Protein. It’s something that is being discussed often. In the sports world protein is something that you need for muscle growth and it’s being used in great extent. The main source of protein that is being used is usually whey (from dairy) or fish, chicken, meat and eggs. People that are vegetarian or vegan often get asked: ‘Where do you get your protein?’. And that is exactly that I’d like to help you with. Where to get plant-based protein?
What is Protein?
You have probably heard about protein before today. Protein is a macro-nutrient that provides ‘building blocks’ for your body. Protein is build out of amino-acids and these amino acids are needed in the body to grow, repair, and are needed for almost all reactions in your bodily cells. When you consume protein, your body breaks it down into amino-acids to absorb it and use it in many ways.
This is a massive important function, so it’s understandable that people worry about getting enough protein. Although a protein deficiency is not very common in the western world.
More on Amino-acids
The breakdown of protein results in free amino-acids for the body to use. To get really scientific with you, amino-acids are a combination of carbon (C), oxigen (O), nitrogen (N) and sometimes sulphur (S). There are 20 types of amino-acids. The body can make 11 of them itself (non-essential), and 9 of them you need from food (essential).
In the non-essential group of amino-acids, there are 5 amino-acids that are semi-essential, a healthy body is able to make them but in some cases, with illness or food deficiencies, it can’t. In that case, these 5 amino-acids become essential from food too.
How Much Protein do You Need?
The amount of protein that is needed to maintain a healthy body is dependent on age, Fat Free Mass (FFM) and physical activity. Disease, inflammation and illness greatly increase the need for protein in the body. But today I will be talking about a healthy body. If you are sick or have inflammation, talk to your doctor or dietitian to make a plan for your personal situation.
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When you follow a vegetarian, vegan or plant-based diet, your protein requirements will be higher.
Animal products have a high protein content and they often provide a complete protein. Providing you with every amino-acid you need. Unfortunately, animal products, and red meat specifically have shown to increase inflammation in the gut and body. Making it a less ideal choice to get your protein from every day.
Plants generally have a lower protein content, and they don’t provide complete proteins. This means you have to combine plant-products to reach your full amino-acid requirement. That’s not a bad thing. Aim for variety! Combine different types of vegetables with grains, nuts, seeds, legumes to create your own complete protein.
For healthy adults, the following protein requirements can be followed:
|Healthy adult||0,8 g/kg bodyweight|
|Vegetarian healthy adult||0,96 g/kg bodyweight|
|Vegan healthy adult||1,04 g/kg bodyweight|
As you can see in the table above, your protein requirements are dependent on your body weight and your diet. This requirement needs some adjustment still if you are underweight or overweight. If you are underweight (BMI lower than 20 kg/m2) calculate your requirement with the weight you would have if your BMI was 20 kg/m2. If you’re overweight (BMI higher than 30 kg/m2) calculate your requirements with the weight you would have if your BMI was 27,5 kg/m2.
Click here to calculate your BMI.
To give an example of the above:
Let’s say you are 80 kg and 182 cm and your BMI is 24,2 kg/m2.
– your protein requirement would be 64 grams (80 x 0,8) a day.
– if you’re vegetarian: 76,8 grams (80 x 0,96) a day
– if you’re vegan: 83,2 grams (80 x 1,04) a day
Imagine if you lost weight and ended up being 60 kg with 182 cm, this would result in a BMI of 18,3 kg/m2. Meaning, for your protein requirement you would have to use a weight that resembles a BMI of 20 kg/m2 for you. This would be around 66 kg, and your protein requirements will be calculated with 66 kg, even if that is not your actual weight.
It works the same if you gained weight and would be 100 kg with 182 cm, this would result in a BMI of 30 kg/m2. In this case, you would have to calculate your weight as if you had a BMI of 27,5 kg/m2. This would be around 91 kg, and this is the weight you calculate your protein requirements with.
Where to get Plant-Based Protein?
Now you know how much protein you need, it is important to know where to get your protein from. As mentioned above, animal products like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy contain a lot of protein but have also been shown to increase inflammation and reduce the bacterial diversity in your gut. For gut health, it’s best not to have animal products as the main protein source in your diet.
Plant-based protein, on the other hand, is always paired with fiber and phytochemicals. These nutrients fuel your gut bacteria and in turn, they will work anti-inflammatory and produce nutrients like Short Chain Fatty Acids (like Butyrate) and vitamin K for you. Leaving you with a healthy gut. What else could you want?
Protein content in plant-based foods can vary greatly. Some plants are high in protein, while others not so much. Making the right choice will get you everything you need. I’ve chosen not to list protein powders and only normal products. Since protein powders are often missing the nutrients and fiber that is naturally occurring in plant products.
Note that the amount of protein in the products is listed per 100 grams in the table. Not every product will have a serving size of 100 grams, so you might eat less or more. But this is the best way to compare protein levels between products.
|Product||Amount of protein per 100 grams|
|Brown beans||6,5 grams|
|Split peas||7,9 grams|
|Soy beans, boiled||21,5 grams|
|Kidney beans, boiled||8,2 grams|
|Lentils, green, red, brown. Boiled||7,7 – 8,8 grams|
|White beans, boiled||7,8 grams|
|Chickpeas, boiled||7,6 grams|
|Green peas, boiled||8,4 grams|
|Nuts and seeds:|
|Hemp seeds||31,6 grams|
|Chia seeds||16,5 grams|
|Pecan nuts||9,2 grams|
|Brazil nuts||14,3 grams|
|Cashew nuts||21,2 grams|
|Sunflower seeds||18 grams|
|Pine nuts||24 grams|
|Pumpkin seeds||30,3 grams|
|Wholegrain bread||11,1 grams|
|Brown rice||3,1 grams|
|Rye bread||5,9 grams|
|Oat bran||17,3 grams|
|Buckwheat groats||9 grams|
|Wholegrain pasta, boiled||5,5 grams|
Apart from these products, basically all plant-based products have some protein. So every type of vegetable, fruit, nut, seed, legume or grain will provide you with some protein. It’s just not massive amounts, but it will aid to get you to your protein goals! And don’t forget to combine on many different types of vegetable protein sources to get a complete protein!
If you’re still not sure whether or not you’re reaching your protein goals, try tracking your intake in a food log app for 2-3 days. This will tell you exactly how much protein you’re getting and you can decide if you need to take action on that!
What are your main protein sources in your vegetarian, plant-based or vegan diet? Let me know in a comment below!