Probably one of the top questions I get asked all the time:
Where do you get your protein from?
I’m going to share with you something that may be a shock to you… Fruits and vegetables have protein in them! Mind blown? You’re welcome.
We will get into the food sources in a little bit but first, I would like to clarify that everyones needs are different. Just like our needs for water consumption varies, so does protein (as do other nutrients). With that being said our society have left us to believe that we need more protein, but in actuality the reverse is true. Many people in industrialized countries actually over consume on protein. Excess dietary protein offers NO advantage to our body. Any additional protein consumed will be turned into glycogen or fats and stored in the body as potential source of energy. When these body stores are also full, then it is excreted from the body through our kidneys in the form of urea in urine. This increases our risk for dehydration, kidney and liver damage.
Protein makes our bodies acidic, especially with a diet high in acid-ash foods. Acid-ash are the foods such as meat, poultry, cheese, fish, eggs and grains. These foods leave an acid residue in the urine consisting of phosphorus, chloride and sulphur. As a result, our bodies must take calcium (an alkaline mineral) from our bones and bloodstream in order to counterbalance the acidity.
So how much protein do we need?
The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) according to the US government standards is 0.8 grams per Kg of ideal body weight. This compared to the WHO (World Health Organization) which puts our protein requirements as 0.45 grams per Kg of ideal body weight. Funny how it is almost half of what the US government recommends isn’t it…
For athletes it’s around double that amount. This one study found that endurance athletes do best from 1.2 to 1.4 daily grams per kg of body weight, while strength athletes do best from 1.4 to 1.8 grams per gg.
If you calculate the top end of that range for an athlete whose 150 pounds or around 68 kg. 150 x 0.81 = 121.5 grams of protein per day.
To put that into perspective (for those of you meat eaters out there), 4 ounces of chicken is around 35 grams of protein, so if you only got protein from chicken, you would need less than 14 ounces of chicken in one day. Keep in mind this is the HIGHER end of a STRENGTH athlete. That is definitely not as much protein as many of us think we need. Try calculating with your own weight.
Brendan Braizer (cofounder of vega, former Ironman triathlete) says he eats about 15% protein when training for short events, and closer to 20% of protein during heavy training for long endurance events.
Everyone’s needs are different as I mentioned, but a good rule of thumb would be roughly 15% of your total calories.
Now, on to the sources! This is just a short list of some plant-based sources of protein.
- Lentils: 1 cup = 17.86 grams
- Kidney Beans: 1 cup = 15.35 grams
- Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas): 1 cup = 14.53 grams
- Oats: 0.5 cup = 13.18 grams
- Pumpkin Seeds: 0.25 cup = 9.75 grams
- Quinoa: 1 cup = 8 grams
- Green Peas: 1 cup = 7.38 grams
- Buckwheat: 1 cup = 6 grams
- Spinach: 1 cup = 5.35 grams
- Asparagus: 1 cup = 4.32 grams
- Swiss Chard: 1 cup = 3.29 grams
- Broccoli: 1 cup = 3.71 grams
- Kale: 1 cup = 2.47 grams
One thing to note is that when eating a vegan diet, you must consume complementary protein food sources. This is because most plant based food sources are incomplete proteins, meaning they do not contain all nine essential amino acids. Therefore eating foods that together provide the necessary amounts of all essential amino acids is required. As long as you are eating and combining a variety of plant-based foods, you will be able to get all the essential amino acids that you need. For example, eating grains with vegetables, beans with vegetables, grains with nuts and seeds, etc. Quinoa and buckwheat are actually examples of a COMPLETE protein food source!
For those who are still not convinced… search up these vegan athletes: Tim Shieff, Cam Awesome, Scott Jurek, Heather Mills, Alex Dargatz, Patrik Baboumian, Carl Lewis, Fiona Oakes, Meagan Duhamel, David Carter, John Joseph… just to name a few 😉
It would actually be quite difficult to design a whole foods diet that provided less than 10% of its calories from protein. An 1,800-calorie whole foods diet consisting exclusively of fruit, for example, would typically still provide at least 40 grams of protein. An 1,800 calorie whole foods diet consisting exclusively of broccoli would provide 121 grams!
– World’s Healthiest Foods
Additional Information (to get you started)