The Importance of Plant-Based Protein in Fitness
As a vegan fitness instructor, I often get asked about plant-based protein and its importance for fitness. To help answer some of your FAQs, I’ve compiled the latest research in science and nutrition for those hoping to embark on a plant-based fitness journey.
The following blog addresses everything you need to know about vegan protein, including the best plant-based sources and its benefits for health and fitness, whether your goal is to lose weight, maintain it, gain muscle, or simply promote healthy mental well-being!
What is Protein?
Every cell in your body contains protein! A protein is a compound made from building blocks known as amino acids. It makes up one of the three main food groups (macronutrients) and is essential for cell repair and growth. Protein is also a huge energy source and our bodies require a large amount of it to survive.
There are many different types of protein and they differ depending on their amino acid composition. Once you digest protein, it gets broken down into individual amino acids, which then go on to perform a huge variety of functions around the body.
Why is Protein Important for Fitness?
It’s not just athletes that require protein, everyone needs this important macronutrient to survive and maintain optimal health and fitness. In addition to repairing damage, protein supports the immune system, transports molecules, and performs DNA-based instructions. All of these functions are important for a healthy body.
In terms of exercise, those that workout will require more protein than sedentary people. Why? Because whenever you exercise, you are essentially tearing muscle fibers. The body repairs these torn fibers using protein, in the form of amino acids.
However, our bodies don’t store all of the amino acids particularly well, which means we must consistently obtain these from our diets. These dietary amino acids are known as the 9 essential amino acids and can be found in all plant-based protein sources.
What’s the Difference Between Animal and Plant-Based Protein?
Once broken down by the digestive system, animal and plant-based protein are effectively the same. All 9 essential amino acids can be found in both animal and vegan protein sources, although perhaps the main difference is the level of these that they contain.
Animal proteins tend to have much higher concentrations of essential amino acids, which means that less is needed to meet the body’s requirements. Nevertheless, science has demonstrated time and time again that a healthy, wholefood vegan diet is perfectly capable of providing enough plant-based protein.
In fact, the best difference is that plant-based protein sources will frequently contain other amazing nutrients including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants; a healthy plant-based protein package!
Of course, there are other differences that aren’t directly related to human health and fitness, such as the benefits that vegan protein sources have on the environment, not to mention the reduced likelihood of a pandemic.
Complete Vs. Incomplete Protein
What are the Benefits of Plant-Based Protein?
Aside from the fact that you don’t have to eat anything that goes against your ethics, plant-based protein sources are also usually lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than animal protein. By consuming vegan protein, you decrease your risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and obesity.
What’s more, as mentioned earlier, vegan protein often comes packed with other nutrients to support optimal health and fitness!
How Much Protein do Vegans Need?
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, 10-35% of our daily energy intake should come from protein.
For example, if you eat 2,000 calories per day, 200-700 calories of your total should come from protein.
Alternatively, you can calculate your recommended daily intake (RDI) using your body weight. According to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the average individual should consume 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight.
For example, a person that weighs 75kg should eat approximately 60g of protein each day. There are 4 calories per gram of protein, so 60g of protein equates to 240 calories.
How Much Plant-Based Protein do I Need to Build Muscle?
Do Vegans Need Protein Powder?
As long as we follow a wholefood and healthy vegan diet, we should be able to get everything we need, including protein. However, depending on your fitness goals, protein powder is sometimes the quickest and easiest plant-based protein source to consume without exceeding your carbohydrate and fat RDIs.
What Plants are High in Protein?
The following are some of the best sources of plant-based protein!
- Mycoprotein (Quorn)
- Hemp Seeds
- Brown and Black Rice