A plant-based diet is generally rich in fibre and vitamins like Folate and Vitamin C. While vegan diets may provide lower levels of protein if not planned well enough, when planned carefully they can provide enough protein to power any athlete. Our nutritionists explain what proteins do, how much you need and the best protein rich foods.
What does protein do?
Protein is in every single cell in your body. It is an essential component of your muscles and vital for growth and repair of your body, and has a major role in controlling your appetite, supporting your immune system, making hormones, carrying oxygen and maintaining a healthy kidney function. It also provides a source of energy when there is not enough from other sources.
Protein is broken down in the body into individual amino acids. Some are called “essential” as the body cannot make them, so it is essential you consume these in your diet. Others are called “non-essential” because the body can make them from other amino acids.
Vegan protein sources often don't contain the full spectrum of amino acids, so it is important to eat a wide range of protein throughout the day.
How much protein do vegans need?
The level of protein required is dependent on exercise and activity level. The average non-exercising adult needs 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight.
So, if you weigh 70kg, that would be 70kg x 0.8g = 56g, and means you need 56g of protein per day. The protein needed increases with activity, and a well-seasoned athlete can need up to 1.2g or more of protein per kg of body weight, so more than twice the amount for a non-active person.
Assuming you are moderately active and you require 1g of protein per kg of body weight, your requirement will be 70g of protein per day. The body can only deal with a maximum of 30g of protein at any one time, so it you should split your protein intake through the day. For example:
- Breakfast – 18.5g
- Snack - 7g
- Lunch - 18.5g
- Snack - 7g
- Dinner - 18.5g
Try our delicious Exotic Fruit Oatmeal breakfast recipe
Best protein rich foods
Half a cup of chia seeds provides 11g of protein. If you soak them in 1 cup of soya milk, it raises the protein content to 19g.
Chia seeds are also a great source of plant omega 3 as well as many vitamins and minerals. They contain all the essential amino acids and help to maintain regular bowel movements and help you to feel fuller for longer.
Tempeh is a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soya beans. It is similar to tofu but has much more taste, and contains more Protein, Iron and Potassium compared to tofu. 100 g of tempeh provides 19 g of protein.
Check out our Baked Chilli Tofu with Kale and Noodles recipe.
Quinoa is a pseudo-grain rich in minerals and fibre. Each cup provides 8 grams of protein and makes an excellent base for salads or as an alternative to rice. Quinoa also provides a good level of all nine essential amino acids.
Why not try our Superfood Salad with quinoa?
Peanut butter and nut butters
A favourite of many, peanut butter contains 8g of protein per 2 full tablespoons. Nut butters are a perfect snack when spread on oatcakes or eaten with fruit or vegetable sticks. They're rich in Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant nutrient. Look out peanut butter that does not have added salt or sugar, and is organic.
Protein powders can be excellent for athletes and be taken by anyone that wants an easy protein boost.
Pea protein makes an excellent powder and is one of the best gym proteins because it contains higher levels of the essential amino acid lysine. Good vegan protein powders will blend a mix of protein sources and a complete amino acid profile, and protein content should range from 20-30g per serving.
Do vegans need protein powder supplements?
The need for protein powder depends on your preference and the rest of your diet. It is not always necessary to consume a protein powder supplement if a conscious effort is made to consume protein with every meal and snack.
The need for protein powder also depends on your exercise level. The more exercise, the more protein required, and protein powder supplements can be a convenient way to boost your intake. The advantage of protein powder is it can easily be added to smoothies and soups to create a protein rich meal to help you meet your goals.
Chickpeas are an excellent versatile vegan protein source. They can be used in hummus, breads, curries and many other dishes for a protein boost.
Each 100g of chickpeas provides 19g of protein. Chickpeas are rich in folate, manganese and soluble fibre which helps to feed the probiotics in your gut.
Discover our delicious Chickpea and Coriander Falafel recipe.
What vitamins should vegans take?
A multi-nutrient formula provides many essential nutrients for the growth of new muscles, such as Zinc and B Vitamins. B vitamins in a multi-nutrient formula are necessary for the production of energy, and Vitamins like B12 can be low in vegans, so supplementation is necessary.
Discover our B Vitamin Complex 'Uber Energy'.
Although Iron intake is not necessarily low on vegan diets, absorption can be reduced by the increased intake of foods such as beans and wholegrains. Taking an Iron supplement is useful for the growth of muscle and for the health of your blood. A good maintenance level of Iron can be found in many multi-vitamin formulas, and a blood test from your doctor can confirm if your level of Iron is low enough to need a separate supplement.
Plant omega 3
Plant-based omega 3 supplementation is often needed even with a healthy diet. Omega 3 fats are needed for the production of anti-inflammatory hormones which are useful to those who are frequently exercising. Muscles become inflamed after exercise and omega 3 fatty acids can promote muscle recovery.
Discover our range of vegan supplements.
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