ONE OF THE eternal questions about going vegetarian or vegan relates to the amount of protein we need to eat. Ask a bodybuilder or serious athlete this question and you’ll get a very different answer to the one you’d hear from a raw vegan or one of the 30 Bananas a Day crowd. Your average GP is going to have an entirely different opinion again, as will a nutritionist or a personal trainer.
Unfortunately, the real answer is ‘it depends’. There are raw vegan athletes who seem to build and maintain muscle very well on limited protein intakes, where I find that I go backwards at gym if I don’t get a fairly serious amount of protein.
A lot of this discrepancy comes down to bodyweight, activity levels and your basic calorific intake. Food can only be one of a few things – protein, carbs, fat and water (and alcohol, if you’re being picky).
Logically, a sedentary female who weighs 45kg is going to need far less overall calories than an active male who weighs 100kg. Assuming the lady eats 1,800 calories a day, of which 20 percent is protein, she’s getting a mere 90 grams of protein per day. Let’s assume that the bloke on the other hand eats 4,000 calories a day, of which 30 percent is protein – he’s getting 300 grams of protein a day. Very different numbers, but this bloke eats a lot of calories!
In my case, I weigh just over 100kg, hit the gym three to four times per week and try to get out on a bike twice a week – around 200 grams of protein a day is my bare minimum and I’ll often aim for 250 grams if I’m pushing hard at gym. This would still only be about 30 percent of my daily calories, but people are horrified when I tell them I eat that much protein. If I were only getting say 100 grams of protein, I’d exist on carbs and fat. It’s all a matter of context, so don’t focus too heavily on the amount but rather look at the big picture of your overall daily food intake.
Where do I get that much protein? Easy, take a look at some of these staples from my diet:
Tararua Cottage Cheese Lite 12g protein /100g
Vogel’s Original Mixed Grain bread 9g protein /100g
The Collective Dairy Black Plum Yogurt 5g protein /100g
Chick Peas 5g protein /100g
Vitasoy Rice milk with chick pea protein 1.5g protein /100ml
Yellow top milk has close to 6g protein /100ml
Green top milk has close to 4g protein /100ml
An egg has around 6g protein /100g
Perfect Italiano Mozzarella cheese has over 25g protein /100g
Beans and lentils are also loaded with protein, as is tofu, tempeh, seitan, seeds, whole grains and nuts.
As a lacto-ovo vegetarian, there’s no hassle for me to get enough protein but to make sure that I don’t miss out, I supplement with whey protein powder and rice protein powder in smoothies. In short, getting enough protein is easy for vegetarians and if you’re eating from a variety of protein sources through the day, you really don’t need to worry about what veggie protein sources are complete proteins.