Worried about getting enough protein, especially if you’re eating more vegetarian foods? There’s a huge difference between how much protein you think you need per day and how much protein you actually need per day.
Western countries like America generally believe the more protein, the better. But protein deficiency is extremely rare because of how easy it is to meet our daily protein needs.
What about the source of protein? Americans love milk-derived whey protein shakes and lean protein from animals but aren’t huge fans of plant-based protein sources. Plant-based proteins get a bad rap for being too low in protein or not containing all of the essential amino acids that make up a complete protein source.
The reality is that how much protein per day satisfies your actual needs is far less than you think. Even more shocking: how easily plant-based protein sources meet those needs. Here’s how.
How Much Protein Americans Eat Per Day
On the spectrum of how much protein is consumed per day, Americans are on the extreme side. Protein is a favorite macronutrient for many reasons: it’s the building blocks of the body, it helps replenish and grow muscles, and it speeds wound healing.
While protein is necessary for many bodily functions, it’s not the only nutrient that Americans should be concerned about. In fact, widespread protein deficiency in America likely won’t happen any time soon since the average American consumes nearly twice the recommended amount of protein per day.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans even recommends that males between the ages of 14 and 70 reduce their intake of animal products to reduce their overall intake of protein.
As consumption of protein continues to rise, so does the popularity of animal-based protein.
Americans consume more than three times the global average of meat in particular. Red meat accounts for 58% and processed meat for 22% of meat consumption.
With Americans consuming almost twice their actual needs, you may be wondering what all the excess protein is used for. Protein isn’t stored by the body, so extra protein is used as energy or stored as fat. Excessive protein consumption is also linked to heart disease, kidney disease and elevated blood lipids.
Needless to say, Americans are blowing protein requirements out of proportion. How much protein you need isn’t rocket science, but the rise of high-protein diets has the average American convinced otherwise.
Your Daily Protein Requirements
How much protein do I need per day? It’s a simple question but with one with many myths surrounding it.
According to the USDA, how much protein you need per day depends on two factors: your sex and age. The USDA Dietary Guidelines generally recommends 46g of protein per day for adult females and 56g of protein per day for adult males.
Experts acknowledge that everybody is different. Although the protein recommendation for adults is between 46-56g, this figure may vary depending on your weight or calorie needs.
For the most accurate estimate, the recommended dietary allowance for protein per day is 0.8g per kilogram of body weight. For reference, one kilogram equals approximately 2.2 pounds.
There are certain cases where more protein per day may be necessary:
- People in their 50s or older may need 1g of protein per kilogram of body weight due to the risk of sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass with age.
- Athletes or people with an active lifestyle may need extra protein, between 1.1g and 1.5g of protein per kilogram of body weight, for muscle repair.
- Bodybuilders can increase their protein consumption up to 1.7g of protein per kilogram of body weight to build muscle mass.
Getting Your Protein From Plants
Switching to plant-based sources or incorporating more vegan meals may seem daunting. Rest assured because it’s a lot easier than you think.
Making plant foods your main source of protein isn’t such a crazy idea since all protein is actually made from plants. Animals don’t create protein, they just ingest it. Only plants have the ability to convert nitrogen into amino acids, the building blocks of protein. All animal protein is simply recycled plant protein.
With animal protein, nutrients come from a secondary source—meaning that protein has been ingested, used, and recycled. With plant protein, nutrients come from a primary source, so that protein hasn’t been ingested or used yet.
How to Get Enough Vegetarian Protein Needs With Plant-Based Protein
Think of all the protein you’re currently consuming in your diet. People who are conscious about their health, fitness and protein intake usually gravitate towards high-protein foods like chicken breast, egg whites and whey protein powder.
It’s very easy to swap out the protein sources you’re used to with plant foods without relying heavily on vegan protein powders. In fact, you can satisfy your daily protein needs on a vegan diet without giving it much thought or effort because you’re probably already consuming plant-based proteins without realizing it.
Plant-based foods that are high in protein include various grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Depending on how much protein per day you’re aiming for, you can meet your protein requirements with whole, unprocessed foods (a.k.a. no tofu or vegan protein powders necessary).
Plant foods that are particularly high in protein include:
- Lentils, 18g per 1 cup cooked
- Almonds, 15g per ½ cup whole
- Chickpeas, 15g per 1 cup cooked
- Black beans, 15g per 1 cup cooked
- Hemp seeds, 10g per 1 tablespoon raw
- Tofu, 10g per 1 cup cooked or raw
- Quinoa, 8g per 1 cup cooked
If you prefer to consume three large meals per day, aim for 15-20g of protein per meal. This can be accomplished easily by topping your oats or smoothie with hemp seeds and almonds for breakfast, tossing quinoa in your salad for lunch, and swapping chicken for tofu or black beans for dinner.
When switching up your diet, creating recipes that are both delicious and nutritious may have a small learning curve. This is where vegan food blogs and cookbooks may come in handy:
High-Protein Vegan Breakfast Recipes
- Protein-Packed Tofu Scramble
- Hidden Greens Chocolate Protein Smoothie
- Creamy Chia Pudding
- Peanut Butter Overnight Oatmeal
- Southwest Breakfast Burrito
High-Protein Vegan Lunch Recipes
- Protein-Packed Buddha Bowl
- Southwestern Quinoa Pasta Salad
- Grilled Veggie Burrito Bowl
- Protein Fried Rice
- Chickpea Salad Sandwich
High-Protein Vegan Dinner Recipes
- Teriyaki Tofu Veggie Stir-Fry
- Lentil Walnut Tacos
- Kidney Bean Red Lentil Chili
- Black Bean Burgers
- Better Than Chipotle Vegan Burrito
Don’t Go Overboard
It’s easy to go overboard on protein, but that doesn’t mean you should. Take a step back and consider how much protein you’re consuming with how much protein per day you actually need—you might be shocked to find out you may be consuming twice as much as your protein requirements.
If you’re thinking about switching to plant-based protein sources, there’s no need to be intimidated. Vegan protein is inexpensive, accessible, and easy to incorporate into your diet. Since all protein originates from plants, you may find that you experience many benefits from getting protein straight from the source.