The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Protein

Are you getting enough plant based protein? These are the best vegan protein sources to add into your diet. Plus a roundup of high protein vegan meals!

The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Protein

If you’ve been eating vegan or mostly plant-based for some period of time, you know the most frequently asked question is “what about protein?”

As frustrating as I know that question is, getting protein as a plant-based eater is an important topic. Thankfully, it is 100% possible to eat enough protein as a vegan or plant-based eater, with a little bit of knowledge and planning.

two plates of orange tempeh served with quinoa and broccoli

Why is Protein Important?

Protein is one of the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. The protein in our diet is made up of 20 amino acids (the building blocks of protein), all of which can be found in plant-based protein foods. Our body can actually generate some of those amino acids itself, but 9 amino acids are essential – we have to get them from food.

In the body, protein plays a major role in building and maintaining muscle. Also, protein is the base of enzymes, which catalyze a wide variety of processes in the body (think energy metabolism, digestion, and more). More examples of proteins are:

  • Hemoglobin (what carries oxygen to your tissues)
  • Insulin (hormone released after eating)
  • Immunoglobulins (immune protection)

two bowls of black bean soup served with rice, avocado, sour cream and tortilla chips

How Much Protein Should I Eat Daily?

The current protein recommendation for adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. To put that into perspective, that would equal 55 grams of protein per day for a 150-pound adult, and 73 grams of protein per day for a 200-pound adult.

As my fellow dietitian Taylor Wolfram wrote in a thorough post about plant-based protein, vegans may need slightly more protein than this due to differences in digestibility of animal-based versus plant-based protein.1 Vegans may want to aim for 0.9 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This would look like 61 grams of protein per day for a 150-pound adult, and 82 grams of protein per day for a 200-pound adult.

Please note that these recommendations are used for the general population of adults. Protein needs are higher in those who are pregnant and breastfeeding (1.1 g/kg and 1.3 g/kg, respectively).2 Also, despite what’s thrown out on social media, there isn’t a separate protein recommendation for athletes. However, 1.2-2.0 g/kg is typically recommended.3

While it’s true that getting enough protein on a vegan or even mostly plant-based diet can be simple and very possible, it does require some planning and attention to what we’re choosing most of the time. And of course, we have to be eating enough energy in general, or the protein we’re eating really doesn’t matter.

a plate of tofu scramble served with tomatoes and potatoes

Vegan Protein Sources

Since I don’t recommend counting protein grams (for most people), I do recommend aiming for a serving of plant-based protein at every meal. Also, you can include vegan protein into your snacks as well.

In addition, I recommend eating a wide variety of plant-based protein foods so we’re getting enough of each amino acid. The former advice was to combine certain foods to achieve a “complete protein,” but that is outdated advice. As long as you are eating protein with meals and switching it up your source, you’re good to go.

Finally, here are examples of high-protein vegan foods. The amounts listed constitute one serving, but they don’t dictate how much you may need to eat:4

  • 1/2 cup cooked beans, like black beans, chickpeas, edamame, kidney beans, pinto beans, or white beans (7-8 grams)
  • 1/2 cup cooked lentils (9 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter (8 grams)
  • 1/3 cup peanuts (11 grams)
  • 1 cup soy milk (9 grams)
  • 1/2 cup tempeh (15 grams)
  • 1/2 cup tofu (10 grams)
  • 3 ounces high-protein plant-based meat (protein content variable)
  • 1 serving vegan protein powder (protein content variable)

In addition, nuts and seeds like almonds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts add extra plant-based protein to meals and snacks.

a casserole dish of six vegan stuffed peppers topped with shredded cheese

High Protein Vegan Meals

Check out these meals that are high in plant-based protein:

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The information in this post is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

  1. https://www.taylorwolfram.com/plant-based-protein-101/
  2. https://veganhealth.org/protein-part-2/#dri
  3. https://veganhealth.org/protein-part-2/#athletes
  4. https://veganhealth.org/protein-part-2/#protein-foods