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The most common questions a vegan gets, upon sharing that he or she follows a plant-based diet, are: Where do you get your protein? How do you get enough? Do you have to combine plant proteins? These questions will often come from individuals who, prior to their concern that your plant-based diet will lead you to die of protein deficiency, never gave a thought to nutrition in their life. This can frustrate the most docile vegan into belligerence, but it is an important question to a lot of people, so it deserves a thoughtful answer. Where does our protein come from?

As children we are taught that we need to eat a lot of protein to grow up big, strong and healthy, and to get it we should make meat and dairy products the centerpiece of our diets. Vegetables are merely an unpleasant but necessary means of earning dessert. The fact that the broccoli on your plate has twice as much protein per calorie as the steak it’s next to (11.2g vs 5.4g per 100 calories) is not widely known, leaving the average person doubtful that a plant-based diet could ever fill that imagined steak-shaped void in their protein requirements.

When you take a step back, where does protein originally come from? Yes, animal muscle tissue has a lot of protein, but do animals make it all from thin air? No! Animals have to take in amino acids (the building blocks of protein) from  plants in order to make that muscle tissue. Yes, animals can convert some aminos into others as needed, but they can’t make any of the essential or conditionally essential amino acids from scratch – only plants can do that. When you’re looking at that steak on your plate you aren’t seeing the only possible source of dietary protein in nature, you’re actually seeing second -hand plant proteins that have been stripped of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and packaged with cholesterol and environmental contaminants; whereas the broccoli has plenty of freshly crafted protein and tons of nutrients besides!

And this makes sense if you consider it. If plants have no protein and you need protein to grow big and strong, how on earth do animals like elephants, gorillas and oxen get so big and strong eating only plants? A diverse plant-based diet can obviously support a big, powerful body. A typical adult human needs between 46 and 56 grams of protein per day (according to the United States Dietary Reference Intake guidelines) which is easily supplied by a whole foods plant-based diet. As a vegan bodybuilder I have gone as high as 300 grams of protein per day, all on a whole foods plant-based diet! And what about getting all the essential amino acids we need? Not a problem! A variety of plant foods eaten throughout the day will supply your body with all the essential amino acids it needs to perform and recover – no special food combinations needed!

Now that it’s clear a plant based diet has all the protein anyone needs, let’s consider what it takes to produce that protein and get it to your plate. With a whole plant food this is fairly simple: just consider the amount of  land the plant was grown on as well as the water, nutrients, and labor required to grow it, and the distance it had to travel to get to your grocery store and you’ve got a fair idea. Now consider the animal protein. How much plant food did the animal consume in its life before it was slaughtered? How much land, water, nutrients, and labor was needed to produce all of that food? Additionally, how much water, land, and labor did it take to then raise the animal to adulthood, slaughter it, process it, and transport it… you get the idea. The animal consumes massive amounts of resources to essentially convert plant protein into its own muscle tissue, so why not just skip the middle man?

When viewed this way it becomes clearer that plant foods not only provide a great source of protein packaged with a bounty of essential nutrients, they also use far less resources like water, land, labor, and produce far less pollution in the process. Even if you don’t examine the spectacular health benefits of a plant-based diet such as the prevention of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, the case for following such a diet becomes substantial. With that in mind, the next time you get the question “Where do you get your protein?”, you may want to turn around and ask the questioner if they know where theirs comes from.

Derek Tresize Image Credit: Josh Avery

This content provided above is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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10 comments on “Protein in a Plant-based Diet: A Vegan Bodybuilder’s Perspective”

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Tayler
27 Days ago

Thank you so much for providing these articles. Ive been vegan 3 years and recently got into strength training. I felt so lost and started doubting I could build muscle solely plant based. These articles on plant base nutrition are so informative. Thank you!


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Maria
2 Months Ago

These questions will often come from individuals who, prior to their concern that your plant-based diet will lead you to die of protein deficiency, never gave a thought to nutrition in their life. - the essential part))))


Reply
AsherMaximum
10 Months Ago

Your facts on broccolli are wrong. According to the USDA nutrition facts available through Google, raw broccoli has 8.2g of protein per 100 calories (and cooked has 6.8g) Steak, depending on the cut, has 8.1g – 11.1g of protein per 100 calories, using the same USDA nutrition facts. See here for where the incorrect figures came from: http://goo.gl/ubhgFP


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AsherMaximum
10 Months Ago

Your figures on broccoli are wrong. According to the USDA nutrition facts available through Google, raw broccoli has 8.2g of protein per 100 calories (and cooked has 6.8g) Steak, depending on the cut, has 8.1g - 11.1g of protein per 100 calories, using the same USDA nutrition facts. See here for where the incorrect figures came from: http://goo.gl/ubhgFP


Reply
Paula
1 Years Ago

WOW! after reading this, it made me realize I am a stupid meat eater. Starting now I will be eating from the plant kingdom. Thank you very much. I know my grocery bill will be reduced greatly.


Reply
Foods with protein
1 Years Ago

This is very good information. A healthy food makes your mind and body healthy. :)


Reply
carla jones
23 Oct 2014

that is true protein for the is good

Eric
2 Years Ago

The following article describes it well. http://www.nutribodyprotein.com/protein-types.php


Reply
Luke Tarleton
2 Years Ago

Derek your an absolute legend. We need articles like this so more people stop being so scared to break away from the 'accepted' habit of eating meat. That is such a class ending "ask do they know where their protein comes from" haha so many just act without thinking what they are doing it's time to wake them up! I know there are loads of vegan bodybuilders who are properly ripped and that is the proof people need that you don't need meat. Derek you are one of the pace-setters for humanity!


Reply
Vegan Bodybuilder
2 Years Ago

I love the point you make about "how on earth do animals like elephants, gorillas and oxen get so big and strong eating only plants?". I will use that in my next discussion with my meat eating friends!


Reply
John Tresize
2 Years Ago

A well thought and rational perspective. Derek is a man ahead of his time.


Reply


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