protein. It’s also considered a superfood because of its nutritional profile.
And who doesn’t love spaghetti? If you eat just one cup of whole wheat spaghetti, you get 7.46 grams of protein.
In the nut category, almonds have the most protein. One ounce (24 nuts) has 6.02 grams. Dry roasted pistachio nuts come in second with 5.94 ounces of protein from one ounce (47 nuts). And let’s not forget the walnut. They’re high in omega-3 ALA, and one ounce (14 halves) provides you with 4.3 grams of protein.
It’s easy to get enough protein from a vegetarian diet. The trick is to plan ahead of time and use a high protein source in at least one meal a day.
1 Carol S. Johnston, Sherrie L. Tjonn and Pamela D. Swan, High- Protein, Low-Fat Diets Are Effective for Weight Loss and Favorably Alter Biomarkers in Healthy Adults, JN the Journal of Nutrition, 134:586-591, March 2004
2 Robert K. Cooper, Leslie L. Cooper, Flip the switch: proven strategies to fuel your metabolism and burn fat
3 Sarah Hills, “High protein breakfast could aid weight loss,” Sept. 3, 2008, Food Navigator USA
Food and Nutrition Board, “Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Fat, Protein and Amino Acids (Macronutrients),” National Academy of Sciences 2002.
Young VR, Pellett PL. “Plant proteins in relation to human protein and amino acid nutrition,” Am J Clin Nutr. 1994;Vol 59, 1203S-1212S
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 23
N.R. Rodriguez, N. M. DiMarco, and S. Langley, “Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109, no. 3 (2009), 509-27)
Jack Norris, R.D., Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, Vegan for Life
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Disclaimer: The information on this site is for information purposes only. It is not intended to replace your healthcare professional or provide diagnosis or treatment.