What is the Best Plant-Based Protein? The Ultimate Guide to Food & Supplements
8 minute read
We’ve all been there: “Oh you’re vegan, where do you get your protein from?” Whilst some nutrients are tricky to come across with a plant-based diet, protein can be plentiful. Read on to learn more about meeting your daily requirements for this essential, health-optimising nutrient.
The Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet 🌱
Whether you're vegan, vegetarian or trying to cut down on animal foods for whatever reason - there are some awesome health benefits to be gained from eating more plants.
Here are just a few:
- Vegan foods are higher in some essential nutrients - Plants are much higher in vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants - not to mention beneficial plant compounds which can't be derived from animal products.
- A healthier weight - Studies have shown that vegans and vegetarians typically have a lower weight and BMI (body mass index) compared with those who eat animal-based diets. Many people also find that a vegan diet is helpful to promote weight loss.
- Better heart health - A vegan diet is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. This is likely because it is much lower in cholesterol and saturated fats, which are both risk factors for heart disease. Plant-based foods also contain healthier fats which are beneficial for heart health.
Which Nutrients Do I Need to be Mindful of with a Plant-Based Diet? 🤔
It’s taken some time but we think that most of us have finally got our heads around the fact that plant-based diets can be just as good for us as animal-based diets - as well as better for the environment and of course the animals. Even mainstream nutritionists and dietitians are embracing the potential of a plant-based diet to be as good as - if not better than - one which includes animal products.
Having said that, there are some nutrients which are difficult to get enough of with a vegan diet including Vitamin D3, Omega-3, Haem Iron and Vitamin B12. For this reason, it is recommended that vegans supplement their diet with vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as consuming fortified foods to avoid deficiencies in these nutrients.
On the other hand, plants are an amazing source of some nutrients which you won’t find in as high abundance in animal-based foods. Things like antioxidants, phytochemicals, certain vitamins & minerals and dietary fibre. These are all extremely healthful and arguably just as important in terms of optimising health.
Whatever your dietary preferences, it’s possible to get everything you need from your food and supplements, it just takes a little imagination and adjustment according to your lifestyle.
Plant-Based Protein vs. Animal-Based Protein ⚖️
So, it's possible to thrive and not just survive with a vegan diet 🙌
But what about protein? Protein is synonymous with chicken breasts and salmon fillets, right? Whilst these are good sources of protein, they’re not always superior to plant-based proteins. Let’s explore…
What is protein?
Protein is a macronutrient, "macro" meaning we need it in high amounts, like fat and carbs (as opposed to micronutrients, which we need in very small amounts - like vitamins and minerals).
Protein is essential for many bodily functions including growth and maintenance, providing structure, immune function, energy provision and much more.
Protein from our food (or supplements) provides us with "amino acids" in varying amounts, these are the building blocks of protein which are used by the body for all of its complex functions.
There are 20 amino acids in total, 9 of which are "essential amino acids" (EAAs) - meaning we can’t make them in the body and so must get them from diet or supplements.
Animal vs. Plant-Based Protein
The main difference between animal and vegan proteins is that most animal foods tend to contain all 9 EAAs in one convenient package, making them a "complete" source of protein. In comparison, plant-based proteins don’t often contain all 9 and so are named "incomplete" proteins.
There are some plant proteins which are complete (quinoa, soy, chia seeds, spirulina, tempeh) but the vast majority of plants don’t tick all 9 EAA boxes.
Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian or include some animal foods in your diet, knowing how best to incorporate complete proteins into every meal is essential to optimise your overall health and wellbeing.
The Best Vegan Protein Sources
As well as vegan protein powders and supplements, there are many foods which are high in protein and vegan friendly. It can be easy to think that meat and fish are the best sources of protein, but plants can contain just as many grams of protein if you know which foods to include.
Here are 10 of the best vegan foods which are a great source of protein:
🌱 Legumes - beans, peas and lentils
🌱 Quinoa, amaranth & ancient grains
🌱 Soybeans and their products - tofu, tempeh, edamame and soy milk
🌱 Nuts & seeds - chia seeds, cashews, pistachios, hemp seeds, walnuts & hazelnuts
🌱 Nut & seed butters - peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter
🌱 Brown rice and wild rice
🌱 Nutritional yeast
🌱 Oats and oat milk
🌱 Meat substitutes - seitan, mycoprotein (Quorn), soy-based meat replacements
How much protein do you need each day?
The amount of protein you need each day depends on a few factors but mostly your body weight. The typical adult needs a minimum of 0.8g protein per kg body weight, so somebody weighing 70kg would need a minimum of 56g protein each day.
