Myths about veganism 2: Vegans don’t get enough protein.

A very persistent myth about veganism is the unusually common belief that vegans don’t have a sufficient plant-based protein intake. Upon turning vegan you might have been quite surprised how often you heard the phrase: “But where do you get your protein from?”
Especially if you are a vegan athlete or an athlete who thinks about going vegan you might wonder whether the increased protein requirements you have can be met by a solely plant-based diet. It turns out that even vegan athletes do not have to worry about their protein intake if their diet is a healthy one.

It is estimated that a normal person needs about 0.8 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight (0.36 grams of protein for each pound) and that an athlete needs between 0,8 and 1,9 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight  (0,36-0,86 grams of protein for each pound). Very few athletes require the amount of protein at the upper end of this range, but even this can be covered by a plant-based diet. In case bodybuilders are still worried about their protein intake, there are various vegan protein-drinks that can be integrated into a healthy diet.

Now let us have a look at some plant-based protein sources and the amount of protein they contain.Generally, it can be said that legumes, nuts, seeds and grains are relatively high in protein. Products frequently used for meat-replacement such as tofu and seitan (wheat gluten) are also high in protein.

The following table provides some examples of plant-based foods that are high in protein, but is obviously not exhaustive.

Food Amount of protein per 100g Amount of protein per ounce
Chickpeas, cooked 9g 2,55g
Lentils, cooked 8,5g 2,41g
Kidney beans, cooked 8,5g 2,41g
Quinoa, cooked 5g 1,42g
Peanuts 26g 7,37g
Sunflower seeds 21g 5,95g
Tofu 14g (varies) 3,97g (varies)
Seitan (wheat gluten) 22g (varies) 6,24g  (varies)
Bread 12g 3,4g

As a comparison, 100g of lean beef steak include about 27g of protein which equals 7,65g of protein per ounce.  From the table, it should be clear that many plant-based products are actually high enough in protein to make it easily possible to get the recommended amount of daily protein with a vegan diet.

Another issue concerning plant-based protein intake is that not all protein sources contain an adequate proportion of all nine essential amino acids. While animal products usually contain all essential amino acids, i.e. can be considered whole proteins, some sources of plant-based protein do contain less from (or more from) some essential amino acids, therefore being incomplete protein sources.  Some plant-based protein sources, such as quinoa and soy, are actually complete, but incomplete protein sources are less problematic than previously thought.

Upon finding out that some plant-based protein sources do not contain an adequate proportion of all essential amino acids, the idea to combine different protein sources during one meal became quite popular, resulting in sometimes complicated combinations. Luckily, this is not necessary: It is absolutely sufficient to have protein intake from diverse sources over the day. A healthy vegan diet should include different protein sources, naturally resulting in an overall balanced intake of all essential amino acids, but it is not required to cleverly combine them during each meal.

To sum up, vegans get sufficient protein intake if their diets include adequate amounts of plant based protein. This also results in an overall balanced intake of all essential amino acids if diverse protein sources are consumed throughout the day.

Have you encountered this myth as a vegan and do you know other myths you would like me to write on? Please let me know in the comments.

This blog post is part of the series “Myths about veganism.”
See also:
Myths about veganism 1: Vegans can’t be good athletes

Source of the protein values ; photo credit: pixabay

Myths about veganism 1: Vegans can’t be good athletes

olympics-84221_1280The idea that vegetarians or vegans don’t perform well at sports is quite common and interrelated with the myth that ‘vegans don’t get enough protein’ which will be featured in a future blog posts of this series. For the purpose of this post it is sufficient to say that a proper vegan diet can easily include all the protein required, even if you want to gain muscle.

In an interesting interview, the sports nutritionist Nancy Clark states that while the research on the influence of vegetarian or vegan diets on the performance of athletes is limited, anecdotally they do fine. This is further supported by statements later in the interview mentioning that vegans can certainly get sufficient calories and protein if they have a healthy diet.  One thing that should generally be supplemented in a vegan diet and is also required for good performance at certain sports is vitamin B12, which is nowadays frequently added to soy milk.

While research on the effects of a vegan diet on the performance of athletes is rare, some studies have indicated that a vegetarian diet can work out well for athletes. Examples are in this publication, summarizing earlier research and concluding that vegetarian diets might increase performance in endurance sports and that vegetarian diets include all needed nutrients known. Some studies indicated that exercise increases the iron requirements of our bodies, while vegetarian or vegan diets can sometimes result in insufficient iron intake. While iron levels should generally be observed, this suggests that especially female athletes with a vegetarian or vegan diet have to take care of their iron intake and should consider adjusting their diet in a way to increase it – while staying vegetarian/vegan of course.

Now let me mention some examples of vegan athletes demonstrating that it is possible to be a successful vegan athlete – without having much to say on the exact effects of a vegan diet on athletic performance of course.

Scott Jurek is a famous ultramarathoner who has been vegan since 1999. He won a very large amount of races, such as the Western States Endurance Run – in this case seven consecutive times. Many of his accomplishments occurred after going vegan – a complete list of them can be found here.

Patrik Baboumian, a former bodybuilder, is a strongman competitor who turned vegetarian in 2005 and vegan in 2011 without losing strength. In 2011, albeit before turning vegan, he was awarded the title “Germany’s strongest man”. A full list of his accomplishments can be found here.

Brendan Brazier is a former Ironman triathlete and endurance athlete who has been vegan since more than 20 years. A list of his race results can be found here, including for example winning the National 50km Ultramarathon Championship in 2006 and setting a new record. He also authored several books on the vegan diet. The foreword of “Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life” is written by Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), who received advise by Brazier on meal plans. While Jackman did not go vegan, he reported positive results.

Carl Lewis, a very successful athlete, went vegan in 1990 and his accomplishments include winning several Olympic gold medals. One of his greatest achievements happened in 1991 when he was 30 years old: He broke the 100m world record with a time of 9.86s. He believes that the vegan diet improved his performance and made this result possible.

The list of successful vegan sportsmen could go on and on, these are just some examples in order to illustrate that a vegan diet can be maintained even during extreme athletic performances.

Did you ever encounter this myth upon telling people that you are vegetarian or vegan? Did you maybe hold yourself that this myth could be true? Please let me know in the comment section and feel free to suggest other myths I should post on.

This post is part of my blog post series “Myths about veganism”
See also:
Myths about veganism 2: Vegans don’t get enough protein