One of the major criticisms vegans and vegetarians face has to do with their protein intake. In general, people do not understand how – by eating nothing but plant-based foods – someone can meet their dietary needs and keep up with the demands of their lifestyle. And yet, many vegan athletes perform incredibly well in their sports.
How? First, it's important to recognize a simple, oft-forgotten fact: there is lots of protein in plants. Still, though, it's nothing compared to the amount found in a chicken breast, for example.
So, we're back to our original question. How can vegans meet their protein requirements? As it turns out, we may need to revisit the question of how much protein per day a person actual needs.
The official Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein – or any given nutrient – is the minimum amount that your body requires in order to meet your basic needs.
For protein, this is a mere 0.36g per each pound of body weight (or 0.8g per kg). This really isn't much and averages out to about 10 percent of your daily caloric intake. Now, it's important to realize that the RDA, as stated represents a minimum. This means that it is just to keep you functioning and prevent you from getting sick.
For athletes or those trying to lose fat and preserve muscle mass, however, just a minor increase in protein can make all the difference. And it really doesn't have to be much. Adjusting your intake to just 0.45g/lb (or 1g/kg) should be adequate for most active people to achieve their goals.
It's worth noting that this “higher intake” would increase your protein intake to about 12 percent of your daily caloric intake – which is actually pretty common among vegans. In fact, many vegan athletes are able to sustain an intake of about 0.86g/lb – which is something many non-vegans have trouble accomplishing.
Getting It Done
Still, you may envision yourself having to cram down an uncomfortable amount of food to meet your protein requirements. You really don't. A diet consisting of a variety of plant-based foods will easily provide you not just with all the protein you need, but plenty of other nutrients as well.
For example, consider this simple daily menu from Simply Vegan by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD:
|Breakfast:||1 cup Oatmeal||6|
|1 cup Soy Milk||7|
|1 medium Bagel||10|
|Lunch:||2 slices Whole Wheat Bread||7|
|1 cup Vegetarian Baked Beans||12|
|Dinner:||5 oz firm Tofu||12|
|1 cup cooked Broccoli||4|
|1 cup cooked Brown Rice||5|
|2 Tbsp Almonds||4|
|Snack:||2 Tbsp Peanut Butter||8|
|Protein Recommendation for Male Vegan||63 grams|
Meeting, and exceeding, your protein needs then does need require you to eat an enormous amount of food. It does, however, require some forethought – but as a vegan, you're likely used to having to plan ahead.
Vegan protein powders can also be convenient and handy tools to help you reach your goals. Since these don't really require much preparation, they can quickly be mixed with water for shakes.
With some creativity, though, you can also add these powders to your sauces, soups and baked goods to sneak protein into more unexpected places.