Almost every vegan and vegetarian I know will say that the question “where do you get your protein” is a tricky one to answer, but not for the reasons most meat eaters would think. For me, answering that question is the impossible attempt to debunk the meat industry myths about protein and how vegetarians and vegans can’t get enough protein in their diets. The conversation usually goes something like this:
-“So, what do you eat, like, plants?”
-“No, not quite. There’s a lot of different kinds of foods vegans and vegetarians can eat, and with all the new restaurants…”
-“But where do you get your protein? And won’t you become anemic from a lack of iron?”
-“There’s plenty of protein and iron in vegetables, grains, legumes and beans. And you don’t need as much protein as you think.”
-“Well, good for you, but I work out so I can’t be a vegetarian, because I won’t get enough protein to build muscle.”
Actually, that is not true, even if many of my meat eating friends refuse to believe it. Take some of the leading athletes today. Today, Olympic athletes like Lizzie Armstead and successful vegan athletes are winning medals and competing on vegan and vegetarian diets. In addition, vegan and vegetarian cuisine are in many ways tastier than standard meat options, and are in higher demand than ever, which makes it surprising that consumers still buy into the ‘meat is the only legit protein’ story. Despite this, the fact that I’m a vegan and don’t sport a pastey complexion and skeleton body type is actually still shocking for many of my meat eating friends.
Today, after going back and forth from vegetarianism to eating meat sparingly to becoming an ovovegetarian, I’ve finally found my way back to veganism. And considering myself an athlete in my own way, I am still able to build muscle and stay healthy on a vegan diet.
But the question of how much protein is needed in an athlete’s diet and where can vegans get their protein are good questions. The simple answer: athletes do not need as much protein as once believed, and vegans get more than enough protein from a variety of yummy sources.
Take this article from No Meat Athlete:
Somehow, everyone got the idea that we need exorbitant amounts of protein, way more than is even recommended. I know, it’s fun to blame government agencies and cry conspiracy, but if you actually look at the recommendations, they’re not that high at all.
For example, the U.S. recommended daily allowance of protein is .8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight (.36 grams per pound) for the general population.
Athletes need more than that, mostly due to greater tissue-repair needs. But how much more protein do we need as athletes?
Several sources I looked at cited a study which concluded that endurance athletes benefit most from 1.2 to 1.4 daily grams per kilogram of bodyweight, while strength athletes do best with 1.4 to 1.8 grams per kilogram. In pounds, that’s .54 to .63 grams per pound for endurance athletes, .63 to .81 grams per pound for strength athletes.
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