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April 27, 2020 10 min read

If you’re new to veganism, you’ll soon learn that this is the number one question you’ll get asked by those you tell about your new decision. If you’ve been vegan for a while, you are already well-aware. 

While it may get tedious to be asked this question many times, it is a valid question to ask yourself, especially if you’re serious about building muscle strength and fitness. If you’re sitting still at a desk all day, your body won’t notice if you skip the daily recommended protein intake. But if you’re following a weekly workout regimen, getting the right numbers into your diet is something you can’t overlook. 

The Right Amount of Daily Protein

Instead of asking, “How do vegans get enough protein?” the question you should be asking is, “What is enough protein?” The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) is .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or .5 to .75 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So if you weight 150 pounds, you should be getting roughly 75 to 150 grams of protein every day. 

Another factor to consider is, what are the levels of essential amino acids and vitamin B12? Many plant sources provide your body with higher doses of these crucial protein needs better than animal proteins. 

What does that look like on a practical level? Here are some examples of plant protein and their protein measurements for you to use a future reference point. 

1. Quinoa

One cup of cooked quinoa provides you with about 8 grams of protein. You can eat quinoa in many different ways. Some people use it as a rice replacement since it has many more health benefits than rice. However, it has a different flavor from rice, so it can also provide a nice variety if you’re looking for a small to change to spice things up. 

The trick to cooking quinoa just right is to make sure you don’t overcook it. You will notice that as the grain starts to cook, small circles will become obvious in each of the grains. Once these small circles start to swell and separate from the grain, the quinoa is ready. You don’t want to eat mushy quinoa! If you’re cooking one full box, it should just take 8 to 10 minutes to finish cooking. 

2. Black Beans

One cup of black beans contains 14 grams of protein. The options when it comes to black beans are endless. They’re great with tacos, but they also make a perfect addition to a salad. If you’re working out intensively, a salad is great for the vitamins you get from the leafy greens and vegetables, but it won’t keep you full for long! Adding some black beans will provide you with protein and carbs, making the meal much longer-lasting and beneficial. 

You can also make soups that have beans in them, although other varieties of beans will be a good choice too. You can make white bean chili (with soy milk for a creamy base) or red bean chili (with vegan sausage). These are two great staples. Even though they require similar levels of input, they both produce two completely different flavors. That takes care of two of your dinners and lunches for the week!

Have you ever tried a black bean hummus? You may think you could never get tired of hummus from chickpeas (which also has excellent protein properties), but everyone likes to switch things up every once in a while. A black bean and red pepper hummus is great with traditional tortilla chips, but also delicious spread over toast in the morning. 

You can also put it in a vegan burrito. Treat yourself to a vegan cream cheese, roasted garlic, and don’t forget to add avocado. Black beans and lentils make a great combination. They work well in soups and vegetable bowls. 

Jars of seeds and nuts.

3. Seeds

The amount varies slightly between varieties of seeds, but as a general rule of thumb, one ounce of seeds has 5 to 9 grams of protein. Every vegan should keep a supply of several different seeds in their pantry. They always make an excellent topping to salads, stir frys, and soups. You may be surprised by the last o the list, but never underestimate the power of sesame seeds over the top of a seaweed or kimchi soup. 

A small serving of salted, roasted seeds can be just thing when you’re having an afternoon lull. Salt actually helps your body absorb water. On those days when you feel like your body isn’t getting enough water (even though you’re drinking a lot), eat some salty seeded snacks and find relief for your dehydration! 

4. Oatmeal

One cup of cooked oatmeal will give you 6 grams of protein. If you don’t like eating oatmeal for breakfast, don’t forget that you can use rolled oats in your baking too. There are plenty of delicious vegan recipes. You can always stick with a classic oatmeal cacao chip cookie, or you can use oat flour in other types of recipes. 

One thing to keep in mind is oatmeal flour usually doesn’t contain enough gluten to be baked on its own. You can either mix it with regular wheat flour, or you can add in two tablespoons of Xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is used in gluten-free baking to help bind together the fibers of non-gluten flours to help the finished product stay together instead of crumbling. 

