If there’s one thing that we know for sure, it’s that the best foods contain protein. I mean nut butter, hummus, cookies, brownies, pancakes… Literally, any food that you love can be loaded with protein. But, why do we need protein? What exactly is protein and why is it absolutely vital to our daily lives (and our #gains)? Honestly, it may be quicker to explain what protein doesn’t do.
Simply put, it’s the key to keeping your body looking and feeling good. Without it, our bodies would deteriorate rapidly and we would basically wither away.
The slightly longer explanation is that protein is a macronutrient (Editor’s Note: macronutrients are foods (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates) that humans must consume in large amounts. Whereas, micronutrients are the chemical elements that humans only need to maintain trace amounts of.) As a macronutrient, protein aids your body throughout the metabolic processes that happen within the body every day. During these processes, proteins are broken down and turned into amino acids. The body then uses the amino acids to carry out vital processes like transporting molecules and creating enzymes. In addition, protein then acts as a building block that allows your body to stay strong and healthy. It helps you develop and maintain strong bones and muscles while simultaneously reducing your risk of dangerous medical issues such as heart disease.
But note, that consuming a diet that’s high in protein does not equate to making you fat. High protein diets actually aid your body in weight loss while building and maintaining lean muscle mass.
In fact, protein is essential the main reason that the scale doesn’t really matter. What matters, is how you look and feel. Sure, you can lose weight by consuming fewer calories. But, without consuming enough protein, you would actually lose equal amounts of fat and muscle. Which can be very detrimental to your overall health. The key during weight loss should be to lose fat without losing muscle.
Are Vegans at a Protein Consumption Disadvantage?
I’m not going to lie to you… Meat eaters have a bit of an advantage when it comes to maintaining high-protein diets. Meats are packed with protein… But, there’s a distinct difference between proteins from meat and plant-based proteins.
Protein from meats are complete proteins. Meaning, these proteins contain all nine essential amino acids. Plant-based proteins typically don’t contain all nine essential amino acids. This isn’t a huge problem, it just means that vegans must be a bit more cognizant of which proteins contain which amino acids. There is an exception to this as quinoa protein is a plant-based protein source that offers a complete amino acid profile.
In general, meat eaters essentially have the benefit of an all-in-one solution. Whereas, vegans typically have to put the pieces together to ensure that they are fueling their body with a complete blend of amino acids.
But note, that there are other vegan-friendly foods that contain complete amino acids. These foods, such as rice and beans, make excellent foundations for a vegan diet.
Here’s How to Boost Your Protein Intake
There are three extremely simple ways for vegans to boost their protein intake.
First, they can simply add proteins to the foods that they prepare for meals and snacks. The way we see it, if you’re going to cook or bake something, you might as well boost your nutrient intake with a bit of added protein.
There are several powders that are high in protein content that can easily be added to everything from salads to baked goods. These protein powders include hemp (the most popular), chia and pea.
Second, vegans can use high-protein snack foods to boost their protein intake. Snacks such as granola protein bars or nuts are great options for a quick snack. However, some of these snacks can contain additives or chemicals that could actually be harmful for your body. So, we recommend always checking the label and knowing what you’re eating.
We also recommend baking your own snacks. If you’re a meal prepper, it’s easy to whip up a quick snack or two to last you throughout the week while you prep your other meals. This way, you know exactly what your consuming and can rest assured that it’s healthy and fresh.
That brings us to your third option. We know that you’re busy – we are too! And when you’re busy, it’s not always possible to eat healthy or prepare your own meals and snacks. Plant-based protein powders and shakes are a great option for a quick protein boost. Especially right after a workout when your body craves protein to recover and repair your muscles.
However, make sure that you don’t become too dependent on taking protein shakes. It’s always best to consume whole foods or foods as close to their natural state as possible. Protein shakes are supplements and they’re meant for just that – to supplement your diet… Not to replace it!
How Much Protein Should You Eat Each Day?
This is where it gets a bit tricky, because everybody has a unique body. The right amount of protein for an active 120 pound woman is probably significantly different than the right amount of protein for a 300 pound, inactive man. The general rule of thumb is to consume .36 grams of protein for each pound you weigh. For example, a 120 pound woman would consume approximately 43 grams of protein per day. However, keep in mind that the .36 grams of protein per day figure is based on a sedentary lifestyle. An active person or someone with a specific fitness goal such as building muscle could require up to 1 gram of protein per pound of their bodyweight.
The best way to figure out what produces the best results for your body is to test it. Start with the .36 grams of protein per pound of your bodyweight, and then scale it up. Keep an eye on how you look and feel – and whether or not you’re achieving your fitness goals – until you find your protein intake sweet spot.
But, it’s not just knowing how much protein you should consume… You also need to know when you should consume it.
When Should You Consume Protein?
As with your regular diet, it’s best to consume food throughout the day. I mean, you don’t eat a big breakfast and then not eat again until your next big breakfast, right? You probably eat several meals and snacks throughout the day.
That same principle applies to protein consumption. Try to include protein during each meal and snack, which may sound difficult, but is actually very easy with a little bit of planning ahead and meal prepping.
If you try to ‘protein-load’ your body will be overloaded as it can only absorb so much protein at one time. And even though you may technically be consuming the right amounts of protein, your body won’t be able to benefit from it.
Actually, your body would likely experience detrimental effects. Protein overload causes your body to release insulin which then causes the body to store additional fat. Which, is generally the exact opposite of what someone consuming a high-protein diet is aiming for.
A Final Thought on High-Protein Diets
I’ve tried to provide a simple, clear overview of the needs, requirements and benefits of a high protein diet. Specifically, as it pertains to vegans who have the added obstacle of fewer protein sources with complete amino acid profiles. If you have any questions or need any clarifications – feel free to reach out to us via the contact form. We’re here to help and super-fast to respond to inquiries.
If you’re ready to boost your protein intake and enjoy the vast benefits of a high-protein diet without sacrificing delicious foods… Head over to our recipe sections and see what high-protein vegan-friendly recipes you can whip up!