Is your protein strategy just...

"I eat a balanced diet, so I should be good?"

That's the case for many plant-based eaters. We get so tired of answering the dreaded protein question that many of us have convinced ourselves that there's no way protein is a macronutrient of concern.

But instead of just assuming we're good (and hoping for the best), let's take a look at what the science says around protein requirements for vegetarians and plant-based eaters.

 

How much protein do you need?

 

The answer isn't straightforward. For many people, it might be less than you think, but for certain populations, the recommended daily intake can go way up.  

Here's a look at the recommendations, broken into a few subsets:

General Guidance:

The U.S. recommended daily allowance is .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (.36 grams per pound).

For a 140 pound woman, that would come to 50.4 grams of protein per day.

Plant-Based Athletes:

A 1995 study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition concluded endurance athletes benefit most from 1.2 to 1.4 daily grams per kilogram of body weight (.54 to .63 grams per pound), while strength athletes do best with 1.4 to 1.8 grams per kilogram (.63 to .81 grams per pound).

For a 170 pound male runner, that's about 100 grams of protein per day.

Age 65+:

Multiple studies have found that because older adults over 65 are less responsive to amino acids than younger adults, the recommended protein intake increases to between 1.2 and 2.0 daily grams per kilogram of bodyweight — far exceeding the general guidance. This is far above the general guidance for younger adults.

For a 165 pound woman over 65, that's around 90 grams of protein per day.

Why you shouldn't ignore amino acids.

 

Knowing how much protein to get is just part of the equation, as all protein is not created equally.

Protein consists of something called amino acids, some of which your body can produce on its own and some it can't. Those that it can't are called "essential," and you must get these through food.

The good news is that if you're eating a variety of whole plant foods, you're probably getting a nice mix of essential amino acids.

There are a few essential amino acids, however, that are tougher to find through plant-based foods — the most notable of which is Lysine.

Common plant-based staples, including tempeh, tofu, and legumes, do contain lysine. So as long as you regularly consume beans and soy, you're likely covering your bases.

 

High-protein plant-based foods.

 

Where do plant-based eaters get protein? From plants, of course.

All plant foods contain protein, with some providing a majority of their calories from protein.

Here's an example of 12 plant-based protein sources, starting with nuts and seeds, then moving on to vegetables, grains, and beans.

Food Serving Size Protein (G) Calories from Protein

Flax Seed

1 oz

3.8

14%

Chia Seed

1 oz

4.7

14%

Almonds

1 oz

6

14%

Spinach, cooked

1 cup

5

49%

Peas

1 cup

8

27%

Seitan

1/2 cup

31.5

70%

Oats, cooked

1/2 cup

5.5

14%

Quinoa, cooked

1/2 cup

4

14%

Tempeh

1/2 cup

15.5

39%

Brown lentils

1/2 cup

9

31%

Black beans

1/2 cup

7.5

26%

Tofu

1/2 cup

6

26%

For a more complete list of plant-based protein sources, download the free Protein Grocery List, here.

 

 

Should you take a protein powder?

 

While whole foods are a great source of protein, there are many reasons why you may wish to use a protein powder at times:

... To help feel fuller, longer, and even reduce late-night cravings.* [Find studies here and here.]

... To more easily fulfill desired macronutrient needs, whether that's because you're an athlete, older, or limited in what you can cook or prepare that day.

... To help build and grow lean muscle mass.*

... To ensure you're getting a boost of each of the essential amino acids when you're unable to consistently eat a diverse diet.

Or simply for peace of mind — to know you can easily get a healthy dose of plant protein with a complete amino acid profile.

 

What to look for in a good protein powder.

 

Protein powders — even plant-based protein powders — are no longer hard to come by. You can pick them up at the grocery store or through countless companies online.

But the protein powder industry is fraught with transparency and ingredient issues.

Here are a few guidelines to look for when it comes to protein powder:

  1. Avoid proprietary blends. Many powders promote a "blend of pea, rice, and hemp" (for example) to appear diverse in their amino acids. But if they're not telling you how much of each ingredient is included in the blend, it could be comprised of 95% or more a single ingredient — typically the cheapest ingredient.
  2. Avoid fillers and sweeteners. While the base protein ingredients in a powder may sound great, the standard practice is to load a powder up with "natural" flavors and sweeteners to get you hooked, and fillers of cheap ingredients to reduce production costs. While a "vanilla ice cream" protein powder might sound good on the package, chances are it's loaded with junk you don't need or want to consume on a regular basis.
  3. Look for heavy metal and toxin testing. Heavy metals and toxins — like lead, arsenic, BPA, and cadmium — are common in many plant-based protein ingredients, and there's no way of knowing the heavy metal and toxin contents of a powder unless they are tested (with the testing published publically) or contain a "Proposition 65 compliant" badge on the label.

 

Why Complement Protein is the world's cleanest protein.

 

Complement Protein powder is a leader when it comes to clean, transparent, complete plant-based protein.

Why choose Complement Protein? It's simple:

1) The ingredients.

Made of just five organic protein ingredients — Almond (12%), chia seed (6%), pumpkin seed (14%), sunflower seed (11%), and yellow pea (57%) — Complement Protein is formulated to create a complete amino acid profile perfect for plant-based eaters.

2) No sweeteners.

Common protein powder sweeteners like acesulfame potassium, sucralose, splenda, and even monk fruit are unnecessary at best (and potentially harmful at worst).

Complement Protein's no-sweetener approach lets you sweeten your protein with your favorite real foods.

3) It's flavorless.

Our flavorless formula means you can mix, bake, or blend Complement Protein into just about anything, like pancakes, smoothies, brownies, or sauces.

It's a clean boost of protein for any dish.

4) Transparent testing.

Each batch of Complement Protein is triple-tested for purity and potency:

    • Once when each individual ingredient arrives.
    • Again during production.
    • And finally by a third party, which tests for heavy metals, toxins, and other junk you don't want in your powder.

Those third-party test results are then published on Complement's website for everyone to see.

Save 15% when you order today.

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Plant Bites

Ensure you're getting the precise nutrients needed to thrive on a vegan diet... and nothing else.

Ensure you're getting the precise nutrients needed to thrive on a vegan diet... and nothing else.

Everything you need to know about supplementing a plant-based diet.

 

Get the ultimate guide (it’s totally free).

Everything you need to know about supplementing a plant-based diet.

 

Get the ultimate guide (it’s totally free).