When you think of vegans, what first comes to mind? It might be challenges with getting enough protein from vegan food, or maybe it’s weakness and lack of muscle. You’re not thinking of bodybuilders, right?
Since many people probably think this way, I figured I’d call on the irrefutable evidence that vegans are not weak and can get enough protein from plants: vegan bodybuilders.
These bodybuilders aren’t just serving as proof, but they’ve also shared their top tips for anyone who wants to get protein from plants. Here’s what 19 top vegan bodybuilders had to say.
Make sure that it contains a variety of vegan high protein sources and eat one of the sources with each meal. It is great to combine protein from grains, legumes and seeds. You don’t need to combine them in every meal, but just making sure that you eat at least two of the different sources in a day.
A few examples of different high protein sources:
– Grain protein: seitan, vital wheat gluten, rice protein powder
– Legume protein: Soy products, Pea protein powder, Powdered peanut butter, High protein bean noodles, e.g. black bean noodles or soybean noodles
– Seed protein (choose fat-reduced varieties): sesame flour, sunflower seed flour, pumpkin seed flour
Read more: The Complete Protein Myth: Why There’s No Need to Worry with Plant-Based Diets
My mumber one tip for getting enough protein is simply eating it and getting enough of it with every single meal.
There’s a difference between adequate and optimal levels of protein ingestion to maximize protein synthesis. Obviously, the needs of a 120 lb. person looking to live as long as possible is going to be different than an elite level bodybuilder or athlete trying to maximize performance and output.
It’s proven without a doubt that high levels of protein intake well above basic requirements are optimal for heavily trained athletes. Because of that, I aim to keep my protein levels at about 1g per pound of body weight since it’s been proven to increase protein synthesis and muscle retention at levels even above that. So I supplement with additional protein shakes for any meals that fall below my average threshold.
The key to being a successful vegan athlete is to be properly prepared at all times. As a carnist, it is very simple to accidentally hit your protein needs. As a vegan, you need to properly increase your nutritional IQ and understand how to maximize your nutritional intake for optimal growth and performance.
Read more: The Shocking Truth: How Much Protein Per Day Do We Need?
Learn more about the foods that you’re eating and how much protein is in everything that you can create with them.
For example, I can make a sauce combined with brown rice, quinoa, and some black beans, and it will have tons of protein. By knowing just a few other foods that have high protein, it can make it very easy for you to create high protein meals. Things like seitan, tempeh and tofu are easy protein boosters.
Ingrid S Clay
Americans are obsessed with protein (kudos to marketing). Vegans are bombarded with questions about where they get their protein. I used to eat steaks and bison for competitions because you grow up with the belief a matter fact it’s embedded into your brain that meat will improve your performance. This concern about protein is misplaced.
According to Reed Mangls, although protein is certainly an essential nutrient which plays many key roles in the way our bodies function, we do not need huge quantities of it. Only about one calorie out of every 10 we take in needs to come from protein. Vegan athletes, especially in the early stages of training, may have higher protein needs than vegans who exercise moderately or who are not active.
Protein can be found in absolutely everything that we eat. So where do I get my protein from?? Let’s finally put this question to bed:
– Tempeh – 34 grams of protein per cup
– Soybeans – 31 grams per cup (cooked)
– Seitan – 21 grams per three ounces
– Lentils – 18 grams per cup (cooked)
– Tofu (extra firm) – 12 grams per 4 ounces
– Almonds – 8 grams per one-quarter cup
– Spinach – 5 grams per cup (cooked)
– Broccoli – 4 grams per cup (cooked)
– Veggie burger – about 15 per patty
The list is just a few things. As you can it’s very easy to get the right amount of protein needed. The key to this is variety.
Don’t be too restrictive in your vegan food choices and to eat a wide variety of foods. Foods like tofu, tempeh, seitan and even some of the mock meats can be really helpful for reaching even high protein goals
Make sure your main proteins are complete proteins! Meaning they contain all essential amino acids to build a proper protein (dark green veggies, soy/pea protein.)
Another tip would be to make sure you’re supplementing with shakes! It’s hard to eat your body weight in protein, so having concentrated protein drinks are huge when it comes to getting enough protein daily.
I know this is a little off topic but bonus tip! Take a multi-vitamin daily, they’re literally what keep out bodies running. You can get away with so much if you’re taking your vitamins daily, I know I sound like a naggy mom when I say this but it’s just true.
Read more: How to Get Enough Protein as a Vegetarian (And Why It’s Actually Easy)
Include a large variety of nuts, seeds, legumes, veggies, and grains. Most vegan sources of protein aren’t complete and combining foods will ensure you get all the amino acids that you need.
My main tip is to plan a protein source (soy, seitan, tempeh, etc.) for each main meal and to eat a variety of whole foods every day.
With even the most basic pre-planning I am able to hit 130g-150g of protein under 2000 calories daily with plenty of variety in my meals.
My number one tip is to eat. Most plant-based whole foods have protein so as long as you eat you’ll meet your requirements.
Most people don’t know how many grams they need and tend to overdo it, so it’s important to educate yourself on how many macro and micro nutrients you need, which is dependent on several factors.
Read more: 15 Vegan Meat Substitutes Even Carnivores Will Love
My tip is to eat a variety of foods. The is the best way to give your body everything it needs.
Enough depends completely on you and your goals.
I am a bodybuilder and take in 2 times my body weight in kilos so roughly 120g a day. I get that easily from beans, lentils, tofu, seitan, nuts and protein powder.
Ana Sofia Willard-Benitez
Protein shakes and seitan!
Number one tip for getting enough protein is to plan each meal around what my main protein source is, e.g. tempeh, tofu, legumes, etc.
I then add in my veggies, grains, nuts, seeds, fermented foods and sauces. These will boost the protein content. However, the bulk of what I need is already accounted for.
Eat a variety of protein-packed foods such as tofu, lentils, beans, protein powders and mock meats but, focus on whole foods with legumes as a staple.
Marcella Torres and Derek Tresize
Our number one focus when help clients get enough protein is to make sure they’re eating enough – period. I can’t tell you the times we’ve seen folks stressing about protein and drinking 4 or 5 shakes a day (up to 11 once!), and when we ask for food journals and look at their calories they’re severely under eating.
The vast majority of the time, making sure you hit a reasonable maintenance calorie level off dense whole foods like beans, greens, whole grains, nuts and seeds will get you to where your protein should be.
In my opinion and experience, it’s not necessary to consume as much protein as a lot of bodybuilders do.
However, no matter what kind of dietary approach you follow, I think there are enough vegan options to get enough protein. Since my diet is high carb/low fat, I get most of my protein from various grains, legumes, potatoes, and veggies. My favorites are beans, peas, and lentils.
If you prefer a diet with fewer carbs, more protein, and eventually more fat I’d focus on foods like nuts, seeds, tofu, or some of the vegan meat alternatives.
And no matter what kind of diet you follow, there’s always the option to increase your protein intake with supplements that are available. I prefer pea and rice protein supplements.
Eat a balanced diet and you will get all the nutrients you need. As all plant-based food typically has protein, it is not hard for the average person.
My diet lately has been heavy in beans and legumes along with sweet potatoes and brown rice. I get 140 grams of protein a day from this diet. I do supplement with brown rice and pea protein shakes.
Obviously, everyone is different and has different nutrition and protein needs. The point of this article isn’t for you to copy any single vegan bodybuilder’s plan or strategy for eating protein but instead to highlight that it is possible to get enough protein in your diet while only eating plants. Feeling more confident now?
(note: some responses above have been edited for length)