5. Edamame

One cup of cooked edamame will have about 17 grams of protein. Edamame can be used in soups or in other types of recipes that call for beans, but the best and most delicious way to consume it is cooked with salt. 

6. Tofu

Consuming half a cup of tofu will put 10 grams of protein into your body. Tofu is an excellent source of protein and can be grilled or fried in chunks. Because of its texture, it can also be used to replace meat in recipes. Use it for stir frys, tacos, or in vegetable bowls. 

7. Seitan

For every 100 grams of this wheat-based product, you’ll get 75 grams of protein. Seitan has the same uses as tofu, but its flavor and texture is slightly different since it is made from wheat instead of tofu. If you're looking for even more options, try tempeh, which also has a similar texture. 

8. Peanut Butter

In two tablespoons of peanut butter you’ll get 8 grams of protein. But let’s be honest: you’ll most likely eat more than two tablespoons in one serving! Most people use at least 3 tablespoons on a slice of peanut butter toast.

Cashews make a great substitute for peanut butter too. You can make your own cashew butter by grinding the nuts in a blender until they reach your desired level of creaminess. 

9. Hemp milk (Made from Hemp Seeds)

If you drink one cup of hemp milk, you will get 2 grams of protein. 

10. Soy Milk

If you want more bang for your buck, one cup of soy milk contains 8 grams of protein. 

Both of these milks contain protein, but as you can see, soy milk has more. If you’re on the hunt to fulfill your daily protein requirement, opt for soy milk. But if you’re considering other factors, like healthy fats and minerals, hemp milk does offer more variety when it comes to nutrients. 

Each of these types of protein sources contains essential amino acids, and that's what your body needs to fill it up with the necessary amount of protein. 

Let’s compare these portions to the amount of protein in animal product protein sources

  • Steak: In an 8-ounce steak, you’ll get 42 grams of protein. 
  • Chicken: In one cup of chopped or diced chicken, you’ll get 38 grams of protein. 
  • Egg: Each egg contains about 6 grams of protein. 
  • Salmon: In an 8 ounce serving of salmon, you’ll get 47 grams of protein. 

When you take a quick glance at these numbers, you’ll see that it’s certainly easier to get more through animal protein, at a faster speed than you will with plant-based proteins. 

But who said easier is always better? Let’s take a logical look at the levels in plant protein products. As a general estimate, it’s fairly safe to say that a serving of quinoa, black beans, oatmeal, nuts, etc., will give you 8 to 10 grams of protein. To get enough protein per day, you’ll have to eat 8 to 12 servings of these products per day. 

That may seem unreasonable at first, but many of these products are easily combined in one meal. Here’s a sample daily meal plan that will easily incorporate the right amount of protein every day: 

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with a serving of nuts (15 grams of protein)
  • Snack: Soy milk latte (8 grams of protein)
  • Lunch: Quinoa and black bean (or red bean) salad with vegetables and a light dressing (26 grams of protein)
  • Snack: Salted edamame (17 grams of protein)
  • Dinner: Veggie stir fry with tofu and peanuts (18 grams)
  • Dessert: Avocado ice cream (3 grams)

Just this basic meal plan already contains 87 grams of vegan protein! Dedicating yourself to a vegan protein lifestyle may take some extra careful planning and discipline, but the health benefits alone will be worth it. Not to mention your happy conscience on top of that! 

If you want to make your own avocado ice cream, the process is very simple. Mix all of these ingredients together:

  • Avocado
  • Coconut cream
  • Banana
  • Maple Syrup

Once they’re all smoothly blended, put them in a container in the freezer for at least 4 hours. After that, it’s ready. If you want to make a variation, try a chia seed pudding. Chia seeds and coconut cream make a very good combination, and a great dessert or sweet breakfast. 

A bowl of peanut butter.

Examples of Vegan Athletes 

If you’re still skeptical after reading our estimates and suggestions, you can see successful vegan athletes for yourself. Here are some of the top examples to look up to:

Venus Williams: You may not have realized this, but Serena Williams’ sister is an excellent tennis player too. After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, she adopted the raw, vegan diet lifestyle. 

