Vegetarians and “Enough” Protein: A Fact Check


As more and more people in my network make the transition to vegetarian or veganism and report feeling amazing, I'm left wondering if I could get in the protein I desire for my fitness goals?  Let's look at some facts...

Eating for muscle growth centers largely around the “P” word...protein.

Vegetarianism and veganism have always raised one big question, even outside of training circles--“How do vegetarians/vegans get enough protein?”--and when you bring the topic of muscle building into it, another level is added…”Can you build muscle as a vegetarian or vegan?”

The question of “How much is enough?” has to be answered, first. Typically, the USDA’s recommendation for a moderately active adult with no underlying problems is to consume .8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight daily. (If you want a quick way to calculate that, simply multiply your weight in pounds times .36).

Eating for muscle growth/strength may look slightly different, but even the most die-hard lifters will agree that around one gram per pound of bodyweight is sufficient. In a study by Arizona State researchers, omnivorous endurance athletes were measured against a group of vegetarian counterparts, both for amount of protein consumed, and cardiovascular endurance and strength.

Some were surprised by the fitness measurements--the female vegetarians outperformed omnivores in cardio, and were equal in strength--but the protein consumption levels are a point of interest, as well, as well as body measurements.

Although not eating meat, the vegetarians actually took in only slightly less protein overall than the omnivores. (1.2 grams per pound of bodyweight vs. 1.4). Body mass measurements were also similar.

The takeaway would seem to be that protein as it is available in vegetarian sources is sufficient, but something to keep in mind is that varying combinations of food provide different amounts and availabilities of protein, and high performance athletes probably realize this, and eat accordingly. (Animal sources like meat are usually complete protein sources, and contain the amino acids necessary to make up protein in the body; vegetable sources are incomplete and need to be combined, although not necessarily at every meal--it’s sufficient just to get them all in your day’s nutrition. See this helpful article for hints on combining foods for complete protein.)

In short, you can reach your goals, fitness and muscle-wise, as a vegetarian or vegan, all it takes is attention to detail..and amino acids.

If feel confident that if I'm ever ready to transition to this lifestyle fully, I could do it.  I already incorporate a plant based protein shake with the amino acid profile of my whey shake.  I also have a high quality plant based protein bar option from time to time.  If you are like me, and looking to diversify your protein sources with high quality options, you can check out the products I use here.  To set up a call with me to help you with selecting products to meet your goals, click here.


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