People who eat meat and fish typically get all the protein they need from their regular meals, but vegans and vegetarians need to pay more attention to what they eat - to make sure they get enough and prevent protein deficiency.
Once you know the amount of protein you need, you can start to track your protein intake for a few days using an app to see if you're on target. That may seem a bit intense, but it is more to gain an idea of your overall protein status - so that you know if you're getting enough or not. This is also a good way to get to know the protein content of foods, so that you can eat more of those which are good sources.
If you're veggie or vegan then making sure you are meeting your daily protein requirement is really important, so this process is worth following every now and again to prevent protein deficiency.
How to get enough protein with a vegan diet
There’s one simple life hack which can help you to get a complete source of protein from your plant-based diet: combine your proteins.
Most plant-based proteins contain a mixture of essential and non-essential amino acids, so by combining two or more sources of protein you can get an overall complete source - just as you would animal-based foods. To your body, it does not matter which foods these amino acids have come from, it will gather them together to make a complete protein just the same!
We should all try to eat a source of protein with every meal, and vegans should aim to combine two proteins to benefit from a complete amino acid profile. This doesn’t have to mean doubling up on your portions - rather combining two protein foods together to make one portion. The possibilities for this are endless but here’s a few of our favourite recipes:
You can also top your meals with a sprinkling or dollop of protein-dense foods for an added protein boost. For example, peanut butter, nutritional yeast, spirulina, protein powder or nuts & seeds - adding extra protein doesn't always have to take over the meal.
Is Vegan Protein Powder good for building muscle? 💪
So, we understand that it’s possible to get all the protein you need with plant foods - but what about the increased protein requirements for fitness fanatics?
When we workout, our muscles endure stress which creates damage to muscle fibres known as hypertrophy. The body repairs this by fusing damaged muscle fibres together and that’s how our muscles become bigger and stronger. To do this the body needs - you guessed it - protein!
It makes sense that strength trainers and bodybuilders will require more protein. In fact, even without weight-bearing exercise, protein is needed post-exercise to repair muscle tissue, prevent injury and improve post-exercise recovery.
So, would a complete animal-based source of protein such as whey be better than plant-based protein in this instance? Contrary to popular belief, the answer is no. Aside from the amazing plant-based athletes and bodybuilders we see as living proof of this, research also supports the idea that plant-based protein can be just as good as its animal-based counterpart.
Recently, one study found that a high protein diet composed of 100% vegan mycoprotein (Quorn) supported protein synthesis at a rate equal to the animal-based protein alternative. In fact, there was no benefit to using animal protein over plant-based when rested or exercised. This is a groundbreaking study which quashes the myth that you need animal protein to build muscle, or at all!
How to Choose the Best Vegan Protein Powder Supplement 🌱
Getting enough plant-based protein from regular vegan food is possible and easy when you know how! But sometimes our busy lifestyles get in the way; getting two sources of plant-based protein with every meal is tricky when on-the-go or immediately after a workout.
Choosing a quality protein supplement can help you to top up your protein intake quickly and easily when on the move or at home. We have created two 100% vegan protein blends enhanced with superfood ingredients. They are designed to help to meet your protein requirements conveniently and reliably, gaining a healthful dose of other amazing nutrients with every scoop.
Meet the protein blends...
- Green Plant Protein: The Fit Blend - A blend of pea and hemp protein together with super greens: moringa, wheatgrass, matcha and added lucuma fruit. Our lean protein provides 20g protein and a complete source of amino acids in every serving. Added greens help to support overall wellness and muscle recovery.
- Cacao Plant Protein: The Strength Blend - Our Cacao Plant Protein powder helps you to perform better and recover quicker after your workout. A blend of pea, hemp and pea protein provides a complete source of amino acids with 20g protein per serving. Enhanced with maca root, raw cacao, Cordyceps mushroom extract and unprocessed coconut sugar for a perfectly balanced strength & superfood blend.
- Workout Bundle - The uUltimate Fitness Bundle - A bundle of Green Plant Protein, Cacao Plant Protein and Shroom Coffee for naturally prolonged energy and endurance, overall wellness and immunity, together with enhanced muscle recovery. The bundle comes with a discount, free shipping and an exclusive free Perform eBook as a bundle of thanks!
Meeting your protein requirements is super important whether you’re a couch potato or a fitness enthusiast. Protein is needed with every meal and especially post-workout.
By eating mindfully, incorporating two or more plant-based proteins with every meal and supplementing your diet with a quality plant protein you can help to meet your protein needs, as well as optimise overall health and fitness.