Do vegans need to use protein powder?

Protein is a key nutrient in the human body, it is responsible for muscle maintenance, key regulatory systems like hormone production, wound healing and fighting infection [1] It is also a bit of a nutrition ‘buzz-word’, due to all of the fitness influencers on social media.


One of the most common questions asked to people following a vegan diet is “where do you get your protein from?”. Understandably, this can be incredibly frustrating and may even leave you double-guessing whether or not you are consuming enough. So, let’s explore some sources of plant-based protein and consider whether or not it should be supplemented if you follow a vegan diet.



The main sources of vegan protein include (but are not limited to); legumes (including beans, peas, lentils and pulses), nuts and seeds (including pastes, butters etc), tofu, tempeh, quinoa and of course protein powders. These vary in protein content from about 5g per serve to 14g per serve [2]. Serve size is dependent on the type of protein source, for example, one serve legumes is equal to 1 cup vs 1 serve of nuts, which is equal to only 30g (a small handful) [3].


It is important to note here that on social media you are likely to find a lot of information about protein content comparisons of foods “per 100 calories”. Though this information may not be incorrect, it has been taken out of context and therefore can be quite misleading. For example, it is misleading to say that 100 calories of broccoli (this is a classic example circulating online) is comparable, in any sense, to 100 calories of meat. Why? Because 100 calories is 2 or more cups of broccoli compared to only a few mouthfuls of meat [2]. What this means is that if you're trying to be conscious of your protein on a plant-based diet, broccoli is probably not going to be your preferred source unless your would like to have many cups of broccoli every day. I could go on further about why this is misleading, but I think you get the picture.



What happens if I don’t like (or actually can’t eat) one of the main sources of plant-protein, like legumes?


You could try eating a variety of different protein sources. This will not only ensure you are consuming enough protein, it will also mean that you are obtaining all of the essential amino acids (amino acids are the smaller components that proteins are made of) across the day/week, as different sources of protein contain different amino acids[1]. It will also mean that you are less likely to get bored with your protein source. Variety is the spice of life after all!


Another strategy to up your daily protein intake would be to consume a source of protein at every meal. Having a source of protein at each meal will not only contribute to making sure you are consuming enough throughout the day; adding protein to a well-balanced meal with some healthy fats, carbohydrates and lots of veggies will also help to sustain our day. As well as this, it has been shown that spacing our protein across the day is more important than just consuming one large amount for muscle protein synthesis [1].


Some reasons why we might include a protein supplement in our diet include:


1. We are unable to consume enough protein from whole foods.

This might be for a number of reasons, including that you have an allergy or intolerance as discussed above. You might also have increased protein requirements because you are trying to gain weight or because you are an athlete. You might just plain not enjoy plant-based protein sources - which brings me to the next reason we might choose to supplement protein.


2. Taste preference.

I don’t know about you, but I personally am not a fan of savoury breakfasts (no offence if you are - you do you!). So if you’re like me and prefer to have a sweeter tasting breakfast, this is where protein powders can really come in handy to get a decent protein hit in the AM. Protein powders can be added to anything - smoothies, oats, as an extra to yoghurt or even just on its own with water or a milk alternative. Adding protein powder is not detrimental to flavours and can actually make your meal even tastier (hello flavoured protein powder in a smoothie!). Try adding some nuts too for some (extra) protein, as well as some healthy fats!



There are no hard rules on how to eat protein. Whether you supplement or not, the main thing is that you are consuming enough of it and spreading it across your day as best you can! If you aren’t sure if you’re eating enough – speak to your dietitian!

Want to know more about protein? Check out the @plantnutritionwellness Instagram page for an awesome infographic we have created, along with some useful info about ‘complete proteins’ and the recommended daily intake!




References:

[1] Easy Diet Diary – Because what you eat matters. (2019). Retrieved from https://easydietdiary.com/

[2] Gropper, S., Smith, J., & Carr, T. (2016). Advanced nutrition and human metabolism(7th ed.).

[3] Serve sizes | Eat For Health. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/food-essentials/how-much-do-we-need-each-day/serve-sizes


This article was written by one of our amazing PNW Interns Donna Harris. Donna is in her final year studying a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics with Honours at QUT in Brisbane. Being fresh into the nutrition scene, Donna is up-to-date with all of the current information. With a keen interest in research and clinical nutrition, her nutrition articles are designed to relay all the latest nutrition science to you in easy to understand terms. You can follow Donna on instagram @pepperandcorndietetics.





Kiah Paetz is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and founder of Plant Nutrition and Wellness. She operates her private practice clinic at North Lakes, Hamilton and offers online consultations via Skype/Facetime. For bookings, please visit our website or contact admin@plantnutritionwellness.com

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