How to get enough protein on a plant-based diet
By Henry Howard
How do I get enough protein on a plant-based diet?
Are plant-based meats healthy?
How do I make sure I get enough iron on a plant-based diet?
Those were among questions posed by a friend in a Facebook group this past week. She’s interested in adapting the healthier plant-based lifestyle but has many of the same questions that I did when I switched as well as many others considering the switch.
My advice to her included:
“You are wise to stay away from plant-based meats as they are better but not the best option. For protein, I have chia, flax and hemp seeds daily. And just by eating plants, you are getting protein plus other very helpful nutrients. All beans also are packed with protein. A daily handful of nuts goes a long way, too.”
I also mentioned that I get my biometrics measured frequently by InsideTracker (use this link for 20% off) and am usually above average when it comes to iron so, at least for me, a plant-based diet helps that, too.
How to get started on a plant-based diet
When considering such a switch, I recommend that athletes temporarily log their food in an app like Chronometer or MyFitnessPal.
By using those you can get an idea of how much protein and other nutrients you are getting daily. But be forewarned, those apps should be used as a general guide. They can be as much as 20% off. So if you are going to use those, don’t get too caught up in the details. And, honestly, your body will tell you if you are not getting enough nutrition.
For runners during training, I would recommend 100 grams of healthy protein each day. That helps the body recover from the workouts. And it’s much easier than the common metric-based math equation that gets bandied about.
But perhaps the best rule of thumb is to take in protein throughout the day, which allows your body to continually repair itself. So if you eat three meals a day, aim for 20 to 25 grams at each meal, add in a couple of snacks, are you are right around 100 grams.
Putting it to the test
I decided to take what I ate on a random day and see how well I did. On this day, I did a 75-minute run after a 25-minute core/warmup routine, which burned approximately 650 calories, according to Strava.
Since this day featured a fairly challenging midweek workout, it was a good test to see whether I could get enough carbs and protein to help my body recover properly. Here’s what I had to eat throughout the day, including what I had before and during the run for fuel.
Sample meal plan for plant-based athletes
Breakfast: Granola bowl with fruits, seeds and plant milk
Ingredients: half cup of granola; a banana; half cup of blueberries; half cup of golden berries; 5 strawberries; spoonful each of hemp seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds; and a cup of non-sweetened almond milk mixed with a scoop of alma powder.
Protein: 14.7 grams
Carbs: 67.8 grams
Lunch: A bowl of greens, mashed sweet potato, garbanzo beans, hummus and veggies, with a shaker bottle of Gnarly Nutrition Vegan Protein Powder mixed with ashwagandha powder.
Ingredients: 1.5 cups of arugula and spinach mix, half cup of garbanzo beans, cup of mashed sweet potatoes, a serving of hummus; and a handful of grape tomatoes with light balsamic dressing.
Protein: 32.9 grams (20g from the protein shake)
Carbs: 48.8 grams
Dinner: A bowl of greens, kidney beans, mushrooms, veggies and strawberries
Ingredients: 1.5 cups of arugula, half cup of kidney beans, half cup of peppers and onions, half cup of mushrooms; a couple of medium celery stalks and a handful of strawberries.
Protein: 13.1 grams
Carbs: 21.8 grams
Snacks: A range of items throughout the day.
Snack items: Banana with peanut butter pre-run. Honey Stinger gluten-free waffle during run. Peanut butter on bread with a banana mid-morning. Plant-based yogurt with a Fody snack bar in the afternoon. A plant-based protein shake before bed.
Protein: 50 grams (20g from the shake)
Carbs: 134.2 grams
Overall total protein: 110.7 grams
Overall total carbs: 272.6 grams
I follow the concept of eating more of my calories and carbs earlier in the day, so they follow my morning run or other workout. At breakfast, my protein level was noticeably low but I did follow that up a couple of hours later with the peanut butter, banana and bread snack that was another infusion of protein (and carbs).
Overall, I hit the 100 grams mark, though it was aided by two protein shakes. While both of the shakes were healthy (Gnarly Nutrition Vegan Protein Powder is NSF Sport certified and is made with natural ingredients), it is of course always better to get nutrients from real food sources.
Some who resist the switch to eating plant-based often argue that their choices would be limited. I disagree. There are many more plants that one can choose from. In fact, some experts recommend eating 30 different types of plants in a given week.
On this day, I count 20 different types of plants.
And it won’t take much to hit the 30 threshold in another day or two. Among the foods I regularly eat but didn’t happen to on this day are apples, blackberries, cranberries, goji berries, carrots, kale, cilantro, red-skinned potatoes, black beans, pinto beans, avocados and clementines.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve made myself hungry. Time to grab a healthy afternoon snack of fruit.