Unsure whether you can meet your nutritional needs as a vegan? Find all essential plant-based protein facts and the best vegan protein sources in this article.
As a vegan, you can feel bombarded with questions like “where do you get your protein?” But this concern about plant-based protein is really misplaced.
Although this macronutrient is undoubtedly essential and plays many vital roles in our bodily functions, we don’t need massive quantities of it.
Find out which foods contain protein, whether they need to be combined to create “complete protein” if you can build muscle as a vegan, if you need to focus on any particular foods and what your daily protein requirements are.
Plant-based protein facts
What exactly is protein & why do we need it?
We need protein for our muscles, bones, hormones, immune system, digestive enzymes, nutrient absorption and to rebuild and replenish all kinds of cells.
Protein consists of 20 amino acids, some of which we can synthesize ourselves while 9 of them are “essential” — meaning we need to get them from our diet.
If you don’t get enough protein, you can lose muscle mass which can lead to increased falls, injuries or hospitalizations. While overt protein deficiencies are rare, even a suboptimal status can take a toll on our health!
Benefits of plant-based protein
There are many benefits of plant-based protein including increased fiber intake, lower risk of heart disease and easier weight management.
Most plant-based protein sources are lower in saturated fat and free from cholesterol compared to meat and dairy which makes a huge difference!
There are also benefits for the environment, plus you don’t support animal agriculture which is responsible for the suffering and death of billions of land animals each year.
What are complete proteins?
The term “complete protein” refers to foods or combinations of different foods that contain all essential amino acids and stems from a study that was conducted over a century ago.
It is an old myth that you need to eat grains and beans at the same time to produce a complete amino acid pattern that mimics human body protein — this has turned out to be unnecessary!
Our bodies maintain a reserve pool of different amino acids from various sources for later use, which means we can do our own “complementing.” Plus, all plant-based foods contain all nine essential amino acids — just in varying amounts.
Lysine on a vegan diet
Let’s take a closer look at one specific essential amino acid called “lysine.” While there are good sources of lysine in the plant kingdom, it’s hard to meet requirements if you don’t include legumes, quinoa or seitan into your diet!
So, if you were to meet all of your protein needs by eating primarily grains and veggies, you could still fall short of this one amino acid!
Therefore, it is recommended to eat 2-3 servings of legumes per day. One serving can look like this:
- 1 cup soy milk
- 2 tbsp peanut butter
- ½ cup tofu or tempeh
- 2-3 oz soy-based mock meat
- ½ cup cooked beans or lentils
How much protein do you need per day as a vegan?
Everyone’s protein requirements are a bit different and need to be calculated first. For adults over 19, the dietary reference intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.
It’s important to know that the term “body weight” refers to lean body mass, meaning that overweight individuals need to calculate their protein requirements using the healthy weight range for their height.
Since plant-based protein cannot be as easily digested as animal protein, it is recommended that vegans eat a little extra protein.
It’s just a small difference, though: a 150-pound non-vegan would need about 54 grams of protein, whereas a vegan would require about 60 grams per day.
If you’re highly active, your protein needs range from 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight!
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Protein on a wfpb diet
As per definition, a whole food plant-based diet doesn’t include many processed foods like seitan and plant-based protein powder.
To meet your protein requirements on a wfpb diet, you should eat plenty of beans, lentils, quinoa and peanuts every day.
We’d also suggest that you include as many soy-based foods as possible, such as tofu, tempeh or soy milk, into your diet!
However, you don’t need to stick to 100% whole foods on a healthy plant-based diet and can enjoy seitan etc. on a regular basis.
Do I need to take protein powder as a vegan?
No, you can meet your protein requirements by eating vegan foods like beans, legumes, soy products, grains, nuts and seeds.
If you want to, you can add vegan protein powder to your diet — this can be especially helpful if you can’t digest beans and lentils very well or don’t like the taste of these foods at all.
Check out our list of the best plant-based protein sources below!
Can you eat too much plant protein?
As with everything in life, it is possible to overdo it. Even though plant-based protein is healthier than animal-based protein, if you eat more than 2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, research suggests that this can cause long-term health problems.
Symptoms of eating too much protein include intestinal discomfort, dehydration and nausea. The overconsumption of protein can increase a person’s risk of developing diabetes or osteoporosis!
However, these findings were mainly associated with animal-based protein and haven’t been studied for plant-based protein alone.
Plant-based protein sources
Eating enough calories per day on a varied plant-based diet is the first vital step to ensure adequate protein intake.
Try to include plenty of legumes into your diet and check out the following plant-based protein food lists to see which are higher in protein than others!
Here are the top 12 plant-based protein foods.
- Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
- Chia & hemp seeds
- Soy milk
- Nutritional yeast
- Green peas
Let’s go into more detail and check out each plant-based food group to see the best protein sources.
Beans & legumes
- Chickpeas 11.6 g per 1 cup
- Lentils 18 g per 1 cup
- Cannellini beans 9.7 g per 1 cup
- Kidney beans & black beans 8 g per 1 cup
- Peanuts 11.5 g per ⅓ cup
Numbers refer to cooked food.
Soy & mock meat
- Tempeh 15.4 g per ½ cup
- Tofu, firm 10.2 g per ½ cup
- Seitan 31 g per 3 oz
- Soy milk 9.2 g per 1 cup
- Edamame 8.4 g per ½ cup
Nuts & seeds
- Hemp seeds 9.9 g per ¼ cup
- Pumpkin seeds 8.8 g per ¼ cup
- Almonds 7.6 g per ¼ cup
- Chia seeds 6.6 g per ¼ cup
- Pistachios 6.4 g per ¼ cup
- Sunflower seeds 6.2 g per ¼ cup
- Amaranth 9.3 g per 1 cup
- Spelt, cooked 10.7 g per 1 cup
- Quinoa, cooked 8.1 g per 1 cup
- Pasta, whole wheat 7.5 g per 1 cup
- Bread, whole wheat 7.3 g per 2 slices
- Oatmeal, cooked 5.9 g per 1 cup
- Brown rice, cooked 5.5 g per 1 cup
- Green peas, cooked 8.2 g per 1 cup
- Brussels sprouts 5.7 g per 1 cup
- Spinach, cooked 5.3 g per 1 cup
- Potato, medium 4.3 g
- Avocado, medium 4 g
- Broccoli 3.6 g per 1 cup
- Mushrooms, cooked 3.4 g per 1 cup
Plant-Based Protein Chart
Plant-based protein recipes
Here are our favorite high-protein vegan recipes that include many of the foods listed above.
Green Goddess Hummus
Spicy Oil-Free Roasted Chickpeas
18+ Easy Vegan TVP Recipes
More protein-packed goodness
These recipe collections feature high-protein plant-based ingredients.
Have you been worried about getting enough protein and which are your favorite sources? Let us know in the comments below, share this article with your friends and be sure to Pin it here!