How much protein do you need and where to get it on a vegan diet? Myths and tips

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Does it drive you nuts the second someone tells you to eat more protein and not let your muscles waste away on a vegan diet?

Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Well, next time someone is bugging you about muscle wastage, just show them these amazing vegan athletes! Mac Danzig, the vegan martial artist; Scott Jurek, the ultramarathon runner; Carl Lewis, the Olympic sprinter; Tia Blanco, the vegan surfer … The list goes on and believe it or not, they all switched from meat and dairy to plants!

So what’s the truth? Do vegans get enough protein? From where? Is it possible to have muscle gains on a vegan diet?

This article is the result of hours of literature research so that every piece of information is accurate and accountable. We hope it helps you out.

The health benefits of a plant-based diet

Extensive research has shown that a plant-based diet is undeniably good for our health. It could stave off the typical modern diseases such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, heart diseases, diabetes, obesity and even some forms of cancer!

Unlike animal foods, plant foods are naturally low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Instead, they are loaded with vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and thousands of other phytonutrients. Some of them are disease-fighting, anti-aging compounds unique to the plant kingdom.

Did you know that what we feed to the gut is also so crucial to the microbes in our digestive tract and largely determines the metabolites they produce? When animal products make up the bulk of your diet, inflammatory metabolites could be produced and lead to inflammation. Research has shown that the production of a detrimental compound, TMAO, increases from consuming high animal proteins and salt. Increased TMAO is associated with heart disease, diabetes, cancer and vascular dementia. In contrast, fibre has been shown to reduce TMAO and protect against heart diseases! To read original science articles on this, just go to the references section.

Can a vegan diet provide enough protein?

Okay okay plants are good. But can I get enough protein for muscle building? Can plants really fuel my workouts and recovery?

At the end of the day, you could build muscle on any diet, as long as you consume adequate and high quality calories, combined with exercise routines.

So, where can you get proteins?

Beans, lentils, tofu, soy products, nuts and seeds generally contain the most proteins. Some grains including quinoa, millet and amaranth also provide some protein.

Image result for plant protein per 100g

Source: http://vinchaylabs.com/plant-protein-chart/

How much protein do I need everyday?

If you are thinking, these plant foods can hardly keep me full, how can they possibly provide all the protein for athletic performance?

Well the truth is: A vegan diet can easily meet the protein needs in your body. And the good news is – You can easily calculate it online with a simple tool Vegan Protein Calculator.

I just quickly ran my data on the calculator and got some back my results within seconds!

2 methods were used to calculate the protein requirements to give a better indication of how much I need. The first method is based on calories but not athletic goals, whereas the second is based on body weight, a common method used by athletes.

So combining the 2 methods, I should aim for 70 to 95 grams of protein per day, with a minimum of 49 grams.

Now that I know exactly how much protein I need, where do I find them? Easy – just use the Plant protein chart above to plan out your meals. In the beginning, you might find it a chore, but I guarantee you that once you get into the habit of doing it, it hardly takes any effort!

A nice bonus that comes with this very handy protein calculator is that it also tells me all about how many calories I need to consume on a rest day or a workout day.

In order for protein to support muscle health, meeting daily calorie requirement is necessary. Otherwise, some of the protein in the diet will be used to fuel basic bodily functions rather than muscle building and repair.

What about “Protein quality” and “Complete protein” ?

Wait, what? Proteins aren’t all the same?

YES. Proteins are not all the same because they are made up of different combinations of amino acids – the building blocks of protein. You might have heard of the term “Complete Protein”. One common misconception regarding vegan diet is that plant foods don’t provide the whole suite of amino acids.

OK. What’s the real truth here? There are 20 amino acids that make up the building blocks of protein.  The good news is that our body makes 11 of them from existing molecules in our body, so we only need make sure we consume the rest the nine that our body cannot make. The nine amino acids that we need to get from our diet are called the essential amino acids.

As Dr. Gregor points out in the video “The Protein Combining Myth“, the only “incomplete protein” in the food chain is gelatin as it is missing one amino acid, Tryptophan. Therefore, as long as you are consuming sufficient calories, you don’t need to worry about the protein deficiency myth at all.

As for any other nutrient deficiency, this rule of thumb applies – We need to eat a variety of foods. At the end of the day, we get all of the amino acids and other nutrients we need from the whole bunch of foods we eat. This is exactly why Vegan Palette is called this name – We want your food plate to be like a palette with a variety of foods. 

Is there still a need for protein combining?

The myth that plant proteins are incomplete, is completely misleading. As such, there really isn’t a need to deliberately combine proteins. Plus, our body has a powerful system of recycling amino acids and converting among them to make sure we have a balanced pool of all amino acids at all times. This is an excellent example of how our body maintains Homeostasis.

Conclusion

In summary, plant proteins are in no way inferior to animal proteins. Plus, Plant proteins also don’t have the same pro-inflammatory and cancer-promoting effects as animal proteins. If you stick to the rule of “Palette”, and have a wide variety of healthy whole foods, your body will happily thrive and let you accomplish bigger things.

Are you now more confident that you can meet all protein requirement now? Have you tried the Super handy tool Vegan Protein Calculator yet?

 

Let us know how your gut health journey goes from here. Comment below what you liked about this article, and what topic you would like us to cover next! 

 

You’ll love these

Have you checked out our comprehensive Vegan Health & Nutrition Resources page? I’ve compiled my gifts, knowledge and tips regarding thriving on a vegan lifestyle in this page, including a dietitian guidebook, grocery shopping list, lifestyle checklists, and the best vegan websites I recommend, all for you for FREE.

 

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References

1. Nowinski A & Ufnal M. (2018). Trimethylamine N-oxide: A harmful, protective or diagnostic marker in lifestyle diseases? Nutrition 46: 7 – 12.

2. Kruger R, Merz B, Rist MJ, et al. (2017). Associations of current diet with plasma and urine TMAO in the KarMeN study: direct and indirect contributions. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 61(11).

3. Cho CE, & Caudill MA. (2017). Trimethylamine-N-Oxide: Friend, foe, or simply caught in the cross-fire? Trends in Endocrinolology & Metabolism: 28(2): 121-130.

4. Koeth RA, Wang Z, Levison BS, et al. (2013). Intestinal microbiota metabolism of L-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis. Nat Med 19(5):576-585.

5. Li Q, Wu T, Liu R, et al. (2017). Soluble dietary fiber reduces trimethylamine metabolism via gut microbiota and co-regulates host AMPK pathways. Molecular Nutrition Food Research 61(12).

 

About the author


Raymond_dietitian_from_Vegan_Palette_with_food_plate

Raymond Setiadi is an Australian Accredited Practising Dietitian and is the founder of Vegan Palette,  a Brisbane-based dietitian practice.

As an expert in whole food plant-based nutrition and fat loss strategies, Raymond has a comprehensive understanding of the interplay between food,  human physiology, goal-directed psychology, and how they all play a pivotal role in one’s pursuit of optimal health.

 

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