You’re Vegan? So Where Do You Get Your Protein From?

protein chocolate bar

“So where do you get your protein from?” It’s one of the most commonly asked questions from omnivores to vegans. Thanks to the big protein push by food marketers over the years, suddenly there’s a collective belief that we all need exorbitant amounts of proteins to be healthy. 

But when you look at the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein, it is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (or “RDA”) is defined as the amount of a nutrient an individual needs to meet his or her basic nutritional requirements. 

This number can certainly vary depending on an individual’s age, sex, and activity levels. But even then, the RDA metric should be embraced as a generalized guideline. 

Taking a neutral stance on the protein debate, Daniel Pendick unveils some interesting points on the Harvard Health Blog. He references a meeting among 40 nutrition scientists in Washington D.C. called the “Protein Summit” intended to discuss research on protein and human health. The summit, however, was sponsored by beef, egg, and other animal-based food industry groups.

So what was the outcome of the summit gathering (sponsored and organized by animal-based food industry groups?) You guessed it. Eat more protein. 

In fact, some of the nutrition scientists at the summit went on to support the consumption of double one’s RDA for optimal protein intake. While these insights remain controversial, it’s important to note that this summit took place in 2007 – almost a decade ago. And new science continues to debunk the myth that more protein is better.

woman exercise

Quality of Protein versus Quantity of Protein

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While it may come as a surprise to most people, it’s a scientific fact that protein is found in ALL plant foods. The underlying facts that debunk the protein myth are a matter of quality versus quantity. Sure, you could have a full scoop of plant protein powder like Graden of Life Fit protein or Vega Sport protein – both of which contain 20-30 grams of protein per serving – but is it about volume in grams versus the concentration of protein and aminos?

For instance, 20-40% of the calories found in beans, broccoli, and spinach come from protein. That rivals the percentages of calories from protein found in most types of meat. Even fruits like strawberries and oranges provide 8% to 9% protein content. 

Well summarized in Daniel Pendick’s Harvard Health Blog article:

“Research on the optimal amount of protein to eat for good health is ongoing and is far from settled. The value of high-protein diets for weight loss or cardiovascular health, for example, remains controversial.”

Slaying the protein myth, Rich Roll, plant-based ultra-endurance athlete, puts it best:

“Proteins consist of twenty different amino acids, eleven of which can be synthesized naturally by our bodies. The remaining nine — what we call essential amino acids? —? must be ingested from the foods we eat. So technically, our bodies require certain amino acids, not protein per se.”

Other Perspectives on Protein

If that doesn’t do it for you, consider the ketogenic diet and the fruitarian diet, both of which are low protein and have been successfully embraced (and sustained) by some of the world’s top-performing athletes. 

A proponent of the ketogenic diet, Peter Attia M.D. endures 4+ hour bike rides while regularly pumping iron in the gym on a diet of approximately 80-90% fat, 5-10% carbohydrates, and only 5-10% protein.

Michael Arnstein, also known as “The Fruitarian,” wins some of the most grueling and competitive 100+ mile foot races powered almost entirely by raw fruit. While the fruitarian diet is technically labeled “80/10/10” (consuming a calorie intake of 80% carbohydrates, 10% fat, and 10% protein,) some fruitarians go as far as 90/5/5, and thrive.

Although it sounds cliché, the old adage “quality versus quantity’ couldn’t be more accurate in defining our protein needs. In essence, opting for amino acid-rich sources of protein is a winning approach.