Many people, after hearing the phrase “raw and vegan” envision a life of nothing but cold salads. Even this lifestyle has lots of room for creativity. There’s more to a raw, vegan diet than just smoothies and salads. There are many desserts that can be made this way and delicious soups. 

You may be surprised to find out that many bakeries in almost all major US cities provide vegan (and even raw vegan) options on their menus! Keep your eye out for raw vegan carrot cupcake with a walnut-based frosting. Many chocolate puddings and cakes can be made in this style and are no less delicious. 

As for soups, many people have said that that the raw approach heightens the flavors of some ingredients. Carrot ginger soup is a great raw rendition since the ginger is so potent. 

What are the health benefits of a raw diet? When you eat raw fruits and vegetables you actually gain more nutrients from them than if you cooked them. Any time you boil or cook a vegetable, it loses some of its natural vitamins and minerals. These evaporate into the air during cooking, so you do lose some of the good stuff. 

You certainly don’t have to adopt the raw style, however! Many people choose to do a raw diet for a shorter, specified amount of time. In a way, it’s like a more substantial version of a body cleanse. This can help reset your body to start a new diet (like the Vegan Keto Diet), or can just give your healthy kickstart to pour a lot of vitamins into your body

You can still get a lot of highly valuable qualities from cooked vegetables. You may want to consider cooking your vegetables slightly less than you normally would. 

In the southern provinces of China, their cooking style is a great example of healthy vegetable preparation. Most vegetables are cooked just long enough to turn the color deep and bright, then they are removed from the stove. They are served with a bit of remaining crunch and that keeps the nutrients mostly intact. In provinces like Guangzhou and Shenzhen, most vegetables are served with a very light dressing, instead of something heavy, with a lot of oil, fats, or sugars

Colin Kaepernick: This former football player is extremely famous, although you probably haven’t heard of him because of his diet choices. In 2016, he took a big stand against racial injustice when he refused to stand for the national anthem, taking a knee on the field instead. 

Aside from calling for structural change in the US, he was a successful athlete, winning any awards in his career. He managed to fuel his body with vegan food, so you certainly can too! 

Scott Jurek: This marathon runner has stuck with the vegan diet since college. It clearly hasn’t held him back at all since he’s won over 16 ultramarathon races. Clearly, his veganism wasn’t a short fad or phase, but a lifelong decision. 

Veganism or the vegetarian diet doesn't have to be a lifelong decision for everyone, but even if you’re only doing it for a year or some other period of time, it is still a major lifestyle change. When you’re used to eating a lot of meat or dairy products, it can be hard to resist the temptation to indulge. Thankfully, there are many alternatives, full of complete protein, when you’re feeling those cravings. 

Most grocery stores carry a full aisle (if not more) full of different brand varieties of meat and dairy alternatives. You can buy vegan versions of butter, yogurt, various cheeses, egg substitutes, milk, and cream, and that’s just the dairy options! When it comes to meatless meat choices, you can buy all your old favorites: bacon, sausage, steak, sandwich meat, and lots more. 

Janette Murray-Wakelin and Allan Murray: You may not have heard of this couple, but we’ve included them as an example in case you’re worried that the vegan lifestyle is not sustainable for many years. In 2013, this couple in their sixties ran one marathon every day for the entire year. They managed to do several runs in each one of the 50 states, and they did it all on a vegan diet. 

They mentioned that some of their favorites snacks were bananas and green smoothies. Some vegan eaters rely mainly on carbohydrate sources like rice and bread for their main sustenance. While these are certainly fine to eat in moderation (brown rice is better than white), they often have some of the least amounts of nutrition, compared to the countless other options that can provide your body with its protein needs. Always try to choose whole grains for your protein content. 

When you’re properly fueling your body with satisfying and healthy plant sources, you’re going to continue feeling strong and energetic, which keeps that lifestyle going for much longer than empty carbs like white rice and bread.