Understanding the nutrition behind plant-based protein and personal protein requirements are key factors in achieving your personal fitness goals.
Adequate protein consumption in the diet is an imperative factor for maintaining healthy muscles and bones, for muscle repair and recovery, bone growth, and hormone and enzyme production and balance in the body.
Here’s everything you need to know about protein consumption on a vegan diet.
How much protein do I need if I workout?
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The average person’s daily protein requirement is about 0.8g protein per kg of body weight. However, each individual has a different protein requirement based on their age, height, weight, fitness goals, muscle mass levels and more.
Let’s take Anna and James as an example. They are both following a plant-based diet. Anna weighs 60kg and is looking to maintain her body weight. She regularly goes to the gym and her fitness goals include weight maintenance, and therefore, she attends spin classes and sometimes runs a few kilometres on the treadmill every so often. Anna needs to consume about 48g of protein per day to achieve her fitness goals and meet her daily protein requirements.
On the other hand, James weighs 70kg and also goes to the gym regularly. However, his goals are slightly different from Anna’s. James wants to moderately increase his body’s muscle mass content and plans to achieve his fitness goals by daily strength training, such as lifting and hypertrophic exercises, and occasionally with some cardiovascular training like high-intensity interval training (HIIT). In order to efficiently build muscles and promote rapid muscle recovery, James needs to consume about 1g to 1.2g of protein per kg per day, which equates to about 70g of protein daily to meet his fitness goals.
Martin is a full-time athlete and wants to significantly increase his body’s muscle mass in preparation for rugby season. He weighs about 75kg and plans to work out intensively multiple times a day as well as consume 1.6g to 2g of protein per kg of body weight every day, which equates to 120g of protein daily.
Now, you must be wondering, why not just drink plant-based protein powder? Protein powder, in fact, is not essential in most cases. However, if your fitness goals are focused on muscle growth and hypertrophy, then using plant-based protein powders may be a good option.
Fitness apps and trackers such as MyFitnessPal are great tools to ensure you are eating just enough protein. You can calculate your daily protein requirements on the app and monitor your personal fitness goals and growth.
Do plant proteins contain all the essential amino acids?
Essential amino acids cannot be synthesised by the body and need to be consumed in the diet. They are essentially the building blocks of muscle tissues in the body, and consuming all nine essential amino acids is imperative for health. These are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
It is increasingly common nowadays for people to be concerned about protein intake on a vegan diet because of this. However, it is important to consider that there is some truth to this statement. Getting enough protein in a day and whether the protein is being used efficiently by the body are two different ideas.
Some plant sources of protein such as kidney beans, tend to be ‘incomplete proteins’: they do not contain all the nine essential amino acids that our body needs to build muscles, recover from injury and even maintain strong and healthy bones.
For example, if you are eating 70g of black beans on their own every day with no other plant protein sources, it is likely that you are not consuming all the essential amino acids your body needs. Thus, the most important thing to remember is a diet rich in a variety of plant-based protein sources is essential for the body to undergo muscle growth, repair and many other physiological processes.
Many plant sources do contain all the essential amino acids, such as soy products (tofu, tempeh, edamame, etc.), quinoa, buckwheat, hemp seeds, chia seeds and a few more.
If you’re concerned about achieving your fitness goals on a vegan diet, there is no need to worry about including different plant protein sources into every single meal of the day. As long as you are consuming a variety of plant protein sources throughout the day, you have no reason to be concerned about lacking protein in your diet.
What are some meals that provide a complete source of protein?
Buddha bowls are a great way to consume a sufficient amount of protein in one meal. To give you a better idea, here are some meal ideas to consume in a day to achieve the average recommended protein intake of 60g to 70g per day on average:
Udon stir-fry: 1 cup udon noodles, 100g broccoli, 100g bok choy and 100g tofu
Total protein content: 19.6g protein per serving
Lentil salad: 100g split green lentils, 1 cup brown rice, 50g tomatoes and 50g onions
Total protein content: 14g protein per serving
Tofu and broccoli stir-fry: 1 cup white rice, 200g tofu, 100g broccoli
Total protein content: 23.1 g protein per serving
Vegetable-packed quinoa: 1 cup quinoa, 200g broccoli, 100g portobello mushrooms
Total protein content: 13.6g protein per serving
Chickpea and lentil-based pastas work wonders if you want a quick fix and would like to integrate more protein into your diet.
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Could I be eating too much protein on a vegan diet?
Eating too much protein on a vegan diet is definitely possible. Amino acids from protein-rich foods are essentially excreted in the urine in the form of uric acid if they are not utilised by the body’s muscles and tissues. Thus, eating too much protein can be wasteful and excess calories from protein end up getting stored in the body as glycogen or fat.
Bear in mind, too much protein in the diet can also be harmful. Long-term risks include kidney failure and dysfunction, increased risk of renal cancer, weight gain and constipation, and much more according to many studies. Most evidence in these studies is derived from investigating high animal-protein diets, because plant-based protein remains a relatively new area of research.
Other studies have suggested that the risk of developing chronic kidney disease is much lower in plant-based protein consumers compared to animal protein consumers. Research has also found that people consuming vegan protein sources have a lower mortality rate than those following animal-protein diets.
However, the overall effect of high-plant-protein diets and their effect on kidney health and long-term wellbeing remains an area of interest and needs further investigation to understand whether they have similar long-term health risks as high animal-protein consumption.