How do I get Enough Protein if I don't Eat Meat?
A question I hear often and while yes, it is a bit more challenging to get enough protein on a plant based diet, there is a definite need (maybe even more so) if following a plant based diet. Of course that varies person to person based on activity level, health history and goals but the bottom line is that protein is an essential macronutrient that everyone does need in order to survive. The question is, how much do you need?
First off let's touch a little on why protein is so important. Everyone needs protein
in order to grow, maintain, and repair our tissues, hormones, and immune system. It is absolutely essential for,
losing muscle mass (which can cause a drop in your metabolism)
having skin, hair, and nail problems
healing more slowly if you get cuts or bruises
experiencing mood swings
being more likely to break bones
While there is minimum amount of protein that each person needs, a higher protein diet can provide a lot of benefits such as,
Weight and body composition management
Muscle growth or maintenance
Improved immune function
So, how much protein do you need? Again, that is dependent on a few factors. People who might need more protein than the recommended minimum (RDA is
Your protein needs depend on a variety of factors including your age, weight, activity level, health status, goals, and more.
Some general recommendations are,
Sedentary people should aim for a bare minimum of 0.36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day.
Adults over 65 should aim for 0.55 to 0.91 grams per pound of bodyweight.
Athletes and active people should aim for between 0.55 to 1.0 grams per pound of bodyweight.
Healthy people who want to change their weight or body composition should strive for 0.75 to 1.5 grams per pound.
A good way to see how much protein you're getting is to track your food intake in an app like My Fitness Pal. Based on what you discover, you can adjust from there.
Now that we know why we need protein and a little about how much we might need, let's talk about why you might need more than the bare minimum if you're plant based. The human digestive system is structured in a way that causes absorption from plant based proteins to be more difficult from those of animal based proteins. That plus the varying amino acid profiles of plants vs. animals means we might not absorb plant proteins as well as animal proteins. The lower digestibility of protein in plant foods means that if plants are your only source of protein, you’ll need more protein from them in order to get the same benefit and meet your body’s needs.
So, how can you get in enough protein if you're plant based? Luckily there are plenty of plant based protein sources you can use to up your protein intake. Below is a list of several plant based protein sources. This list is broken down into in three main categories, eat more, eat some, eat less. It also shows options for different levels of plant based eating. By focusing on protein-rich foods in the “eat more” and “eat some” categories, you’ll be prioritizing lean, minimally-processed sources of protein. But that doesn’t mean you can never have foods in the “eat less” category.
There are also some carbohydrate and fat based foods that have a decent amount of protein in them. The key thing to keep in mind here is that carbs and/or fat will be the primary macro so to not overdo it just to up your protein. They can be helpful in increasing protien but should not be the main source.
Getting in enough protein can be a challenge in itself especially for those that are plant based. However, it is 100% doable and should be a focus if you have specific goals you are trying to reach. Remember that your diet does not need to be perfect all the time! So if you have days where you don't eat enough protein, that's okay! Just try to keep your meals balanced, eat a variety of food and focus on overall health and well being! If you need more assistance in reaching your protein goals or figuring out which foods you should be eating, I'm here to help! Feel free to message me with any questions or inquires about working together to get you on track!