An often cited “fact” is that vegetarians and vegans will struggle to build muscle because they don’t have enough protein in their diet. Non meat eaters are often told that getting sufficient protein is impossible due to the relative lack of plant protein available. Of course this is not true at all; while it is undeniably more difficult to hit your protein targets when abstaining from meat, it is absolutely possible.
In this article we will be talking all things related to plant protein. We will explore the plant-based protein foods you can eat and the plant protein powders you can use to supplement your diet. But first we will take a look at the benefits of protein and how much protein you really should be consuming per day.
The Benefits of Protein
Why is protein such an important macro nutrient? Well it happens to be very useful for people trying to lose weight, maintain weight, or gain weight… which is basically everyone! It can increase your metabolism (due to it being hard to digest compared to carbohydrates and fats), preserve muscle while dieting, help contribute to weight loss, and aid muscle building. It also increases satiety (that feeling of being full after a meal), which helps people to avoid overeating.
Without protein, your body would not be able to maintain muscle mass. This might sound fine to some of you in theory, particularly anyone who “doesn’t want to get too bulky,” but if you desire a toned body, better overall fitness, or ease of movement in your old age, then you would want to avoid losing muscle.
For any vegan bodybuilders out there, protein is even more important. Without sufficient protein, you will never be able to build muscle. That’s because protein is essential for the repair and rebuilding of muscle fibres after a workout. There is a process called muscle protein synthesis, which uses dietary protein to build and repair muscles. If you don’t have sufficient protein, then your muscles will either stay the same or even lose size.
Recommended Protein Intake
The amount of protein you can take per day is a long-debated issue, but suffice it to say that if you have no long term kidney problems, there is no upper limit to the amount that you can safely take. This doesn’t mean that you can eat 400g a day, it just means the range is quite large. A recent study found that natural bodybuilders benefit from anywhere between 2.3-3.1g of protein per kg of body weight. This doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but for a 100kg person, that could represent an 80g per day difference. Now, most people are not wannabe bodybuilders, so it would make sense to aim for the lower end of the scale. A target of between 1.5-2g per kg of body weight would be perfect. Let’s say you are 60kg; then your protein target would be between 90g and 120g per day.
Protein in Vegetarian & Vegan Diets
Most vegetarians and vegans do not hit their protein intake targets, but then, neither do meat eaters! It is one of the reasons why many people are overweight or not as strong as they should be. It’s hard to make generalizations about vegetarian or vegan diets because they can be so varied, but most protein tends to come from lentils, nuts, beans, or soy. Here are five of the best plant protein sources available:
· Tofu (10g of protein per 1/2 cup)
· Lentils (18g of protein per cup)
· Navy Beans (15g of protein per cup)
· Cashew Nuts (5g of protein per 1/4 cup raw nuts)
· Chia Seeds (4g of protein per 2 tbsp)
Of course, if you have been following a plant-based diet, then you are probably familiar with all five of these excellent protein sources. But what about plant protein powders? In the last few years, lots of vegan protein powders have become available, offering high quality, complete proteins coming from vegan-friendly sources.
Different Types of Plant Protein
There are a lot of plant-based protein powders out at the moment, and we are going to take a look at five of the best around. There’s soy protein, pea protein, hemp protein, rice protein, and pumpkin protein. We are going to be looking at isolate protein powders rather than concentrate, as these are superior (higher protein to calorie ratio).
- Soy Protein – Soy is a great source of protein, but tends to be quite high in fat and
carbohydrates, meaning it can be quite difficult to increase protein without increasing everything else as well. Soy protein powder is made by isolating the protein and removing as much of the fat and carbs as possible. You end up with around 22g of protein per serving, with less than 1g of fat and around 2g of carbohydrates. Soy is often criticized in bodybuilding circles because some believe it increases estrogen in men, but if you are eating a diet high in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, sprouts, etc.), this should not be an issue.
- Pea Protein – A great alternative to whey protein, pea protein can contain up to 28g of protein per serving. It tends to work in a similar way to casein protein, being a slow digesting protein. This can increase satiety (feeling full after a meal) and is perfect for anyone on a diet.
- Hemp Protein – This form of protein comes from hemp seeds and is a very easily digested form of protein, similar to whey. Excellent for anyone who finds it difficult to digest certain foods, hemp protein powder is also high in fibre. Hemp protein tends to be a little lower in protein than soy or pea, with an average of 14-18g of protein per serving.
- Rice Protein – Rice protein powder comes from brown rice, and it is much higher in protein than help protein, managing to hit 24-30g of protein per serving.
- Pumpkin Seed Protein Powder – Probably the least known protein powder on this list, pumpkin protein is a really nice tasting and easily mixed protein powder. It has a wide range of benefits, and a decent protein to calorie ratio. It is around 63% protein, and is also high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids, too.
The Bottom Line
This article has given you five high protein plant-based foods, and five plant-based protein powders. Adding these to a calorie controlled diet will help you to lose weight, build muscle, or just maintain your size in a healthy and sustainable way. Good luck with getting lean and big and let us know if you had awesome results using plant-based protein!