It’s likely that, if you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you have come across a situation with a friend or family member trying to tell you that it is impossible to get the protein your body needs exclusively through plant products.
There is no doubt that, at present, societies in Western countries have quite assimilated that the consumption of meat is basic to obtaining this type of fundamental nutrient but, is this kind of dogma really true?
- 1. Protein for Vegetarian and Vegan Athletes
- 2. Brief definition of protein
- 3. Difference between animal and plant proteins
- 4. The key: the combination of vegan protein
- 5. Amount of protein that Vegans and Vegetarians need
- 6. Nutritional protein supplements for vegan and vegetarian people
- 7. Main sources of natural plant proteins
- 8. Can a Vegan consume too much protein?
- 9. Conclusions
- 10. Related Entries
Protein for Vegetarian and Vegan Athletes
Before I start talking to you in more detail about the protein for vegans and vegetarians, the first thing we have to do is tell you is no. As an immense variety of studies have shown, a healthy, balanced vegan diet, with an emphasis on certain types of food, can provide the body with all the proteins it needs, even in the case of athletes.
In any case, this topic requires an in-depth analysis, something to which we will dedicate this article
Brief definition of protein
Las proteins are, in short, macrostructures formed by long chains of amino acids that are linked together through connections called peptide bonds. In this sense, there are 20 amino acids in total, of which are essential amino acids 9 are essential and the rest non-essential, a classification which we will discuss in the following lines as this is the crux of the matter.
The proteins contained in the food cannot be used directly by the body. For this reason, the stomach and intestines break their peptide bonds in order to take advantage of the amino acids they contain to generate new structures that subsequently give rise to the structural proteins that form part of the tissues, antibodies, hormones, enzymes, etc.
- Essential Amino Acids: They are those that cannot be generated by the body from other substances. For this reason, they must be obtained through food.
- Non-essential Amino Acids: These can be synthesised by the body.
Difference between animal and plant proteins
Once we have made this brief summary of the existing proteins and types of amino acids with the aim of getting into the subject (you can find out more about this in our articles related to the existing types of proteins and amino acids) it is time to talk about the difference between animal origin protein and plant origin protein.
Why do animal species contain amino acids? Basically because we share more than 90% of the genetic code with them. This is why the proteins contained, for example, in meat, milk or eggs, are called ‘complete’.
The key: the combination of vegan protein
Recent scientific and nutritional studies seem to show that plant foods such as quinoa, amaranth, hemp seed, soya, Spirulina and buckwheat contain complete proteins, i.e. with all the essential amino acids that the human body cannot synthesise on its own.
In any case, this is not the usual pattern. In fact, these foods are the exception that confirms the rule. In order to obtain a complete protein, vegans usually have to combine several plant foods, which is not at all complicated. For example, you can simply mix lentils and rice into one meal. In addition, the right combination of two incomplete proteins results in a higher quality complete protein in the body than those from animal-based amino acids.
Amount of protein that Vegans and Vegetarians need
In general, the number of proteins needed by people who follow diets that exclude all types of animal foods is the same as those who do. In figures provided by the WHO, this would be 0.8 grams per kilogram of lean weight, i.e. eliminating the percentage of body fat.
However, for athletes, this amount increases to 1.3-1.8 g per kg for those who practice endurance activities and to between 1.8 and 2.5 g per kg for bodybuilders and those who focus their efforts on strength sports and muscular hypertrophy. Obviously, since plant foods have lower amounts of protein and lower quality than animal foods, more food is needed.
Nutritional protein supplements for vegan and vegetarian people
Those who follow an ovo-lacto-vegetarian diet have no problem getting the amount of protein and amino acids they need even if they are physically active. However, in the case of vegans, who exclude all animal foods from their diet, this is not the case. This is why in many cases it is necessary for them to resort to protein-based nutritional supplements.
Following a vegan diet that meets the protein needs of a human body is entirely feasible. However, when you consider that this requires knowledge and time to select and prepare the right foods, it can become more complex, especially with the high standard of living we all follow.
In these cases, as well as in the case of vegans who do sport regularly and wish to obtain positive physical results, the consumption of nutritional supplements made from protein is highly advisable. As you can see on the HSNstore website, there are a variety of animal protein free supplements available. The Healthy Series line, which is made up of isolated soya and pea proteins, is the best example of this.
Main sources of natural plant proteins
If you feel that you don’t need to resort to protein-based nutritional supplements and want to achieve your goals by focusing solely on natural foods, there are certain ingredients that should have a prominent place in your vegan diet. In this respect, legumes are the main sources of protein you will find in the vegetable kingdom, so you should take good doses of beans, lentils, chickpeas, soya, etc. every day.
In addition, nuts can also be used to get an extra dose of protein at a given time. In fact, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews or walnuts will provide an immediate source of energy for your body. And don’t forget to eat succulent portions of grains such as oats, rice and millet, and pumpkin and sunflower seeds. In any case, remember to be careful with grains if you are intolerant to gluten.
Can a Vegan consume too much protein?
The answer to this question is yes. Generally, when hearing the expression ‘vegan diet‘, most people, whether they practice it or not, tend to think that it is normal to suffer from a protein deficit in their body. However, on many occasions, the opposite is true. In this sense, this surplus leads, in the long term, to problems in the kidneys and liver.
For your part, before you finish, you should remember that the deficit is also harmful to your body. If you don’t provide it with enough protein, it will start using the protein stored in your muscles for energy, which will lead to short-term weakness and various associated health problems. Bear in mind that this is solely and exclusively a survival mechanism.
In short, as you’ve seen from reading this article, vegans and vegetarians have a lot of options for achieving a balanced diet that provides them with all the protein their bodies need to function properly. So if you’re one of them, don’t be afraid or pay attention to what they’re saying. Because if you take care of your diet and, if necessary, take the right supplements, you can be sure that your body will be completely healthy.