Vegans & Veggies – Am I Getting Enough Protein?
Amy is Head Warrior at the Warrior Gym in Bristol. When it comes to
getting enough protein with a vegetarian/vegan diet, she knows what she’s talking about.
“Am I getting enough protein?”
I know… you’ve been asked this question A LOT of times. Me too. It can be really annoying.
I’ve been vegetarian for nearly 25 years and I’ve been asked it in many a lunch queue, by many a colleague and by many a relative.
For lots of people not in the know, being vegetarian or vegan apparently means being pale, sickly, and struggling to keep (or put on) muscle, as we’re ‘never getting enough protein’.
I’m here today, with thighs like these, to call a big, resounding bullsh*t!!
- You can be vegan or vegetarian and get enough protein.
- You can be vegan or vegetarian and keep or build muscle.
I’m not talking about being bulky, but having the shape and definition and sense of wellbeing that you want.
All this being said, it can be a challenge, and I’m here to provide some tips on how to get it right.
Protein isn’t just for bodybuilders or people who are into the gym. I do love the gym, but you don’t have to feel the same way for this to be able to help you.
Why is protein important?
- Healing and repair from daily life – repairing cuts, scrapes, bruises, and even invisible damage that our eyes can’t see. Slow healing can be a sign of lack of protein.
- Having a strong immune system – getting ill regularly can be a sign of a lack of protein.
- Toning up – when we say we want to ‘tone up’, what we mean really, in my language, is to put on muscle and get rid of the body fat on top covering it up.
Toning up doesn’t mean bulking up, but it’s a necessary component of changing our shape. If we want this to be successful, we need to eat enough protein spread out through the day.
- Recovery after exercise – when we exercise, we are essentially breaking muscle fibres so that they can grow back stronger and better. Enough protein, again, is a key part of this process.
- Losing weight – upping protein will mean you’ll feel fuller and less likely to eat the things you don’t want to. You can increase your protein alongside building muscle, which will help boost your metabolism – eat more without gaining weight.
How much protein do I actually need?
If you’re not a gym-person (which is absolutely fine) you need, on average, 1g of protein per kilo of bodyweight per day. I weigh 60kg, so that would be 60g protein per day.
If you’re regularly exercising and wanting to improve your strength or change how your body looks, you need, on average, 1.4-2g of protein per kilo of bodyweight per day.
For me, 60kg x 1.4g = 84g per day. Start here, at the lower end, so it’s not too big of a change, and then start to increase it to the upper amount.
To find out what you need, weigh yourself in kg and x that by 1.4 and x 2 – these are your two parameters to sit between.
How will I know if I’m getting enough protein?
In the beginning, it’s rarely accurate to just eyeball your food, aka guess, or to assume you are getting enough.
I’d recommend you start by doing some calculations.
You can use a tracking app like MyFitnessPal. You input your food and it will work out how much protein you’re getting, so you don’t have to. Alternatively, you can work it out manually – it takes longer, but it’s fine if you prefer it.
Doing this for just a couple of weeks will give you a really good idea of where you are now; it’s not intended as a ‘forever’. Most clients I’ve worked with have thought they were eating enough protein already, but I’m yet to find one who actually was. This goes for all types of diets, not just us veggies and vegans.
Where do I get my protein from?
There’s a lot of confusion over what foods count as ‘a protein’.
For example, lots of us see falafel and hummus as protein sources. Both do contain protein – most foods contain some – but the amount is quite low versus what else is in there. They’d be better classified as a source of energy – aka fats and carbs. So think about adding another source of protein from the list below – on your plate too.
The foods below all count as vegan proteins. The number next to them is the amount of protein per 100g, to give you an idea of how protein-dense they are.
Examples of vegan proteins:
- Seitan – 75g
- Quinoa – 32g
- Lentils – 26g
- Nuts – 20-25g
- Tempeh – 19g
- Quorn – 18g
- Beans – 15-20g
- Seeds – 15-20g
- Buckwheat – 13g
- Chickpeas – 9g
Your veggie proteins:
- Cheese – 17-42g (depending on type of cheese)
- Eggs – 8-10g each
- Low Fat Greek Yoghurt – 7-10g
Getting complete proteins as a veggie or vegan
Quinoa is your friend. Not big on quinoa? Aim for a variety of foods.
The veggie proteins are considered to be ‘complete’ – they contain all the building blocks needed to build a full protein and therefore repair and build muscle.
Plant proteins aren’t all complete proteins (though quinoa is), so you need to make sure you’re eating a variety of them, not just sticking to a couple of types. Your body needs to access all the protein building blocks from the whole range to be fully equipped.
Do I need to do protein shakes?
There’s a lot in the media about protein shakes, but, in short, you don’t need them.
If you want to use them, awesome. They’re easy, convenient and ensure you can get 20-25g protein on the go as an easy snack.
If you feel they’re too processed or artificial, then leave them and focus on making sure you’re getting your protein from the sources above.
How does a high-protein day work?
We’re going to piece together an example of a 100g protein day for a vegetarian, with no protein shakes:
Vegan high protein meal planner – example
- Breakfast – 150g low fat Greek yoghurt with berries and a teaspoon of hemp seeds – 18g protein
- Lunch – Lentil & chickpea dahl & mixed salad – 26g protein
- Dinner – Seitan ‘steak’, sweet potato wedges, spinach & broccoli – 65g protein
We’ve gone over 100g here, before we’ve even looked at any snacks. We’ve also been sure to spread out our protein throughout the day, which is important to ensure it’s always there to be used.
See it as a protein experiment – if you’re not getting quite enough at the moment, Increasing it could help you reach goals like:
- Losing weight & toning up
- Feeling more energetic
- Healing faster from illnesses or injuries
For more protein, exercises and veggie and vegan tips, you can follow me at @thewarriorprogramme and @amy_warrior_26 on Instagram or find me online at www.thewarriorprogramme.co.uk.