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Can You Get Enough Protein with Plant-based Foods?

Plant-based diets are increasingly popular, especially with recent media coverage, such as Netflix's Game Changers. Following a plant-based diet can be beneficial for weight management and reducing the risk of several chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. You can also still see gains in strength and performance in the gym following a plant-based diet; however, there are things to consider. For the sake of this article, I will focus specifically on everyone's favorite macronutrient: Protein. 


Depending on the type of plant-based diet you're considering, you may still incorporate some protein from animal-based sources. This flexibility allows you to tailor your diet to your preferences and needs, ensuring you're getting the nutrients you require. 

  • Lacto vegetarians: Consume dairy products

  • Ovo vegetarians: Consume eggs

  • Pescatarians: Consume fish  


Ensuring adequate protein intake in a plant-based diet involves two key factors. First, consider your total energy intake. Second, focus on the variety of plant-based protein sources you consume. This variety is crucial for meeting your protein needs. 


Protein oxidation increases in the setting of inadequate energy intake. If you are not eating enough to support your needs, your body will start breaking down protein for energy. This is not ideal, especially when it comes to seeing progress with strength training.    


Amino acids are considered the building blocks of protein. There are 20 amino acids, but only nine are considered essential, meaning the body cannot produce them on its own, and they must come from the diet. Animal-based proteins are considered complete proteins, which means they provide all nine essential amino acids. Plant-based proteins, on the other hand, are incomplete. Eating a variety of plant-based proteins can help ensure you get all the essential amino acids. It is less crucial to pair incomplete proteins at meals as long as your energy intake is sufficient and you are consuming a variety of sources in a day. 


Dietitian Arlington, VA

Takeaway

Plant-based diets may provide many health benefits and do not impair your ability to continue to make strength gains. If you are trying to make the switch to consume more plant-based proteins - ensure the following:

  • Get a sufficient amount of energy (calories). Energy needs will vary depending on your biology and lifestyle.  

  • Here are some signs you may not be eating enough: weight loss, fatigue, increased illness, hair loss, skin problems, menstrual irregularities, depression

  • Consume a variety of plant-based protein sources 

  • Aim to consume 0.6-1 gram of Protein per pound of body weight - these are general recommendations and may vary depending on individual needs


Check out some plant-based protein sources:

  • Tofu: 20 grams per 1 cup

  • Tempeh: 15 grams per ½ cup

  • Chickpeas 15 grams per 1 cup 

  • Lentils: 18 grams per 1 cup 

  • Edamame: 18 grams per 1 cup 

  • Quinoa: 4 grams per ½ cup 

  • Nut Butter: 8 grams per 2 Tbsp 

  • Nuts: 7 grams per ¼ cup 

  • Hemp seeds: 7 grams per 2 Tbsp 

  • Pumpkin Seeds: 6 grams per ½ cup 

  • Chia seeds: 4 grams per 2 Tbsp 

  • Soy milk: 8 grams per 1 cup 

  • Nutritional Yeast: 8 grams per 1 Tbsp 

  • Plant-based protein powder: varies, ~25-30 grams per 1 scoop 

  • Whole grain bread: 4 grams per 1 slice 


If you need more ideas, check out this 3-day vegetarian meal plan:

Vegan Meal Plan (2)
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