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. In this article, we explore some sources of plant-based protein and ask the question – do vegans need to use protein powder?
What is protein?
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  It is also a bit of a nutrition ‘buzz-word’, due to all of the fitness influencers on social media.
What are sources of plant based proteins?
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 .
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) .
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 .
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 if I don’t like vegan proteins like beans?
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 across the day and week,
Amino acids are the smaller components that proteins are made of. Different sources of protein contain different amino acids.
This will also mean that you are less likely to get bored with your protein source.
Another strategy to up your daily protein intake is to consume a source of protein at every meal.
Having a source of protein at each meal will make sure you are consuming enough protein across the day. Adding protein to a well-balanced meal with some healthy fats, carbohydrates and lots of veggies will also help you stay satiated and full.
To help grow muscle (known as muscle protein synthesis) it is also important to space protein across the day . You can read more on this in our blog article on How to Build Muscle On A Vegan Diet
You might use a protein supplement when:
1. You 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. You prefer the taste
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!
Looking for more tips on how eat more plant based protein? Check our our blog on 6 Top Tips for Transitioning to a Vegan Diet
This blog was co-written by PNW Clinic founder Kiah Paetz and student dietitian by Donna Harris. You can connect with Donna on instagram @pepperandcorndietetics.
If you’re wanting to take your diet to the next level, and book in to see one of our expert dietitians.