I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked this question since going vegan 5 years ago. It has been ingrained in our society that we must eat meat, or else we will surely be protein deficient, and probably die. I have fallen victim to this way of thinking, as well. I went vegetarian when I was 9, but continued to eat fish because; how else would I get my protein? It wasn’t until 13 years later, when I finally learned the truth, and went completely vegan. So here are answers to some questions that most people are confused about.
Plants have protein?
All whole plant-based foods have protein. Yes, ALL of them. If you are eating a variety of plant-based foods, and getting enough calories, you are more than likely getting enough protein. Fruit has the least protein per calorie, but most still are more than 5% protein. The higher plant-based protein sources like beans and legumes are all over 20% protein. Soy products like tofu and tempeh are closer to 40% protein. And a fun surprise: Spinach has more protein per calorie than ground beef! So as you can see, contrary to popular belief, you can get plenty of protein from plants.
How much protein do you actually need?
Protein is currently severely over-consumed in a typical diet. Studies have shown that humans only require 5-10% of calories from protein to meet their bodies’ needs. Note that almost all plant-based foods have at least 5% protein. The standard American eats more like 30-40% of their calories from protein. This includes the unhealthy Standard American Diet as well as the “health-conscious” omnivorous diet. While protein is a very important nutrient to consume, that does not mean you need enormous quantities of it to survive.
What about “bulking” season?
If your goal in the gym is to put on muscle mass, or even maintain it, it is true you will need more protein than the general population. This does not mean that you need meat, though. It simply means you may have to be more strategic in how you pair your foods together to make sure you have a higher percentage of protein in each meal. You will need to have more of the protein dense foods with a bit less of the lower protein foods. Aka, a little more beans with a little less rice. There are also plant-based protein shakes if you still aren’t convinced.
Are you sure?
I have been a vegan athlete for 5 years now, and have never had an issue with protein deficiency, or struggled to get enough protein into my diet. I have actually found that I still tend to eat more protein than I really need. Who woulda thought?
*If you want to learn more about plant-based nutrition check out my nutrition guide being released tomorrow morning!*