How do vegans get protein and other nutrients? This is a question that has been hounding vegans and veganism since Donald Watson first coined the term veganism back in the nineteen forties (1944 to be exact).
And because I want the whole world to be vegan I’ll keep writing about these persistent questions and myths about the vegan diet and its ability to keep vegans in robust health throughout their life cycle, form infant to old age.
In 2009, the American Dietetic Association formulated their opinion on vegetarian and vegan diets which you can read about here. However, I want to highlight a portion: Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.
The bold is my doing, but bears repeating. And with today’s topic focusing on how vegans get protein it is worth noting that when the dieticians of America say “all stages of the life cycle” they also mean “athletes” and they mention them too.
Bodybuilders are athletes and there are many vegan bodybuilders who are thriving on a plant based diet.
But some folks are legitimately concerned about how vegans get protein. Besides the obvious ways like taking a vegan protein supplement such as my favourite Spiru-Tein, the real question is can you get enough protein on a whole foods vegan diet? And the answer is a resounding yes.
One can look at the many robust and muscled animals in nature who are for all intents and purposes vegan to see that plants can provide sufficient protein for muscle building in the wild. Elephants, hippos, rhinos and gorillas come to mind.
Nevertheless, we are not elephants, gorillas or any other type of animal other than the homo sapiens animal so we should really look more closely at what the science suggests. And the science is quite profound in arguing that vegan diets can indeed provide sufficient protein for folks of all walks of life as the good dieticians of America have alluded too.
The current recommendation is that adults and children obtain around 10% of their calories from protein. This includes a wide safety margin. Consider, that protein is required for growth. And when do we as humans grow the most? During the first 2 years of our lives and the recommended food during that time is primarily mother’s milk which as it happens is loaded with protein. How much? Glad you asked, a paltry 5% of the calories of human breast milk comes from protein.
So surely 10% is way more than we need once we are out of the biggest growth period we’ll ever see in our lives.
But we’ll go with 10% because that is the recommendation at the moment. It is hard to eat sufficient calories from a variety of plant foods and end up deficient in protein. The problem for most of us is not protein deficiency but protein excess which contributes to osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease and impaired kidney function. This is especially true when you’re getting too much protein from animal sources.
Here is a sample menu that I’ve copied from the good folks at the Vegetarian Resource Group.
|Breakfast:||1 cup oatmeal
1 cup soy milk
|Lunch:||2 slices ww bread
1 cup veg baked beans
|Dinner:||5 oz firm tofu
1 cup cooked broccoli
1 cup cooked brown rice
2 tbsp almonds
|Snacks:||1 tbsp peanut butter
Btw, nutritiondata.com actually says that the total amount of protein in this daily vegan plan is actually 78 grams. But let’s not split hairs amongst vegan friends.
You’ll also note that the calories are a bit low too for a vegan adult or teenage male. Even an average male of around 155 pounds would likely require 2,000 or more calories per day. That’s an opportunity for another easy 5 grams or more of protein. The thing is, for an adult male of 155 pounds the recommendation is 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight. 155 pounds is 70 kilos and 70 kilos x 0.8 gram of protein = 56 grams.
That means that our boy Vince the vegan only needs 56 grams of protein for his 155 pound frame. He’s getting more than enough. And that 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight includes a very generous safety margin. Capiche?
The thing is, vegans can get more than enough protein or any other nutrients. Except for vitamin B12 which you must supplement with. I’ve written extensively about the essential vitamins for vegetarians and vegans.
Even if you are a vegan bodybuilder you can get more than enough protein from your vegan diet with a bit of additional supplementation and planning. I’ll be writing a vegan bodybuilder’s guide to getting huge muscles while staying ripped to shreds soon.
In the meantime, eat well and don’t sweat the small stuff, and worrying about where you’re going to get your vegan protein from is worrying about the small stuff.