Firstly; you may not need as much protein as you think. The guidelines suggest you should consume 0.75g per kg body weight, so if you weigh 50kg you should be aiming for 37.5g protein per day. This will obviously vary depending on your activity levels, those exercising on a regular basis should increase their protein intake. This is because protein (specifically the amino acids in protein) are essential for the repair and maintenance of all cells, including your muscles.
Provided you’re eating enough calories and your diet is varied, there is no reason to worry about getting enough protein in your plant-based diet. All foods containing plant cells contain an amount of protein, however the amount does largely vary between foods. Below is a guideline of the protein content of several every-day plant based foods; you can see from this that the amount of protein you consume will quickly add up. For example, starting the day with chia pudding made with 2 tablespoons chia, 200ml almond milk and topped with almond butter gives you around 16g of protein.
|Almond Butter||2 tablespoons||7g|
|Lentils||1 cup cooked||18g|
|Corn||1 large cob||5g|
|Quinoa||1 cup cooked||8g|
|Chia Seeds||2 tablespoons||6g|
|Almond Milk (7%)||200ml||3g|
But what happens when you exercise a lot? During intense exercise, your muscle fibres are damaged. It is key to repair these and this cycle of damage and repair is what grows your muscles and makes them stronger. Protein is fundamental in this repair of muscle fibres so during periods of exercise you do need to increase your protein intake.
The recommended protein intake for athletes varies on your goals; to maintain body mass 1g / kg body weight is recommended. If you are looking to increase muscles mass, this recommendation increases to around 1.4-1.8g / kg body weight.
Your body can only process around 30g of protein in one meal so it is essential that you spread your protein intake out throughout the day. Ensuring that a protein rich food forms part of every meal is a good way to do this. Don’t forget that carbohydrates and fat are also essential parts of a balanced diet, key for fuelling exercise and replenishing energy store post workout. So do not eliminate these in favour of more protein! Eating a combination of protein and carbohydrate as quickly after exercise as possible (ideally within 30 minutes) gives your body a great start to your recovery.
More and more athletes are turning to a vegan diet, proving you can be at the top of your game whilst only consuming plant based proteins. Novak Djokovic, Venus Williams and David Haye to name but a few. If you are considering a plant based diet, or just want to reduce your meat intake, with a little bit of research you do not have to worry about reaching your recommended protein intake; whatever your activity level.